Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Learnings from the Girl Effect Accelerator

Mike sharing the Zoona story
Zoona was recently selected by the Unreasonable Group and Nike Foundation for the Girl Effect Accelerator because of the impact our business is having on girls and young women in Africa. Girls in Zambia and Malawi are able to get jobs as Zoona tellers, become business owners as Zoona Agents, and develop into entrepreneurs as Zoona Aggregators. These opportunities enable them to re-invest their income back into their children’s education (when they choose to have children), creating positive ripples across their communities.

This is the Girl Effect in action, and we believe that Zoona has the potential to multiply this many times over.

Last month, Lelemba Phiri and I had the privilege of attending this two week accelerator program at Campovida, two hours north of San Francisco.

If I could sum up our experience in one word, it would be: “accelerating”!

Despite the relaxed camping environment with shared tents and outdoor showers, the two weeks was packed full of mind altering conversations and business building activities. Check out this great video summarizing the experience.

The quality of the other entrepreneurs was phenomenal, and we felt humbled to be in their presence. The other participants are truly taking on the world’s toughest challenges – and succeeding. And all of them are real businesses that are growing incredibly quickly. The cohort had operations in 30+ countries and averaged $2.2 million in revenue last year. Each of these ventures deserves a mention and all the support we can give them!

Marketing guru Seth Godin teaches all
Bridge International Academies
Jayashree Enterprises
Green Light Planet
Off Grid Electric
Eco Fuel Africa

Despite our differing geographies and industries, I was astounded by how we were all facing similar business challenges. From raising capital to building a team to achieving focus to scaling into new markets, all start-ups have to overcome the same hurdles around the world. These challenges – and our perseverance to overcome them – are what connect entrepreneurs together. I learned so much from this group and am proud to call them all friends.

We were also humbled to receive so much advice and coaching from an astonishing set of mentors that came to stay with us during the program and help us work on our businesses. Some of the key highlights include:

Entertained by Michael Fitzpatrick
Tom Chi, a co-founder of Google X that designed Google Glasses and driverless cars, shared a rapid prototyping framework designed to help our business learn 10X faster.

Jeff Hoffman, founder of, helped us craft a brand message to lead our growth as we scale into new markets.

Seth Godin, taught us the secret of marketing by distilling it down to its most simple form: “people like us do things like this”.

Michael Fitzpatrick, one of the world’s top cellists, mesmerizing us with sounds in a private concert.
Great support from Google's Patrick Pichette

Patrick Pichette, the CFO of Google and a huge Zoona supporter, drove 3.5 hours (each way!) to visit for an afternoon and shared insights into how to build a culture of A-players.

The program culminated with each company presenting to an audience of 600 people at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. This was a fabulous experience and one that helped spread the message that entrepreneurship can be a tremendous force for good in the world.

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