ENVision mobile: digitizing women-led micro-enterprises
Building business management tools for low-income women micro-entrepreneurs selling consumer goods in cash.
Pitch us on your solution
Women-led Microenterprises (MSMEs) globally are being left behind by technological developments due to a lack of product fit for their needs and the needs of those serving them with expertise and capital. Bangladesh continues to lag behind in women’s economic empowerment and equality. Without real-time information capture, MSMEs stay offline in the informal economy and are unable to improve their business with information.
ENVision mobile has developed a simple, intuitive android app for low-income microentrepreneurs who primarily sell consumer goods in cash to track their key business activity. By providing insights into their business they could not previously have obtained we will help stabilize and grow their business enabling them to improve their job security. ENVision mobile is designed for the financially excluded and underserved population of society and the millions of invisible MSMEs and their workers in the informal economy, who are disproportionately women in disenfranchised and low-income communities.
Film your elevator pitch
What is the problem you are solving?
The micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) market segment represents $100+ billion of economic activity in Bangladesh. There are about six million MSMEs. Technology is revolutionizing the world by providing tools for entrepreneurship, access to critical health and education, and life-enhancing information. Today, 1.7 billion women in low- and middle-income countries still do not own mobile phones, and the gap between the number of men and women using the internet has grown steadily over the past three years, resulting in a digital gender divide. This digital gender divide is reinforcing or even exacerbating existing socioeconomic gaps between men and women.
The lack of digital record keeping is a key barrier that leads to financial exclusion from many traditional banking options. MSMEs often do not have access to computers or the skillset to operate them, let alone office productivity programs like Excel. However the exponential growth of smartphone adoption in Bangladesh (31% in 2017 with estimation of 75% in 2025) offers a chance to change this.
Who are you serving?
ENVision mobile has designed its technology to be used by micro-entrepreneurs, especially women. We will partner with iDE Bangladesh to address women MSMEs are our target demographic. iDE's extensive research has reinforced the widely understood notion that women MSMEs are not a homogenous segment.
1. Cottage-level. They have limited expressions of formalized aspiration due to highly informal status. They are highly risk averse due to lack of resources and capital. Fully unacquainted with banking processes. As a result, highly limited expressed demand for formal loans (though latent demand apparent).
2. Micro-level. They lack of exposure to formal marketplaces limits expansion beyond immediate community. Lack of technical skills (e.g. new design, diversification) limits quality improvement/differentiation from local competition. Lack of forward market linkages depresses incentives to increase production volumes
3. Small level. Requested amount of loans are not being issued by the banks, which causes a structural barrier towards graduating to more formal status. Very few women at this level leads to fierce competition when gender-biased “opportunities” (which are often limited at local level) arise.
iDE Bangladesh will use the data that ENVision mobile generates from the women micro-entrepreneurs to facilitate access to financial services so they can grow their businesses.
What is your solution?
Our solution solves several unaddressed problems for women micro-entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. The first unique solution is that the all functionality of the app works offline and syncs to the cloud when possible. This is especially important for users with poor internet connection, and high barriers to accessing cheap internet. The majority of android phones in the market are running on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating software, not the newest OS. Our technology requires our developers to work backwards on older and cheaper phones, typically low-end Android phones most commonly found among women so that the package is downloadable on phones with limited space. The novelty is truly designing for an unconnected population that may not be actively using the internet or have computers, but still acquiring smartphones. The app is also available in Bengali.
Noor is a microentrepreneur who sells packaged foods in the market in Dhaka. She uses her personal finances to buy packaged foods that she sells to make day to day earnings that supports herself and her children. She only accepts cash from customers, speaks Bangla, and has a notebook in which she writes the number of items she sells each day and does not make receipts for her customers. Noor, does however, own a smart phone.
After downloading the app on her Android, she signs in with her telephone number. She is then prompted to create her inventory. She takes photos of her packaged food items, and enters the names, quantity, and the amount spent acquiring that inventory. When she makes a sale, Noor simply taps on the icon or name of the item, and it prompts the customer price and number bought. If a customer wants to buy in installments and pay the balance later, Noor can track that sale in the app. Combining the inventory with this sales information, the app will track her revenue and cash flow. Noor can also enter in operational expenses. Noor can also generate a sales report for her supplier to show her business performance. She can then send this to the supplier using SMS, email, or a messaging app like WhatsApp so she can place her next order from them. ENVision mobile is her real first step in understanding whether her business is profitable. After using the app regularly, Noor has also created a financial history that she can use to share with lenders during due diligence.
Select only the most relevant.
Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Oakland, California, USA
In which sector would you categorize your solution?
Our solution's stage of development:Prototype
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
ENVision is innovative as it has been designed to make a complex task intuitive and simple for the micro-entrepreneur users. The base technology is novel in its simplicity and ease of use. Further innovations will include incorporating machine learning for recommendations to users based on the data collected, and gamified in-app financial education. The record keeping and digital wallet integrations such as bKash will allow these micro-businesses to better integrate into the formal economy. The cloud based dashboard for organizations will make use of our data sets and custom algorithms to drive value and insight.
Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
The lack of digitization of small business records limits the financial inclusion of small businesses. Our Theory of Change is that once women micro-entrepreneurs use our application to digitize their records, their output is exportable ledgers and profit-loss statements. The short-term objective is they gain insights into how their business is performing and long-term react on those insights to adjust and make their businesses more profitable. With digital records, they can more easily serve this information as due diligence criteria for lenders.
Select the key characteristics of the population in Bangladesh your solution serves.
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?
ENVision mobile is currently supporting about 500 microentrepreneurs, mostly in East Africa with its app solution. Through partnering with iDE on the Tiger Challenge, we will be able to support an additional 500 women-led MSMEs in Bangladesh. Over the course of 2020, we aim to have 10,000 MSMEs using our application via app distribution partners and by the end of 2024 5 million MSMEs using our platform globally.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Over the next year, we will continue to test our product-market fit and business model. At the same time, we are raising a pre-seed round. We will also work on scaling users and have product roadmap of app user wish list features that we will build to support user engagement. This includes features such as edtech to teach financial literacy to the microentrepreneur, a two-way credit tracking system via integrating bKash API, and customer collection reminders.
In five years, by leveraging a technology that works for all micro-entrepreneurs globally, our goal is to create a universal platform for micro business analytics, micro-lending and financial education. By empowering users to track and analyze their own data and providing machine learning insights direct to users, we will enable better data-driven decision making and create an impact in a digitally underserved market. Scale will be achieved through direct marketing to users and partnerships with organizations who have large user bases. The technical aspects of scalability are easily achieved through well understood costs of additional engineers and hosting services. We also aim to have enough data provided by microentrepreneurs to sell Nielsen-style reports for consumer good companies.
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
The key barriers for our solution in the short term are confirming the cost savings for partners and gaining enough users to drive big data machine learning insights. Getting our first 10 paying B2B customers over the next year will be our biggest challenge without the brand recognition many businesses require in Bangladesh. Over the next 5 years our biggest challenge will be focused on learning how to find product-market fit for the MSMEs themselves, changing behavior, and having them realize the benefits of digitizing their businesses and the ancillary services they can receive by doing so.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
We are currently focused on finding our product-market fit, interviewing strategic partners, and researching the total cost of current data collection techniques to illustrate the market need for our solution. Solve can help us with this, and help enable these strategic introductions so we can develop and ship our product faster.
If you selected “My solution is already being implemented in Bangladesh,” please provide an overview of your current activities in the region.
If you selected “I am planning to expand my solution to Bangladesh,” please provide an overview of your expansion plans. What is the market opportunity for your business or product in Bangladesh?
Bangladesh continues to lag behind in women’s economic empowerment and equality. The micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) market segment represents $100+ billion of economic activity and is the underlying driver of inclusive growth in Bangladesh, yet half the country’s population (i.e. women) are not able to contribute. There are six million MSMEs in Bangladesh. The iDE Bangladesh's The Women’s Economic Empowerment through Strengthening Market Systems (WEESMS) programme is a five-year initiative funded by the Embassy of Sweden, designed to increase women’s participation in the labour market in rural and peri-urban Bangladesh, with a significant focus on reducing gender inequality in the country’s entrepreneurship ecosystem. It aims to promote women’s entrepreneurship and strengthen the enabling environment for women to access formal and informal productive employment opportunities. The programme is being implemented through a partnership of iDE Bangladesh and The Asia Foundation across nine districts under the Khulna and Rangpur divisions of Bangladesh. During its inception phase, the programme conducted a thorough market research to narrow down its focus from over hundreds of industries to specifically the sectors of home textiles and jute diversified products, and processed and packaged foods. It is through this programme how we will enter the Bangladeshi market.
Select an option below:For-profit
How many people work on your solution team?
Three full-time staff.
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
- 12 years of experience working in emerging markets: Bangladesh, India, and Uganda.
- London School of Economics graduate with a Masters in Environment & Development. Bachelors in International Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- Founded ENVenture, a non-profit that provides loans to small businesses in Uganda to sell clean energy. Currently being acquired by New Energy Nexus.
