Below is a list and description of SPARK Entrepreneur Services. Click on the link to read more about a listed service.
Training Services for Startup Entrepreneurs
Business Plan Competition
Mentoring and Coaching Entrepreneurs
Business Startup Centre Academy
Loan Guarantee Fund
This service focuses on potential entrepreneurs who wish to start a business in post-conflict regions. Participants need to have a clear and viable business idea, are literate and have graduated (or are in the final stages of higher education studies). Participants have no or limited experience in running a business. These trainings are designed to help them drafting their business plans and to prepare them for the startup phase of their company.
This SPARK Service consists of 6 training modules:
The training modules are used during a Business Plan Competition, but can also be offered stand alone. SPARK provides these trainings to local partners as a Training of Trainers (ToT), but can also offer them to entrepreneurs directly. Training modules for growth orientated entrepreneurs will be developed in the near future.
The Business Plan Competition, as SPARK organises it with its local partners, starts with raising awareness among a large group of young, ambitious people. Followed by introducing a smaller group of potential entrepreneurs to the basics of entrepreneurship. And finally an even smaller group of selected participants is trained to draft a business plan.
It is required for the participants to have a clear and viable business idea before attending the trainings. The plans pre-enter the business plan competition and are reviewed by a professional jury. The participants of the selected plans receive more training to finalize and sharpen their business plans for the final stage of the competition. The winners have easy access to finance – loans, no grants – to be able to start their business and receive training and coaching to successfully start and manage their companies. SPARK Business Plan Competitions are organised with one or more local partners who eventually will be able to organise a competition themselves.
The challenges of an entrepreneur in general and especially one in a post-conflict region, where the market is new and the economy emerging at best, are numerous. Lack of (market) knowledge, little marketing skills, and often no general, financial and other management skills and experience, are among many of these challenges.
Access to finance merely is not enough, nor is training. After the finance problem is solved by for example a startup loan, and after several trainings, often the progress shown is too little. SPARK’s mentoring and coaching services focus on the challenges mentioned above – and the continuation of the young businesses. In combination with SPARK’s Startup Finance Solution this service aims to create accelerating results with the participating entrepreneurs.
Local partners of SPARK are closely involved in the mentoring and coaching process in order for them to be able to offer this themselves to entrepreneurs.
The Business Startup Centre Academy is a year long programme for startup entrepreneurs. The BSC Academy targets higher potential students and ambitious entrepreneurs, and supports those participants who have an entrepreneurial mind, but might not have developed their ideas or business plans fully. It is therefore the stage of ideation the BSC Academy supports, exposing the entrepreneurs to new ways to create companies and jobs. It opens up their minds to see opportunities for value adding, niche markets, export, goods and services in supply chains, and also the possibilities in social & green entrepreneurship and marketing and sales.
The BSC Academy has a unique, interdisciplinary approach. Doing business and starting your own company is viewed from a broader perspective: politics and the role of the government are taken into account and the academy also focuses on enhancing the social responsibility of an entrepreneur. Furthermore, communication and marketing are seen as integral elements of a business plan. Basically, at the BSC Academy participants are confronted with all sides of entrepreneurship. The BSC Academy tries to walk various – and often different – paths in order to inspire and sharpen the minds of the potential entrepreneurs.
The BSC Academy is initially organised by SPARK and a Business Startup Centre. Eventually a BSC or other local organisation will organise all the activities involved itself.
The overall goal of this SPARK Service is to provide both the company and the job seeker with the best fit possible based on personality, qualifications, experience and skills. It will also offer another pathway for people that are less entrepreneurship orientated or have not made it through the Business Plan Competition or any other activity. The BSC will work as the middle man in the hiring process by interviewing, training, testing and assessing the candidate’s potential, matching them with the most fitting vacancy. In this way, the candidate’s skills and experience would benefit the company in question most, which increases the positive match between newly employed and position.
Mentoring and coaching are essential services that Business Startup Centres (BSC’s) consistently provide to small companies. However these activities lack formal programming and structure and are reliant on the voluntary interest of each individual entrepreneur. The Advisory Board Service structures this mentoring and coaching into more regular and more substantial sessions to the benefit of the entrepreneur and his or her businesses. This service is based on an (inter-)active Advisory Board, which members coach and support startups and growth orientated entrepreneurs based on their own knowledge, experience and network. This also puts greater requirements on the companies to be exposed to advice and criticism and to have the opportunity to ask for input.
