It was in my second week at HiiL that I learnt about the 3-day Proven Innovation Summit. It was to take place in just 4 weeks in Lagos, Nigeria. As the Accelerator Programme Manager, it was my role to develop the programme for this event. As a new member of the HiiL team, I was excited to immediately jump in and get my hands dirty. I love working with entrepreneurs and the Summit was the perfect opportunity to meet the entrepreneurs in person and gain a deeper understanding of their work. The purpose of the Summit was to explore the topic of expansion and scaling. By bringing together entrepreneurs from different markets, we wanted to give them the space to share challenges, brainstorm solutions, exchange learnings and to ultimately access each other’s wealth of know-hows.
Proven Innovations in our Portfolio
This event was catered to the founders of the “proven innovations” in our portfolio. This is a small group of established entrepreneurs who are preparing to lead their enterprises into the scale phase. The proven innovations have a strong team and founder leadership, a clear business model that enabled financial sustainability, as well as, replicability and scalability in other markets, and an impact of 20,000 justice problems prevented or resolved per month. Let me tell you about them one by one.
Women as Community Social Justice Guides
Haqdarshak from India, represented by its founder and CEO, Aniket Doegar. Aniket, a former teacher, founded Haqdarshak in 2015. Haqdarshak is a technology platform that uses deep tech to connect citizens to their eligible government welfare schemes. Over 5000 trained women entrepreneurs play a key role in the operations of Haqdarshak in different communities across 17 states in India. They have so far made it possible for Haqdarshak to reach over 172,000 citizens and to include 60,000 citizens in welfare schemes.
Digitsation of Criminal Records Improves Service Delivery
CrimeSync from Sierra Leone, represented by its founder and CEO, Sorieba Daffae. Sorieba, an electrical engineer and lawyer, as well as a 2019 Obama Foundation Africa Leader, established CrimeSync in 2016. CrimeSync is an all-in-one digital crime records management application that serves to improve judicial service delivery in the justice chain. CrimeSync helps the police, the prisons and the courts in Sierra Leone to go paperless. So far, it has handled over 110,000 direct cases.
Legal Support Where and When You Need It Most
Barefoot Law from Uganda. Gerald Abila, a lawyer, along with his co-founders established Barefoot Law in 2012. Barefoot Law is a technology platform that provides the public with free legal information and assistance. They have so far reached over 650,000 people across Uganda, and over 96,000 people have used the information and justice pathways provided by Barefoot law to address their justice needs. By 2030, Barefoot Law aims to make access to justice to 50 million people across Africa a reality.
On-demand Legal Empowerment
LawPadi from Nigeria. Babatunde Ibidapo-Obe, a lawyer and PhD researcher in law and technology, established LawPadi in 2015 with the aim of giving users clear and easy to understand answers about the law and how it affects their daily lives. LawPadi is an online platform that provides individuals and businesses with legal advisory services, regulatory assistance, and related information. The platform serves between 30,000 to 40,000 unique users per month and is expected to reach 500,000 users before the end of the year.
Balancing the Scales: Housing Disputes Made Easy
JustFix from USA was represented by its CEO, Georges Clement, a 2018 Fobes 30 Under 30. In 2015, inspired by his firsthand experience of growing up in rental homes, Georges started JustFix to help tenants with access to justice. Using technology, JustFix allows tenants facing eviction and neglected housing conditions to build well-documented cases and connects them with a community and legal advocates. In the past 2.5 years, JustFix has served over 10,000 tenants in New York City and has had an over 60% successful resolution rate in its cases. JustFix is also a member of the Right to Counsel Coalition that helped to pass the first civil right to legal representation in the history of the USA in 2017. Within the next 2 years, JustFix will expand to two other cities in the USA.
Automated Legal Documents
We had also invited Yuriy Zaremba, CEO of Axdraft from Ukraine to the Summit, but unfortunately, he was not able to participate. Started in 2017, Axdraft offers on-demand automation of legal processes for enterprise customers, helping them to draft error-free legal documents 10 times faster. Axdraft has over 4000 registered users, raised 1.2 million euros from a seed round in April, and is part of the 2019 cohort of Y Combinator, the top startup accelerator based in Silicon Valley.
Meet the Founders of the Proven Innovations Summit
As these enterprises were scale-ready, the Summit programme focused on sharing challenges related to scaling, e.g., fundraising and organisational development. We also talked about founder well-being and managing stress and rejection. Aniket said that for him, “personal well-being and growth” was one of the most important learnings.
Fireside Chats Deepen Shared Learnings
At the Summit, in an intimate setting, the entrepreneurs discussed their challenges and solutions, and learnt from each other. Babatunde said that “the most important part of the sessions for [him] were the informal chats which [he] had with the other innovators, getting their point of view on certain issues and learning from their experiences.” In exchanging experiences, a sense of comradery developed between the entrepreneurs. Gerlad said that he “loved the Summit,” and for him, “it was a wonderful experience … knowing that [him and BarefootLaw] are not alone in this journey.”
Key Learnings and Takeaways From the Summit
This Summit is largely thanks to the hard work of our colleague Odunoluwa Longe, our Innovating Justice Agent for West Africa. Thanks to her, we were able to bring inspiring and well-established entrepreneurs from the vibrant Nigerian startup ecosystem into the same room as our entrepreneurs to share their firsthand experiences. A key learning for Babatunde (LawPadi) was realising the “need to deepen [LawPadi’s] footprint in one core area before branching out to other areas, or else run the risk of spreading [themselves] too thin and thereby not making any meaningful impact.” In discussions, the entrepreneurs felt inspired to think bigger, as Sorieba put it, “take bold decisions” about their plans to scale and to take this energy to their teams at home. For Georges, the most important takeaway from the Summit, was “to think big about what person/company/partner could create a catalytic moment for JustFix.” He said that “spending some deliberate time every so often to think big picture about a stretch goal is really important after being in the weeds so often”. Since this event, my colleagues and I have been working closely with our entrepreneurs to identify and establish relationships with potential high-level partners who would boost the scaling and growth of these enterprises into new markets. The goal is to help them make a greater impact. Within the next 4 years, we expect these enterprises to prevent and resolve justice problems of 10 million people, making justice accessible, affordable and easy to understand for them.
A Sense of Reaffirmation in my Work with HiiL
On a personal level, this was a short visit and I didn’t get the chance to see much of Lagos or the rest of Nigeria. I really enjoyed having the chance to finally experience a city and country that I had read so much about in the works of Nigerian authors. On top of that, this Summit was an opportunity to understand HiiL’s impact and the valuable work that it does toward making justice user-friendly through accelerating justice enterprises. Here they were: The young inspiring leaders who had already made a significant impact in their own countries and were well on their way to make an even greater impact globally. As I develop the program curriculum for the incoming 2020 cohort, I feel a sense of reaffirmation in my work and that of HiiL’s. I feel inspired by our entrepreneurs and can not wait to see what the future has in store for them.