MicroMentor—Expert mentoring for COVID-19-affected MSMEs
A business mentoring tech-based & human-driven solution to support entrepreneurs affected by COVID-19
Pitch us on your solution
Even in ordinary times, entrepreneurs who lack formal mentoring are disadvantaged in critical skills development versus those with access to an experienced mentor.
With the advent of the COVID-19 humanitarian crisis, people in Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC) are experiencing unprecedented job loss and business closures. Democratized access to expert guidance and contextualized knowledge and resources has never been more needed, or more relevant. MicroMentor offers a direct-to-consumer virtual response to the COVID-19 crisis, connecting small businesses who drive the regional economy to knowledgeable volunteer mentors who donate their time and skills. At a time when face-to-face connections pose threats to public health and safety, our technology and strong network of volunteer mentors is exceptionally ready to provide an immediate response to 20,000 entrepreneurs in the region, to help them combat isolation and hopelessness by finding expert responses to the specific challenges that COVID-19 is generating.
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What is the problem you are solving?
Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) make up 99.5% of businesses in the region, creating 60% of formal productive employment. Despite the abundant entrepreneurial activity in Latin America and the Caribbean, entrepreneurs face low business survival—only 20% of new businesses survive more than two years—even in normal times. The COVID-19 pandemic puts all businesses at an even greater risk of failure. According to ASELA (Entrepreneurs Association from LATAM), currently running a survey to understand the impact of COVID-19 on small businesses, 77% of Mexican MSMEs are at risk of imminent closure (within the next 2 months).
Our experience offering business mentoring and other resources to entrepreneurs affected (including closed) by disaster has proven that small businesses who engage with mentors are more likely to boost their business skills, sustain jobs and recover their income, while expanding their networks and building resilience for the future. MicroMentor is poised to offer a scale solution for LAC by leveraging our innovative technology and activating our network of mentors, experienced professional volunteers on the frontline, equipped to respond to small business owners’ immediate concerns about financial planning, emergency loans, pivoting to new business models, adopting alternative sales channels, and navigating uncharted waters.
Who are you serving?
MicroMentor serves 14,500 entrepreneurs in LAC who access our regional network of 7,250 mentors and have access to a global community of over 69,000 entrepreneurs and 25,000 mentors—every week adding an average of 150 users in the region. In LAC, 70% of these entrepreneurs don’t have access to any other supportive resources for their businesses. Most are MSMEs that have between 1 and 5 employees. We serve such small businesses—especially those not part of incubation or acceleration programs and those with little or no access to financial capital or training.
During crisis and non-crisis, MicroMentor’s approach is human-centered design. We engage our community to understand individuals’ needs—via interviews, surveys, experiments and a compilation of documented user-behavior / online-communities’ best practices. We design solutions to revealed barriers and challenges, and we deliver—to entrepreneurs—access to skilled mentors via our continuously improving technology and mentor-pool. Through communication with MicroMentor regional and worldwide stakeholders, and via our repeated expertise in disaster response, we understand the roadblocks that many entrepreneurs now face and the expertise approach needed from mentors. We document and address small business owners’ common needs: planning financially, applying for emergency loans/grants, pivoting to new business models, and adopting alternative sales channels.
What is your solution?
MicroMentor is an accessible tool offering users a familiar social media-type interface (a la Facebook or Linkedin), to entrepreneurs and mentors wishing to connect for mutual career-enhancing benefit. Business mentors can uniquely address the business concerns of entrepreneurs they meet through the platform, offering personalized guidance while building the special esteem and increased professional awareness that comes only from helping less experienced business owners learn from one’s triumphs, defeats, best practices, and lessons learned. Our recently rebuilt platform is powered by software that actively suggests tailored matches from anywhere across the globe and can be used on any hardware, including mobile devices. Upon creating a profile, entrepreneurs can use the platform or other messaging services to communicate with their matched/chosen mentor(s) and take advantage of our expansive Q&A page(s) for additional insight. Our flourishing online community now includes over 69,000 entrepreneurs and 25,000 mentors in 179 countries, including 14,425 entrepreneurs and 7,200 mentors in LAC.
