For a long period now – more than a decade, IIM Ahmedabad’s CIIE.CO has been working on incubation, acceleration, and seed-funding initiatives for early-stage entrepreneurs. The Financial Inclusion Lab (FI Lab), under the aegis of the Bharat Inclusion Initiative (BII), is a platform to accelerate startups building solutions for the underserved segment of Bharat by operating in the domains of Fintech, Skilling, and Livelihood.
Livelihoods have been disrupted, access to capital choked, and savings have been eroded amid the pandemic. Simultaneously, newer digital infrastructure is taking hold, and innovative products and engagement models are being developed. Keeping these struggles and disruptions in mind, the one-of-its-kind Bharat Inclusion Initiative is back with its 4th edition of FI Lab, to support startups aiming to create an impact through scalable, innovative solutions to support India’s low-and-middle-income (LMI) segments.
What The 4th Edition has to Offer
Supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, J. P. Morgan, Metlife Foundation, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and the Omidyar Network, FI Lab offers diverse solutions and customized support to each selected startup including catalytic capital of up to INR 25 lakhs for Product Development and Market Validation. The other key offerings include:
Field Studies (Led by financial inclusion experts for consumer & market insights)
Portfolio Support (Up to a year of providing market, channel, and investor connects)
Mentoring (Through clinics with LMI focused practitioners and domain experts)
Visibility (Through platforms and networks)
Service Partners (For cloud, marketing, and other support worth over INR 50 lakhs)
All these solutions will help test the startup’s key assumptions, ascertain problem-solution fit, and develop its product for a successful pilot, and scale-up. The need to reimagine such solutions drives the Financial Inclusion Lab – this time with a special focus on building for resilience and relevance in the post-COVID world.
Priyanka Chopra, COO, CIIE.CO, says, “COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted the lower and middle-income communities in the country. Inclusive fintechs will play a key role in helping these communities respond and recover by providing innovative solutions that meet their liquidity needs, access better livelihood opportunities, save for the future and manage risks better. With the 4th edition of the Lab, we seek to deploy our considerable experience, expertise and networks to identify and support these solutions in their journeys to scale-up.”
COVID-19 has significantly impacted lower-income communities, including segments such as micro-businesses, informal workers, farmers, and women. In collaboration with MSC Consulting (an international digital financial inclusion firm), FI Lab aims to accelerate select early-stage startups that are focused on developing tech-enabled solutions which can be used for the benefit of such underserved communities.
What kind of Startups are being sought
The program will be supporting technology solutions that help in improving the financial health and capabilities of underserved communities, with potential to impact at scale. Desirable solutions include innovative flow-based credit models, underwriting methods that leverage social behaviours, models leveraging SHGs, and other social capital aggregators to enhance womens access and usage of financial services, LMI-focused Insurtechs, and skilling and livelihood solutions that leverage fintech for unique value addition.
Through the FI Lab Accelerator, Bharat Inclusion Champions Program, and Bharat Inclusion Seed Fund, BII has already supported 34 startups. Startups supported by the initiative have cumulatively raised follow-on funding of $34.2 million from marquee investors and have served 14.5 million individuals and 13,500 MSMEs since joining the program.
The Bharat Inclusion Initiative invites applicants to be a part of Financial Inclusion Lab’s fourth cohort – up to 10 startups will be selected for this 20-week long acceleration program.
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CIIE.CO is The Innovation Continuum. This continuum spreads across incubation, acceleration, seed and growth funding, and research. Founded at IIM Ahmedabad in 2002, as an academic centre, CIIE.CO has grown and pivoted to include acceleration, incubation, investment, research and publication. Overall, we have aimed at filling the multiple, ever-evolving gaps in the Indian innovation-driven entrepreneurship space in many ways. Among various initiatives, CIIE.CO has conceptualised and hosted India’s first accelerator, created India’s first and so far the only cleantech-focused fund, accelerated over 1000 entrepreneurs, invested in over 163 startups, inspired over 700000 with our publication – Stay Hungry Stay Foolish.
All the initiatives on the innovation continuum are aimed at supporting the fearless, innovation-driven entrepreneurs. Working with like-minded partners like corporates, government agencies, investors and academia, helps us push harder towards co-creating exponential change.