Improving SMEs’ access to finance

Rose Muthoni @rosemuthoniN

If you have scrolled through opportunity sites such as Opportunities for Africans and Opportunity Desk, I am sure you have bumped into a dozen funding opportunities for entrepreneurs.

From Toni Elumelu Foundation that trains and supports entrepreneurs with seed money to Visa Everywhere Initiative which holds a payments solution competition that awards the winner with seed money to the Obama Foundation. The list is endless.

But just as the list of business accelerators grows, so does the number of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) looking for such opportunities.

The Tony Elumelu Programme, for example, attracted more than 150,000 applications for the 1,250 available spaces with Kenyan applicants filling 37 of those.

To be able to clinch some of this funding, you have to stand out in the sea of applicants. Accelerators are asking tougher and tougher questions by the day.

They want to know how close you are to revenue, your business model and how they will make money from your venture.

It follows that you need to know the answers to these questions but also deliver them in a brief and clear manner that also sets you apart. It is not as easy as it sounds but here are three pointers that will drive you closer to success.

Avoid ‘maybes’ by all means

If your startup does not offer a solution, then it is bound to fail. No matter how much you manage to raise, a solution-lacking SME is doomed from the start. According to The Entrepreneur, 42 per cent of start-ups go under due to “no market need”.

It is critical for accelerators to know that your business has an actual customer need. You have to convince them beyond any doubt that your business will do just that. The secret is not listing all the problems your start-up will solve, the secret is focusing on the most important problem you might be able to solve.

Take them through, step by step, how you came to that conclusion. Market research will help you show them that the problem actual exists. Trust me, nothing will get accelerators more interested in your business than hard research.

Lay your value proposition on the table

According to research from Marketing Experiments, companies often find it hard to identify and articulate their value proposition. But the success of your application depends on your ability to make the accelerators understand your solution. According to The Entrepreneur, a good value proposition is easy to understand, is concrete and unique. It does not rely on fluff, superlatives and jargon. So, go straight to the point and state your solution and explain how it is different from other solutions already out there. Accelerators are a group of very intelligent people who will understand your value proportion in fewer than five seconds. The perfect example of a good value proportion is that of Uber: “The best way to get where you are going”. Their solution is unique in comparison to other taxi solutions. One that has been adopted by not one, but various taxi companies. It is also very important to put across what you as the owner is bringing to the table.

Weave a story

If you have ever been to a church and encountered a boring pastor, then you know that going on and on will bore your possible investors. Try to keep your pitch clear and simple.  If you have no idea how a perfect pitch is made, I suggest you watch a few episodes of Ted Talks. The speakers are coached to become master story teller. Not a single speech on Ted is boring no matter how basic the idea is.

You will learn from Ted that speeches should be short, not running for more than 18 minutes but most importantly they are clear and simple. An analysis of the top 20 Ted Talks showed that all speakers stated their “big idea” within the first two minutes. Follow this format.

A story is always better than minting out statistics after statistics. Try telling a dynamic story, lacing supporting facts throughout. The Entrepreneur paints out Stanford University’s test on the power of stories through an informal study. Students were given one-minute pitches and then had the others write down what they remembered from each pitch. Sixty-three per cent of participants could remember the pitches that were stories, compared to the mere five per cent who could remember statistics.

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