A mature Advisory Board acts as a platform for participation in the Business Startup Centre by a wide network of professionals globally. These Advisory Board members could even be channeled into considering investments in the companies. Eventually, a larger, international network of business advisors will benefit not only the entrepreneurs and their small businesses, but also the BSC as a center of knowledge and support.
In fragile markets, there is a lack of reliable and consistent market information. This impedes pro-poor economic development, as sectors are dominated by large actors and smaller enterprises with fewer resources cannot engage customers through advertising or other forms of communication. Within the Business Startup Centre Solution, there is a desire to champion small businesses publicly and to broadcast positive information about entrepreneurs as a measure of success.
With these factors in mind, a programme to ‘certify’ small businesses at various stages and levels has added value and relevance. In terms of status and promotion, but also as a gateway to small businesses outside of the current reach of the Business Startup Centre, and lastly as an opportunity to create networks of certified entrepreneurs.
Certification is fundamentally easing access to customers, partners, investors, and financial lenders by verifying various aspects of the individual business, and communicating those externally to the market. Quality information is broadcasted to existing and potential customers and partners, which not only gives the companies greater exposure, but provides customers and partners with greater assurance and confidence, easing business and access to finance.
Certification is a platform to build capacity and improve performance of fragile state businesses through the establishment and application of standards, and the introduction of expectations to the entrepreneur. The Certification Service encourages small businesses to strive toward quality in the enterprise and its employees. As a broader social value, certification causes certified businesses being mimicked and their methods being adopted by its competitors. In particular by establishing standards and best practices which typically do not exist or are not widely adopted in fragile states.
There is a particular context to this service. International companies are increasingly present in least-developed and post-conflict regions as investors in industrial and agricultural projects. Some of the world’s largest corporations have established multi-billion dollar mining, oil exploration, and agribusiness projects throughout West Africa, but primarily in post-conflict states including Liberia and Sierra Leone. By their nature, these extractive projects involve highly-technical operations, and for decades the negative phenomenon of the ‘island investment’ – where a project is almost entirely disconnected from the local economy – has been identified as minimizing the potential economic benefits of these projects.
To confront this phenomenon, government and non-governmental actors have advocated for increased ‘local content’ programmes and goals in their dealings with these industrial multinationals. More recently, countries around the world have pushed for and legally-required minimum local content thresholds as a matter of law.
Spark’s existence as an information-gathering intake for local businesses, and its potential orientation as a service provider to international companies both in-country and overseas, position the organisation to become a vital link between multinational project developers and investors, and local suppliers to yield higher local content.
SPARK is active on both sides. SPARK solicitates information from the international companies about their existing and future needs, and at the same time SPARK shows local entrepreneurs the commercial advantages and supports them to meet these needs successfully by training and mentoring.
This SPARK Service is not just about a simple match between local businesses and international companies, but it strengthens the local entrepreneur’s ability to orient himself toward the supply chain business opportunities, it increases the chances of winning a contract and of successfully completing a contractual relationship with an international entity.
A major challenge for young entrepreneurs, in any country, is to access finance in order to start their businesses. This is no different for the entrepreneurs in SPARK’s pipeline. For that purpose, SPARK started its Loan Guarantee Fund, through which entrepreneurs start their business with support services from SPARK’s programmes and are then enabled to take out a regular loans at an existing local financial institutions. SPARK makes pre-arrangements with specific FI’s to get better conditions for the loans, accommodated to the entrepreneurs. The loans range between 5000 and 10.000 Euro, run for 2 to 3 years with half year grace periods, and have 5%-15% interest rates (depending on the FI’s).
Currently, the LGF runs in the Balkans, Liberia and Palestine. The latter is hardly operative due to the many programmes of other donors where entrepreneurs receive similar amounts as grants. In the Balkans and Liberia, the funds runs very well with a approximate default rate of 7%. The entrepreneurs that started or grew their businesses with the Loan Guarantee are showing very good growth results, creating many new jobs.