Founder, BizGees, Global
"Determination,” says Zufi Deo, is the main characteristic a social founder needs to succeed. “You really need to take on the world to get the basics in place.” Next comes creative problem solving skills - “you need them as an entrepreneur anyway, however as a social entrepreneur, they are that much more important because you are focused on generating social and economic value without the support ecosystem that standard entrepreneurs have.” Finally, Zufi says, you must have the ability to stay calm in a crisis. “You have to stay focused and ensure you don't lose sight of what you are trying to achieve.”
If the success of the organisation he co-founded, BizGees, is any indication, Zufi has mastered the above. Founded in 2016, BizGees is a group of professionals using their commercial expertise to support the development of start-ups by refugee entrepreneurs in exciting and innovative ways; providing seed capital as well as training, credit history and ongoing support for low-income refugee communities. Most importantly, BizGees subscribes to a model of alternative finance: new ways of accessing finance such as crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending (both for businesses and individuals), BitCoin, real estate and invoice trading.
Zufi is himself an entrepreneur with 20 years’ experience in the SME sector, and was named one of the UK’s top 50 Business Advisers in 2014 and 2018. The difference, he notes, between social entrepreneurs and the founders of businesses is in “the value you are looking to generate.” To begin with, the number of stakeholders are higher, and you have to “add value to society as part of your core activities. So, from the onset you have to think, deal and manage a greater quantity of concerns.”
According to their website, BizGees begins by supporting low-income refugee communities living on $5 a day, and applying a business model that brings together 3-5 refugees. BizGees’ financial support generates new jobs in their host countries and they provide training to run a successful micro-business. “Over the first 12 months of operations the typical refugee startup will create another 10 jobs for family and tribal members who earn cash that they spend in local markets. In the process they regain some of their dignity and economic autonomy. They begin to grow a future and make investments in the education of their children.”
BizGees speeds a refugee entrepreneur’s entry into the financial system by organising a credit history of borrowing and repayment that is acceptable to local banks and lenders. “The model works”, says Zufi. Where first-time entrepreneurs experience a failure rate of around 90 percent, according to BizGees, the entrepreneurs they support have a dramatically lower 10 percent failure rate.
Asked what he is most proud of, Zufi responds: “We supported 22 volunteers to engage with the refugee experience at a deeper level than they would otherwise have. I feel this helps narrow the perception/reality gap between what the actual refugee experience is and the common perception of what they go through.” Of what he has found most fulfilling, he says “The simple thank you you get is a humbling experience.”
Zufi knew that his vision had taken off when BizGees won the Infosys Challenge for Financial Inclusion at the UNICEF Fintech Jam for Good 2016. “This why we focused on accessing support from accelerator programs along the way,” says Zufi. Among the organisations that have supported BizGees are the Zurich-based F10 FinTech Incubator & Accelerator, which helped Zufi to articulate the vision and mission of Bizgees; the Entrepreneurial Spark program, which supported their business development; and the Blockchain for Social Impact Incubator, which helped BizGees to update their methods of using blockchain.
In addition to accessing accelerator programmes, Zufi would advise someone thinking about founding a social enterprise to explore all the legal options available, and not assume that a CIC or charity is the best option. “You can use a standard LTD model for social entrepreneurship,” he says. “This allows you to offer shares to your investors. However, accessing grants is a concern.” Zufi has managed to mitigate this by dedicating time to developing five unique revenue streams; and operating on an eco-system basis, allowing him to continue co-creating innovation quickly.
You can connect with BizGees on Twitter @BizGees