I'm Averi Thomas-Moore, Company Builder Associate, Accion Venture Lab. Ask Me Anything!


#1

Hi everyone,

I’m Averi, and I’m setting up and leading Accion Venture Lab’s Company Builder, which is bringing together extraordinary people to build inclusive consumer-facing fintech startups from scratch in Nigeria.

Long story short, if there almost 100 M adults in Nigeria but only 30 M BVNs, local financial technology companies raised about USD 150 M last year, and yet the number of people without access to financial services increased, we think that there’s a big opportunity and are looking for people that feel the same way.

Accion Venture Lab’s Company Builder will work with the founders to (1) ideate around potential fintech solutions for underbanked consumers in Nigeria, (2) validate potential models in the market, and (3) build a business from the ground up. This initiative will leverage Venture Lab’s global knowledge and expertise in fintech for financial inclusion and provide both financial and non-financial support as the entrepreneurs scale their business.

For us, fintech includes all types of financial services businesses (such as lending, savings, payments, and insurance), as well as those that help to increase access to financial services (such as alternative credit scoring). While we are looking for people with financial services, technical, and product expertise, other relevant experience may include blockchain, data science, game development, FMCG/MNO distribution, and digital security.

You can check out our Medium Post here.

I look forward to your questions about our program, fintech, startups, financial inclusion, Arsenal…

Averi


#2

Hello Averi,

It’s me again. Good to have you on AMA.

One question:

What’s Accion’s interest in terms of ownership of these companies? In other words, how much equity stake will Accion take in these companies?

Regards.


#3

#4

Nice to have you Averi,
There is a Micro-finance bank in Lagos named Accion, any affiliation?
If there is an affiliation, what role would the micro-finance bank play in this program?

What impact in your opinion do you think Micro-finance banks should(and do) have in building startUps especially in high risk climes like ours?

Thanks.


#5

Thanks for that question. Accion Venture Lab and Accion Microfinance Bank are both affiliated with Accion International, which is a massive organization and our vision is to build a financially inclusive world – one in which every individual has access to high-quality, affordable financial services. To that end Accion is active in the microfinance, impact investing, and financial literacy spaces globally. However, while the Venture Lab team is in the same family as Accion Microfinance Bank and serve the same overarching mission, our work is not connected to theirs and they do not have any official role in the Company Builder program. That being said, we have let them know about the program, appreciate their feedback and insights, and are open to collaborating with them going forward as appropriate.

I think that MFBs are needed in this space because they know the target customer well and meet the necessary regulatory requirements to launch fintech products. The trick is how best to manage the working relationship between MFBs and startups and keep the focus on serving the customer. I think that having MFBs partner with fintech startups reduces the risks because MFBs have compliance teams and there are ways to test new services in controlled environments.


#6

Thanks. We would not take more than 30 percent of the equity in the NewCo, but the exact amount will depend on if the team invests in the business as well the level of support services (lawyers, accountants, etc.) that we end up paying for on the NewCo’s behalf. Basically, it will be a negotiation but the founders will have the majority of the equity in their company.


#7

This is fantastic, Averi. I look forward to following your progress with this. Would love to see if there’s some way the Africa Business Fellowship can support.


#8

Thanks for the support! I’m a bit fan of the Africa Business Fellowship program, let’s connect in the next few weeks and see what makes sense.


#9

Sounds good. I’ll connect offline.


#10

Hi Averi,
This is Ignatius - I sent an email to you earlier this month but I am still waiting for reply
My question:
We already have a small team but limited by funding to develop the prototype of our propertytech/fintech idea powered by blockchain technology - how can we participate in Company Builder Program?
My comment:
I think that if we are going to succeed with financial inclusion, we must firstly know how to use fintech to link financial literacy, financial innovation, and financial inclusion and connect together to the core markets or sectors of the economy. Secondly, we must understand and link the interaction between cash-based and cashless transactions Many thanks


#11

Hey and sorry I missed your email. Company builder is targeted toward individuals that want to find/refine their ideas with a pool of eligible co-founders. We felt like there are other incubators and accelerators already available that support teams, but that a lot of the professionals we come across that have similar profiles to the founders we have invested in cite difficulty finding potential co-founders as a key a reason why they haven’t started a company. However, Accion Venture Lab is actively investing in seed stage fintech startups in Nigeria and around the world.


#12

Thanks for the prompt reply
I applied already for the company builders program as an individual but there was not sufficient space to explain my ideas and what I am trying to achieve in any details. I thought that your selection will be based n the strength/benefit of an individual’s ideas


#13

Permit me to add that my idea/concept is Pan-Africa - I am looking at Africa as a single platform - a huge marketplace for innovative financial products/services that target the unbanked and under-banked


#14

Thank you for applying. We are selecting participants based on a mix of factors including the thoughtfulness of their ideas. However, since the entire group will segment the un and underbanked population, frame the problems to be addressed, and develop ideas together we believe that even the strongest ideas will have evolved by the time we are finished. Also, due to the number of quality applications we have received, we will need a few weeks to get through everything and will send out final notifications by 11 December.


#15

It’s great to have that as your long-term vision while thinking of what immediate next steps have to be taken.


#16

Okay I wait for Dec 11 to know the outcome. Meanwhile, do have a great weekend and many thanks to you and Accion for unique project like company builders initiative


#17

Any chance you’d look at a different approach — working with those already doing something — amplify their efforts: Paga, OsususMobile, Paylater, Piggybank, et al?

Also, do you think it’s time for a shift in terms used in labelling financial services so it doesn’t work as an inhibitor for serving the unbanked and underbanked?


#18

Hi, thanks for the question. The purpose of Company Builder is to expand the ecosystem not cripple existing players. Accion Venture Lab has invested in 33 fintech companies in 23 countries, including Lidya in Nigeria, at the seed stage and have a portfolio engagement team dedicated to helping them thrive.

Personally, I think of financial services as a tool to help people meet an objective, not the objective itself. So, with Company Builder we are going to start by trying to disaggregate the un and underbanked segments and figure out what objectives people in those groups have and what kind of financial tools we may be able to develop to help them meet those goals. Unless we can find solutions that create enough value for the customer for them to migrate to a digital channel, we will be added to your list.

Finally, we are looking at the full range of financial services, not just payments and I would be surprised if the products that come out of Company Builder do not leverage some of the existing fintech platforms in the market.


#19

I want to know what your plans are, if there is; to scale this program or drive its objectives to the Northern part of the country, considering it has the largest population and fastest growing in terms of birth.


#20

Thanks, Kevin. We are recruiting a pool of skilled people who see the opportunity in serving the un and underbanked writ large and will develop and validate business ideas to do so. Although we will be holding the group problem framing and ideation sessions in Lagos. The teams will have to go where required to validate and pilot their product and build their business, and we will support them in those efforts.

As you pointed out, the North part of Nigeria has the lowest levels of financial inclusion and fortunately, we have gotten some quality applicants that have experience in that region (though we are happy to have more before Monday). Women and young adults are also disproportionately excluded from the financial system. Therefore, we are trying to get as representative a pool as possible to allow us to make sure that we are getting those points of view in the ideation process.