Inside the FINCA Ventures Prize Competition 

Presentation by CheckUps at the 2024 FINCA Ventures Prize competition.

In addition to generous support from the Glenn W. Bailey Foundation, bringing the FINCA Ventures Prize competition to life took countless hours of work from FINCA’s board, staff, and volunteers.

Preparing for the Competition

FINCA’s Board Chair David Weisman dedicated the day before the event to help the contestants fine-tune their pitches. David has provided input to the management and CEO founders of start-ups on many occasions. “I look at these practice sessions as a chance for these leaders to learn to relax while delivering their pitch,” David said. “I also prod them with questions that they could expect to hear from an investor.” 

David saw two encouraging commonalities across the competitors. First, he noted that all the finalists possessed a “contagious enthusiasm for their work.” Second, David was pleased to see many of the contestants’ business plans used current technology, such as mobile phones, as the center of their solutions. “The world that they live in is based on the mobile phones,” David recounted. “They have come up with new ways to put that technology to use to solve a social need for the world.” 

While all the competitors had remarkable stories, David mentioned that “Angela Odero from Rio Fish, who ended up being one of the winners, stood out. Her innovation to help women in the fish value chain get product to market without fear of the abuse and threats that is common in that male-dominated sector will be life-changing for her clients. I also really liked how Folake Owodunni was creating an Uber-like logistics system to deliver emergency medical care in Nigeria.”

Member of the judging panels (left) and FINCA Global CEO Andrée Simon (center) take the stage to celebrate the four winners of the competition (right).

Judging the Competition

Meanwhile, Eric Chern was one of the 16 judges who had the challenging task of picking the winners. Eric has judged pitch competitions for years but noted that others on the panel, which included Denisse Alfaro from the US Development Finance Corp and Ivan Mandela from Shona Capital, “brought a level of knowledge of and experience with Africa’s agriculture sector that I do not have.” By meeting before the event to share and refine questions with which to challenge the competitors, Eric felt that he and the other panelists enhanced their collective intelligence. By doing this prep work, he felt they created a meaningful and useful dialog with the competitors.

As for how the panel made its decision, Eric reported that “I went in knowing that I was looking for the idea that was most exciting, that had the greatest potential for impact and scale. I wanted someone who could convince me that what they had – whether their idea, technology, business model, or something else – was really special.” In the end, the panel chose Kazi Yetu as the winner. “It was a really tough decision,” Eric noted. “My fellow judges and I came at it with different perspectives and started in different places. It took us a bit to settle on the winner. The entrepreneurs behind Koolboks and Sprouts also are building amazing companies.”

Eric Chern (far left), Andrée Simon (fifth from left), and FINCA Founder John Hatch (eighth from left) pose for a photo after the competition.

This experience reaffirmed Eric’s belief in FINCA’s role as a catalyst for change. “I was inspired to find that all 12 companies in the competition looked investible. The competition was positive proof that the world needs organizations like FINCA and programs like FINCA Ventures to bring investments to emerging new products and services that people living in poverty need.”