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    LightCastle Partners, in association with ACDI/VOCA and Rural Reconstruction Foundation (RRF), completed the third batch of the Business Scale-up Program “Unnoty” to provide business development support via accelerator programs and investment readiness training. This initiative helped women ag-entrepreneurs and ag-SMEs of Khulna region to become fully investable growth businesses.

    The consortium partners have successfully completed the event with a Demo Day on September 18, 2019 at CSS Ava Center, Rupsha Strand Road, Khulna. The Demo Day followed an eventful Inauguration of the month-long Unnoty Accelerator Program.

    The following illustration shows the journey from scouting entrepreneurs to have them pitching.

    Figure: 1. Timeline of ACDI/VOCA Unnoty Accelerator Program

    Roadshow

    The initial phase of the project was a two-day long Roadshow, which was held on 2-3 September. The project team conducted six roadshows in Khulna (Dumuria, Botiaghata, Fultola). The day-long roadshows attracted the community dwellers and over 150+ participants showed interest in the accelerator program. In the program, leaflets were handed out and briefing sessions were conducted. The events were attended by sector experts, along with representatives from ACDI/VOCA, LightCastle Partners and RRF.

    Boot Camp

    Boot Camp is the second phase of Unnoty program. The boot camp was facilitated by LightCastle Partners at CSS Ava Center, Rupsha Strand Road, Khulna. The event saw 79 female entrepreneurs attend with a noticeable enthusiasm to learn. Discussions ensued about pragmatic ways to increase productivity, business expansion, capital division, and provision of loans and tactics – all in an effort to help them obtain a better understanding of their business model. Afterwards, the project team held one-on-one interview with each participant to gauge participants’ fit into the upcoming rigorous program. Ultimately, the panel shortlisted 21 entrepreneurs for the accelerator program.

     

     Accelerator Program

    As a part of the accelerator program, the first residential session was held on the second week of September. Mentors (business consultants, gender experts, education psychologist, public officials and local market leaders) ran day-long workshops t0 deliver a holistic knowledge building and experience-based learning. The workshops entailed both hands-on practical and theoretical lessons.

    The hands-on learning sessions included:

    • Teamwork: Splitting into two teams and debating on relevant topics
    • Critical Thinking: Solving MCQ based quizzes
    • Presentation: Articulating case study solutions

    Alongside, theoretical sessions captured the following knowledge themes:

    • Business Principles
    • Product Matrix
    • Business Model Canvas
    • Financial Governance
    • Financial Management
    • Branding & Sales
    • Business Opportunity
    • Investment Readiness
    • Modern Ag-Technology
    • Agro-Technical Knowledge

    The second phase of the residential workshop was held on the 3rd week of September. The first day was comprised mainly of financial planning, analysis, and recording keeping. Moreover, local District Livestock Officer Mr. Dr. Bankim Kumar Haldar, DVM, BCS (Dairy & Poultry Consultant) took an engaging session on livestock handling and dairy production.

    The second day began with a session on agriculture techniques and storing where participants learned about making vermicomposting, paddy & seed storing. A session on seed processing and seedling plantation was arranged to enlighten the participants about modern agro-technology, too. District Agriculture Officer Ms. Rubayat Ara, BCS (Agriculture), ran the session on agriculture techniques and methods. Afterwards, participants learned and practiced business idea pitching – in the process, learning to improve public speaking and selling skills.

    Demo Day

    The Demo Day was held on 18 September 2019 at CSS Ava Centre, Khulna. An esteemed panel of judges was present to grace the occasion. The panel consisted of representatives from ACDI/VOCA, BRAC Bank, Bank Asia, LightCastle Partners, RRF, Sub-District Agriculture Office of Khulna, and Independent Education Psychologist.

    The Demo Day started with a welcome speech by the consortium, followed by introductory speeches from the esteemed dignitaries and judges. Ms. Maliha Ahmed, an education psychologist, appeared next to conduct an engaging session on Women Entrepreneurship, Women Empowerment, and Education.

    Finally, the big moment arrived for the participants – it was time to apply weeks of lessons to practice in front of the judges and guests. They pitched their profile, experience, business plan, current financial solvency, revenue, profit projections and capital requirements, followed by a rigorous Q&A. The closing ceremony was followed by certificate distribution and parting words from the consortium partners.

    Outcome

    At the end of the evaluation, 21 ag-entrepreneurs were introduced to financial institutions and local traders in seed, dairy and vermicomposting.

    Post event feedback from the participants and guests were very promising; they applauded the initiative and showed enthusiasm to support and participate in more such events. Executives from Bank Asia and BRAC Bank stated that they would try their best to facilitate the financial needs of the participants starting from opening a zero deposit account to arranging SME loans for them upon evaluation.

    The Agriculture Resource Officer of Khulna Sub-district praised the participants for their enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit and said would assure them of his utmost support.

    The three wholesalers of Dairy, Vermicomposting and Paddy promised to provide credit for advance purchase of paddy, milk and vermicomposting from the entrepreneurs. This will enable the entrepreneurs to increase their processing output and collect higher revenue. These contract sales serve as stability in the event of sudden drop in market prices – ensuring sustainability.

    Case in Point

    Ms. Ranu Begum
    Owner
    M/s Ranu Dairy Farm
    Teligati, Aronghata, Khulna

    “I feel very honored and privileged to have attended this training program and getting to know about the basics of business management, which have opened up new opportunities for me in countless ways such as getting to know about ways to get access to loans at a lower cost and understanding the pricing process to include indirect costs while calculating the price of my products. Before I did not have a proper action plan for my future goals, but after attending the sessions and creating my own BMC (Business Model Canvas) I believe that I will be able to manage my business better and more efficiently. I am now confident to implement my plan and become a successful agri entrepreneur in the region.”

    She carries over 4 years of experience running a dairy farm – both milk and cow fattening. She is currently processing milk, and selling them to local traders and wholesale buyers in her nearby areas.

    Before attending the accelerator program, she was unaware of provisions to capital from private commercial banks at interest rates lower than micro credit financing. She was also careless of considering indirect costs such as rent and utility bill while calculating her business expenditure.

    The accelerator program helped her understand better financing and strengthened relationship with BRAC Bank. Combination of both enabled her to enter into the process of obtaining a long-term loan of BDT 1 million (1,000,000 Tk.) for farm expansion (purchasing 6 Frisian dairy cows and start a vermicomposting plant in a new shed).