- Formerly at United Nations Foundation working on the pre-planning of the Sustainable Development Goals.
- Formerly on Facebook’s emerging markets innovation team focused on prototyping new technologies.
PhD in Information Systems Technology from Penn State University. Undergraduate degree in Computer Science from Penn State University.
Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon from 2011 to 2013 serving as a computer teacher
During his PhD, Eric worked on several emerging market startups that were launched by Penn State and traveled to Sierra Leone and Kenya to implement data management systems for one agricultural and one public health startup.
Fulbright scholar in 2017 and spent 9 months in Rwanda studying innovation hubs and tech startups (the topic of his PhD dissertation).
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
ENVision mobile is partnering with iDE to implement the app to their Women’s Economic Empowerment through Strengthening Market Systems (WEESMS) program in Bangladesh. iDE's mission is to leverage markets to create income and livelihood opportunities for poor rural households. With over 30 years of experience in Bangladesh, iDE has learned what works through partnerships that have brought tried and tested technologies to scale.
iDE Bangladesh, the oldest iDE country program having operated continuously since 1982. Registered with the Government of Bangladesh since 1984, iDE Bangladesh has reached over 10 million people during the last 33 years, iDE Bangladesh’s impact started with the commercialization of the treadle pump, eventually selling over 1.5 million units. The country program works in close coordination with the Government of Bangladesh and its various development initiatives. Over the last three decades, iDE Bangladesh has grown from a small non-government organization (NGO) focused on smallholder irrigation to its current US$4.5 million portfolio of programs focusing on agriculture, food and nutrition security, WASH, clean energy and women’s economic empowerment. iDE Bangladesh has presence in over 150 upazilas (sub-districts) and over 25 districts through its regional project offices and its country office in Dhaka.
What is your business model?
Our business model is to involve the Consumer Product Goods companies (CPGs) and lenders to roll out the app to their existing retailer base as a B2B2C model. We will work with CPGs and lenders through a mix of partnerships, inbound requests, personal network, leads and linkedin outreach. We also have some organic growth of our Android app being downloaded by shopkeepers looking for a business management app. One of our most active users found our app this way, who has recorded over 1500 transactions. Our conversion cost to run a Google Play ad is equal to 8 cents per download, making this a very affordable way to reach superusers who are seeking free bookkeeping solutions. We are also planning to use the inventory data from these organic users to work backwards and find their suppliers who we can target for sales of our entire platform.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
We are raising a mix of investment (convertible note + SAFE), grants, and selling our platform to CPG companies. Our goal is to break even within the next 12 months and be in a position to raise a seed investment round to grow our company in multiple markets. We will make money from CPG companies that supply retailers and from lenders that are already lending to these micro-entrepreneurs by charging them subscriptions to view data analytics on their retail networks, financial performance information, conduct inventory ordering through our platform, and receive market insights. As we grow the number of stores on our platform, we will also monetize the large datasets we will be collecting (via market reports or direct API requests).
Why are you applying to the Tiger Challenge?
Aneri previously worked with MIT Media Lab's Emerging Worlds initiative and saw the power of MIT's innovation ecosystem extend to developing countries. As such, MIT is a great partner in enabling its network to expand our focus and learn about the latest research in financial inclusion tech. Though the funding is of course welcome, we see Solve's real benefit in unlocking mentorship, visibility, and making connections to enable ENVision mobile to get it's name and brand noticed in a new market for us in Bangladesh. As we have mostly operated in East Africa, this is a new geographic focus but with a huge Total Addressable Market for our product.
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?
In addition to iDE, ENVision mobile would like to partner with JITA Bangladesh to roll out our solution amongst their borrower/sales agent networks to accelerate our solution. JITA Bangladesh is a social enterprise that aims to create sustainable income for marginalized rural women by establishing key supply-chain linkages and developing informal markets. Utilizing rural women as independent sales agents, JITA helps connect commercial manufacturers to the under-served base of the economic pyramid (BoP) market with essential health, hygiene, and nutrition products.
JITA’s unique approach to solving this supply chain problem is by introducing a hub-and-spoke mechanism, where micro-investor operated ‘hubs’ act as sub-distributors in areas where mainstream distributors generally do not reach. Aside from working with 400 hubs across 43 districts, JITA has access to nearly 20,000 retailers who operate in informal marketplaces that cater to BoP households.
At the center of its distribution system are the Aparajita (Bengali for “women who do not accept defeat”). These women hail from economically marginalized communities and are driven to secure a sustainable income for themselves and their family.