Through its world-class technology and 10+ years of implementation experience, a virtual and proven approach, and a growing global community, MicroMentor is well poised to provide immediate response to support small business owners’ specific needs by connecting them to prepared mentors whose expertise may span financial planning, applying for emergency loans or grants, pivoting to new business models, marketing to new markets, and/or adopting alternative sales channels. In sharing their past experience responding to crises (and pivoting business strategies when needed), mentors can provide credible direction on potential paths forward and help to build the resilience of entrepreneurs.
In order to provide an immediate and evolving response, MicroMentor has launched the following actions: 1) Global COVID-19 Response Task Force of Mentors, inviting mentors from our community and new mentors to join this effort, and equipping them to deliver dedicated guidance to affected businesses, identified with a COVID Crisis Mitigator badge on their profile so they can be on the virtual “front lines” of the response to this crisis; 2) Develop technology that enables our global mentor community to be publishers of relevant, localized and community-specific content that is searchable and shareable; 3) Partner with lending organizations (MFIs, CDFIs, etc.) to deliver cash flow assistance alongside mentoring; 4) Integration with other online communities; and 5) Support gathering and dissemination of small- business support resources through multiple channels to MicroMentor’s global network.
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Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Portland, Oregón, EE. UU.
Our solution's stage of development:Scale
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
MicroMentor harnesses the proven power of MENTORING entrepreneurs for success (mentored businesses perform better) and enables rapid expansion of ACCESS to appropriately matched mentors by springboarding from a technology-enabled, global ONLINE solution. During and after the pandemic, the proposed UPSCALING and further SPECIALIZING of this platform and network of mentors/entrepreneurs will help better meet targeted small business owners' needs at a critical time. We are seeking additional resources to support platform features ensuring that local and global community members are empowered to share their stories (enabling them to be “authors” of content) and support each other even more uniquely.
Our approach is refreshingly uncommon thanks to: (1) the breadth yet simplicity of our platform and (2) the capability to connect remotely. These factors contribute to our ability to scale (needing just modest infusions of additional funding); they enable knowledge transfer across borders and class lines. MicroMentor has surpassed other mentorship programs by allowing our users to: (a) leverage a type of social platform familiar to them, and (b) self-select connections without third-party human involvement. Although our technological platform is central, MicroMentor has developed other elements that stand out for their innovation, including: 1) Providing capacity-building content/resources for mentors, boosting and nurturing their skills most helpful to entrepreneurs, and 2) Partnering with large private and public-sector EMPLOYERS who want to offer their employees professional development opportunities to serve as mentors. Such partner contracts generate 40% of MicroMentor income, while expanding the available-mentor pool and boosting MicroMentor’s long-term financial self-sufficiency and sustainability.
Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
MicroMentor’s Theory of Change states that IF entrepreneurs from LAC have identified a business challenge, and have easy access to business mentoring resources, AND they build a meaningful relationship with a relevant business mentor, AND they make better decisions about their business, THEN they are more likely to achieve success in sustaining/ developing their business resulting in increased business survival, and jobs created/ preserved.
Rooted in our Theory of Change, MicroMentor employs a rigorous framework of Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL). The evidence summarized below stems from in-house evaluation of our model’s impact on improved business performance and on increases in investment received by participating businesses. User surveys administered to participating entrepreneurs both at the start of their MicroMentor journey and one year later yielded meaningful data. Additionally, MicroMentor employs varied research methods to determine how we can improve the platform to better serve small business owners (including via focus groups, non-mentored comparison groups, and market research).
