As Business Accelerators Spread in Developing Countries, These Funders Want Data

If you go to a developing country, like Nigeria for instance, you could probably throw a rock and hit a business accelerator, or at the very least, an organization that runs one. These programs—which are designed to help get businesses off the ground in a relatively short period of time—aim to kickstart small businesses in developing countries by providing seed money, space, and learning opportunities for budding entrepreneurs. They've been proliferating widely in recent years, and a lot excitement has surrounded this trend. 

But just how efficient and effective are these accelerators?

It's a good question, and one that nobody really has an answer to. Now, the Omidyar Network, along with handful of partners, is aiming to change that. 

Recently, Omidyar, USAID, the Lemelson Foundation, and the Ardigius Foundation made a collective $2.3 million commitment to support the launch of the Global Accelerator Learning Initiative (GALI), which will take a deep dive into the analysis and assessment of accelerators.

GALI, which is being led by the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) and Emory University’s Social Enterprise at Goizueta, will focus a good amount of attention on the efficacy of accelerator programs in emerging markets.

Related: Omidyar Network: Grants for Global Development

Key areas of interest for GALI are determining whether these accelerator programs actually work to promote growth, attract investment, and increase revenue for companies; examining which types of programs have the highest impact on success; and learning more about the entrepreneurs who participate in these types of programs.

The research GALI is conducting is the first of its kind, as it plans to conduct a comprehensive study into early-stage acceleration for small and growing businesses in emerging markets. However, GALI will use similar work conducted by the Entrepreneurship Database (EDp) program at Emory University as a stepping stone. EDp has already collected data on over 3,500 business and partnered with over 60 business accelerator programs to date. The $2.3 million gift from Omidyar, USAID, Lemelson, and Ardigius will expand upon EDPs initial work and will include the collection of data on more than 10,000 organizations globally.

The Omidyar Network, which makes both grants and impact investments to further its overall goal of "advancing social good at the pace and scale the world needs today," has a history of investing in big data such as GALI. Recently, Omidyar awarded a $1 million grant to the Joined Up Data Initiative, a project of Development Initiatives and Publish What You Fund. The grant is supporting its Data Standards project, which aims to “change the way in which the standards that govern development data are designed and how they can be aligned to bring data together from multiple data standards.”

Related: Sexy, No. Vital, Yes: A Million Bucks to Join Up Global Development Data

Data. It’s not sexy, nor does it garner major headlines, but it is a vital and necessary aspect of pretty much every issue in global development.