I've always wanted to visit Nepal, so when the opportunity arose for me join with one of the projects we support - SPRING - on a 10 day long trip, I couldn't believe my luck. SPRING is an accelerator working with growth-oriented businesses that seek to transform the lives of poor and vulnerable adolescent girls living across East Africa and South Asia.
Unlike other accelerators (which often just hand out cash) SPRING's focus is on providing expertise in the areas of business growth, investment-readiness, design, innovation, and marketing with the aim of bringing commercially-viable, innovative products and services to market, and scaling these sustainably. My role here is to provide legal advice directly to the entrepreneurs.
The current South Asia cohort consists of 18 businesses from Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, all of which have come together at "boot camp" (in a ridiculously beautiful mountain retreat, about 40km South East of Kathmandu) for the final part of their 9-month journey with SPRING. My home at boot camp has everything - sunshine, trendy bean bags, a campfire, an (unverified) leopard sighting, a trampoline, and the occasional rum punch – but this is no holiday. In fact, it's an intense experience for both the entrepreneurs and the advisors. Even during the short time I've been here, I've seen some of the businesses completely transform.
It's difficult to pick just a single example of this (but I will). One of my favourite businesses, "goats for water" - which install solar water pumps in rural communities in exchange for goats that are then sold during Eid - has had a complete rebrand over the last few days and has now emerged as "UpTrade". On the legal side, I'm advising UpTrade on trade mark clearance searches, company formation, employment contracts, as well as looking at ways to make the business more investible. With the help of SPRING, UpTrade is now scaling up to install water pumps across rural Pakistan. This will directly impact the lives of women and girls in those areas who invariably shoulder the responsibility of ensuring the availability of water for their families and communities.
The holistic approach that SPRING encourages means that all the advisers work together, and this (*cliché alert*) creates a real sense of community amongst everyone at boot camp. I've really got to know the businesses and the inspirational entrepreneurs behind them, and I'm humbled and exciting to be part of their story. Maybe it's just the aura of Nepal, or perhaps it's the effect of my severe mountain sunburn, but I think that SPRING is doing something really incredible here; the whole ethos of the programme is completely infectious.
So tomorrow, with genuine sadness, I make the long trip home. The trip will really leave a mark, which is down to the amazing people I've met (as well as the sunburn). Fortunately we have the chance to continue working with the entrepreneurs beyond my time there. Although the businesses have come a long way, the road is long and there will be further obstacles to overcome. Our work continues with the help of our clients - such as Amazon - with whom we will be conducting the due diligence alongside SPRING to select the next batch of businesses that will make up the 2017 East Africa cohort. I can't wait to see how all the entrepreneurs get on.