Evidence: Our end-line survey shows that in 2019, 51% of LAC entrepreneurs mentored through MicroMentor demonstrated increased technical knowledge and skills. Our innovative methodology added 810 more jobs to the regional economy in 2019 and created jobs at a cost of $260 per new job added to the economy by mentored entrepreneurs. Through our ReActiva program, 60% of participating businesses affected by the 2017 Mexico earthquakes recovered sales. We are confident that we will see similarly impressive results to newly mentored entrepreneurs facing the unexpected set of challenges caused by COVID-19.
Select the key characteristics of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean your solution serves (or will serve).
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
Currently, MicroMentor is serving 14,500 entrepreneurs in LAC, with a community of 7,250 mentors. Globally, our community includes 69,000 entrepreneurs and 25,000 mentors. If awarded the TPrize, we will be better positioned to reach 25,000 small business owners impacted by COVID-19 within a year, in addition to recruiting a network of 8,5,00 mentors who will volunteer as part of our LAC COVID-19 Response. Our larger goal is to reach 100,000 small businesses globally with the help of 30,000 mentors.
By 2025, MicroMentor is looking to 1) reach 250,000 entrepreneurs in LAC who lack the resources to acquire stronger outcomes, and 2) generate at least 90,000 jobs through targeted marketing campaigns and collaboration with strategic partners to attract entrepreneurs to the platform who take advantage of guidance from volunteer mentors from our community of partners on how to grow and retain their staff from volunteer mentors gained through partnerships. On a global scale, we have the breakthrough goal of reaching 1 million entrepreneurs within the next 5 years.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
To reach the breakthrough scale goals stated above, MicroMentor will focus on:
Expansion: 1) Awareness building—our delivering a surge of optimized digital campaigns (paid ads) will allow us to reach more (and the most appropriate) mentors and entrepreneurs with messages highly resonant and relevant for the LAC small business community; 2) Partnership building—our prioritizing growing alliances with community partners in LAC who operate at high volume will lead to deepening connection among entrepreneurs, mentors, and key resources in strategically important sectors such as: (a) lending/financial institutions (including integrating with their platforms), (b) other online communities that currently support micro, small, and medium enterprises in ways complementary to mentoring; and, (c) country offices of our parent organization Mercy Corps, so that entrepreneurs connected to all of these have elevated access to mentoring through MicroMentor.
Development of our technology: Our objective will be to: 1) increase the probability of entrepreneurs and mentors finding the right mentoring connection—including through enhanced capacity to share stories (of success and failure), 2) ensure that mentors are equipped to offer the necessary guidance through virtual and asynchronous training, and 3) encourage the exchange of appropriate/contextualized resources within the community.
Toward these goals, we target unrestricted funds fueling growth, technology advancement, and research. Simultaneously, as part of our fiscal accountability, we will continue generating significant revenue independently via paid clients (including large employers willing to pay for MicroMentor’s capacity as a source of their employees’ professional development [being a mentor] and satisfaction).
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
When MicroMentor was created over 10 years ago, it was well ahead of its time. Today, mentoring is widely accepted as pivotal to the success of any small business owner; yet, mentoring is still a new concept for many others. Barrier: Despite the fact that the value has been widely demonstrated, there are still many entrepreneurs who don’t know much about mentoring or who are unclear about the benefits they can obtain and what to expect from a mentoring relationship.
During crises, where challenges are amplified and entrepreneurs may feel at a loss for where to turn to help their businesses survive, our goal is to be there for them as a critical resource for success. In the NEXT YEAR, we want mentoring to be readily accessible and immediately helpful, and over the NEXT FIVE YEARS, to build a prolific network of peers and mentors, so participants not only survive the current crisis, but thrive with the support of enhanced social capital.
In order to maximize relevance, timeliness, and impact of MicroMentor on those in LAC, investment in our technology is key. Yet, funding to support advancement of technology is often hard to attract when the philanthropic community is still focused on “program-specific funding” rather than catalytic, systemic investment that has sustained and long-term impact. We have seen this as a significant barrier to scale and impact, but we are optimistic that the current crisis will open minds and funding with an equal sense of urgency and unparalleled opportunity.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
As MicroMentor expands further, we will innovate new ways to reach mentors and entrepreneurs—messaging value/availability of mentoring—at scale. As we build our outreach strategy, we will consider: 1) ways to engage PARTNERS’ existing community networks, 2) ways to build a word-of-mouth culture where users are key drivers for our community’s growth, and 3) ways to optimize our digital marketing strategy. While these approaches on their own are not new, when undertaken in concert during this COVID-19 DISRUPTION (with ELEVATED ENTREPRENEUR RECEPTIVITY), our using a human-centered and data-driven approach will create unprecedented breakthroughs in awareness, engagement, scale, and impact.
MicroMentor will overcome resource-constraint barriers by pursuing unrestricted funding opportunities, such as a generous award from TPrize. Funding with trust in our current success and vision for scaling impact will accelerate our ability to connect more people and refine our technology, in addition to fueling research aimed at understanding/conveying the multiple layers of positive impact that mentoring has on small business owners. Alongside garnered financial resources, MicroMentor will rely on the support and experience of our Advisory Board to advance our general expansion and COVID-19 response efforts.
To further define/overcome the barriers we face to maximum scaling in hardest-hit LAC areas, we request and would benefit from the mentorship and access to experts that TPrize offers. This will help bolster our scale-strategy and technology advancement while better understanding the impact of mentoring on small businesses (including as a COVID-19 response). We will share all barrier-overcoming insights gleaned with key stakeholders.
If you selected “My solution is already being implemented in Latin America/Caribbean,” please provide an overview of your current activities in the region.
MicroMentor launched in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2014, thanks to a strategic alliance with the Inter-American Development Bank that sought to invest in a proven and scalable solution for entrepreneurs in the region. Furthermore, our MicroMentor LATAM team has extensive experience supporting small businesses through crises in Mexico & the Caribbean, and this experience is currently informing our regional and global approach to strengthening MSME activity. Demographically, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, and Ecuador are the top 5 countries that make up our community of users within the region.
In conjunction with MicroMentor’s digital marketing efforts to publicize the opportunity to join our platform (to entrepreneurs and mentors), we are currently working in the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, and the Bahamas to provide: (1) financial assistance to entrepreneurs affected by disaster and (2) access to mentoring through our technology and global and regional network of mentors as part of our commitment to provide free mentoring support to 500 small businesses in the islands with the goal of strengthening the Caribbean entrepreneurial ecosystem.
MicroMentor’s work and main objectives in the region focus on boosting job creation and strengthening the resiliency of MSMEs who are still rebuilding from disasters (i.e. the 2017 Mexico earthquakes). We are already seeing positive results, as 810 more jobs added to the regional economy by mentored entrepreneurs last year and 40 Caribbean entrepreneurs have received seed funding to support their innovative ideas.
Select an option below:Other e.g. part of a larger organization (please explain below)
If you selected Other for the organization question, please explain here.
MicroMentor is an innovation of the global, humanitarian non-profit Mercy Corps. MicroMentor and Mercy Corps have a mutually beneficial/symbiotic relationship, working together to alleviate suffering, poverty, and oppression by helping people build secure, productive, and just communities. As such, we are currently collaborating with our parent organization (Mercy Corps) to amplify our COVID-19 response and working together to scale MicroMentor to Mercy Corps’ country-offices. We talk with staff to gauge opportunities to implement our platform and initiatives into their programs and operations, in addition to pursuing funding opportunities that will be mutually beneficial and facilitate our partnerships.
How many people work on your solution team?
MicroMentor has a global team of 23 talented and dedicated individuals who are located in the United States, Mexico, Jordan, and Indonesia.
Staff that will work on our Latin America and Caribbean solution include 6 full-time staff, 2 part-time staff, 2 part-time contractors, and 1 intern at our headquarters in Portland, Oregon. Three full- time contractors and 1 part-time contractor are located in Mexico City, Mexico. We also count on assistance from 4 external consultants in the Caribbean.
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
MicroMentor is led by Anita Ramachandran, Executive Director, who has 20+ years of experience as a non-profit founder, corporate marketing and marketing operations, and fundraising. She is passionate about mentoring and creating breakthrough solutions at scale. Tatiana Petrone, Global Programs Director, has 15 years’ experience in economic development and global non-profit leads resulting in the expansion of MicroMentor, including launching and overseeing our initiative in LAC, Indonesia, and Jordan. Our Business Solutions & MERL Manager, Emily Joy, brings strong experience on community economic development in the US and LATAM. Our Finance and Compliance Manager, Sara Fustolo, oversees operations and compliance worldwide. Kelly Dubois, our Technical Project Manager brings over a decade of experience in the IT and non-profit industries.
MicroMentor is organized by departments and is exceptionally equipped/experienced to deliver our solution thanks to these leading staff:
Product Lead: Kelly Dubois. Team: Darin Sennet, Senior Digital Manager, Andrew Winterman, Senior Software Engineer; Ken Johnson and Paul Souders, developers; and Jenny Marx, UX design.
Global Programs Lead: Tatiana Petrone. Team: Ariana Aldapa, Initiatives Coordinator in LATAM and the Caribbean, and 9 more members located in Indonesia, Jordan, USVI, Sint Maarten, and the Bahamas.
Business Operations Lead: Emily Joy. Team: Sam Orwig, who has international experience in project implementation. Emily also leads the M&E area with Paoa Wandke, MERL Officer.
User Acquisition and Marketing Leads: Tatiana Petrone and Anita Ramachandran. Team: Darin Sennet and Katy Mitchell.
Fundraising Lead: Anita Ramachandran. Team: Tatiana Petrone and Loretta Taylor, LATAM Program & Fundraising Assistant.
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
MicroMentor is currently partnering with organizations that fall into three categories: customers, thought leaders, and funders.
Our customers include but are not limited to: Climate Innovation Center Caribbean, the World Bank, Enactus, Capital One, State of New York, Apple, Verizon, European Bank of Reconstruction and Development and the Association for Enterprise Opportunity. We provide paid technology and service packages that they can integrate into their systems and within their networks to promulgate a business mentoring program. We license our platform to fit our customers’ needs, ensuring that their individual mentoring programs are a success.
Other partners that offer MicroMentor to their networks are FICCI (Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry), Government of Dominican Republic, Small Business Development Center in the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Red Cross at Sint Maarten, and Grand Bahamas Port Authority.
The University of Oregon, the Innovation Growth Lab, Mercy Corps, and the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs have assisted MicroMentor in its research efforts to validate and demonstrate the value of our platform and business mentoring.
MicroMentor has received funding from Promotora Social México, Argidius, Bacardí, MasterCard, Google Ad Grants, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Emory University, and CDP.
What is your business model?
MicroMentor earns money (40% of its total revenue) by engaging large-partner customers willing/eager to pay for technology (connected to our growing mentoring network) which integrates seamlessly into their own corporate or government systems as they provide expanded services/opportunities to their employees and/or other stakeholders via the mentoring and entrepreneur sides of MicroMentor. The revenue that MicroMentor obtains via selling such services and products is mostly reinvested in our technology and expansion to achieve better service and engage more entrepreneurs and mentors. Entrepreneurs participating in MicroMentor typically also see their own revenues increase over time.
MicroMentor delivers a best-in-class user experience alongside our human-centered professional services aimed at supporting program coordinators, volunteer mentors, and the entrepreneurs they serve. Our extensive support services help our partners create the best mentoring program possible. We provide platform development, promotion, program management, and capacity-building for mentors—and we enable partners to scale their impact.
MicroMentor’s business model is crisis-poised:
We have experience responding to economic shocks caused by natural disasters and conflicts globally. Our crisis response strategy: act quickly to source support; work diligently to understand how to deliver appropriate resources to the small-business community; build the capacity for our mentors to provide guidance in an ever-changing business environment.
Volunteer mentors remain at the heart of our vision and business model. Through meaningful employee engagement programs and via word-of-mouth and garnering publicity across the globe, MicroMentor engages volunteers to directly support businesses through mentoring.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
MicroMentor is currently supported by a combination of earned income revenue and grants.
Earned income revenue is generated through the sale of Licensed Product & Professional Services. MicroMentor’s technology is configurable to offer a turnkey white-label solution supported by professional consulting services that customers (corporations, government entities and global nonprofits) use to engage their communities in custom online mentoring programs. MicroMentor’s diverse value proposition caters to corporations seeking to diversify and enhance skills-based, virtual volunteering opportunities for their employees, and for entrepreneur-facing organizations to integrate online business mentoring into their services.
MicroMentor also seeks to forge partnerships with aligned catalytic funders, including grants that allow us to continue investing in our technology and scale our services to entrepreneurs facing the economic crisis caused by the 2020 pandemic in specific geographies. We will simultaneously pilot our model of alliances to scale our platform and optimize our digital marketing efforts (via strategic utilization and spending for ads), and vitalization of our community.
Why are you applying to the TPrize Challenge?
MicroMentor already has strong momentum and proven scalability, which makes us well-positioned to offer valuable assistance to MSMEs in LAC that need guidance during/after this devastating pandemic and into the future. As we work to visibly introduce and tailor toward entrepreneurs, MicroMentor is drawn to the TPrize Challenge for the financial and additional assistance that it could provide to:
Support our Technology Team as they diligently work to refine the technology that powers our platform. Mentor-entrepreneur connections are the heart of MicroMentor, and funding is needed to implement and leverage our technology to ensure that entrepreneurs, especially COVID-19 affected MSMEs, can be matched with a mentor that can provide guidance unique to their situation.
Test and iterate different strategies to continue to scale and better understand the impact of business mentoring on individual users. MicroMentor has pledged to reach 25,000 small businesses regionally and 100,000 worldwide; therefore testing different marketing approaches and investing in tools such as Facebook Ads, Google Analytics, and Salesforce can increase traffic and the number of users.
Continue research and data analytics to further pinpoint the impact of business mentoring with the aim of not only broadly addressing and disseminating findings, but gauging the needs and challenges of entrepreneurs on a more individualized level. The results will present a compelling case to partners, mentors, and entrepreneurs.
Strategize, evaluate, and provide feedback on our progress to successfully further scale our platform via access to mentoring and the TPrize network of experts.
What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?
With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?
As MicroMentor solidifies and increases its presence in Latin America and the Caribbean, we are looking towards furthering our mission with the help of an eclectic group of partners. It is within our purview to form partnerships with local financial institutions to make financial resources, such as emerging/crisis-related funding and loans, available to MSMEs that are experiencing economic difficulties due to COVID-19.
On a larger scale, MicroMentor is interested in partnering with private and public organizations that have a massive community and that find in our technology the solution to serve at least 10,000 entrepreneurs per year. We will also be looking for corporations interested in offering to their collaborators, through our services, the possibility of sharing their relevant volunteer experience through MicroMentor. We are also ramping up our efforts to reach out to philanthropic Foundations and government agencies (i.e., USAID) who would be willing to provide funding for our solution, which would then be responsibly used to further improve our technology, product development, and marketing strategy.
We would like to partner with local research institutions, universities, and thought leadership organizations that can support MicroMentor in developing and disseminating academic research that calls attention to the various needs and challenges that entrepreneurs face and highlights the impact of professional mentoring and the MicroMentor platform in addressing those needs.