Our incubation journey started in 2011, when xchange was first established and began to collaborate with early-stage impact enterprises focused on the Philippines. Even then, xchange provided tailored mentorship and support to help impact enterprises achieve scale and sustainability in the shortest amount of time possible. Photo: The xchange team with Villgro, Brac and SecondMuse in India.
The big difference was that there weren’t a lot of local incubators in the impact space and we had to figure out A LOT of things on our own. There was no handbook, nor pioneers in the space willing to share what they learned and guide us through the process. We just had to make a go of it and learn by listening to and working with our family of entrepreneurs. We designed our own lean experiments to test theories that would ideally get us to positive outcomes, and engaged and collaborated with various organisations whose core mission is the creation of social value.
Today, as we continue to tread along this exciting path, we often find ourselves reflecting on what we’ve learned in the last eight years. We frequently think about the demands of the present and future, in addition to the need to boost our learning with the hope of exponentially improving and effectively contributing to the local ecosystem.
During a similar period of retrospection last year, we came across the call for applications to the Frontier Incubators program, an Australian Aid initiative of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s innovationXchange. The program offered an amazing learning opportunity for us. Even though we weren’t confident in our odds of actually being accepted, we just went for it. We applied to be part of the cohort and, fortunately, got into the program.
Soon after, we met the 18 other members of the cohort, 11 amazing program partners and three main delivery partners, Conveners.org, SecondMuse and ygap. We spent a mind-blowing, jam-packed week in Singapore, which ended with the task of creating a learning and mentorship wishlist.
We believed that the sky was the limit, and asked for (1) help improving our incubation program by learning from someone with more experience, (2) learning more about risk capital for impact, angel network models and cooperatives.
Our wishes were granted and we were matched with Villgro, the world-renowned incubator with 19 years of experience. Our customised support program also included a study visit to India to meet the Villgro team, meet with an incubator for cooperatives, speak to angels who were active in the ecosystem, and visit an impact enterprise.
Our leadership team — composed of xchange’s Managing Director Rico Gonzalez and Directors Greg Perez and Erika Tatad — went straight to work. We were immediately impressed with the support we were getting through face to face meetings with Priya from Villgro, and follow-ups via calls and email. We were, of course, excited for the trip to India, but had no idea that it would surpass all of our expectations.
The trip was scheduled for the 22nd to 26th of April. The week before, the team found ourselves excited and anxious, cramming readings, discussing things to prepare for the trip and what to expect. It was going to be Rico and Greg’s first time in India so they were especially interested in what was in store for us.
Soon enough, we were in Bangalore and ready to start Day 1 of our study tour with the BRAC team from Bangladesh and Will from SecondMuse. Villgro’s India team rolled out the red carpet and asked the leads of each area of practice to present. We covered the areas of and had very deep discussions, including but not limited to Selection and Diligence (led by Villgro’s Vikash Jha), Mentoring (led by Priya Thachadi), Diagnostic Panels (led by Nirupao Rao), Technical Assistance and Go-To-Market Networks (led by Srinivas Ramanujam).
Day 2 focused on Seed Funding, Follow On Capital (led by Anuja Bose) and the Financial Sustainability of the Incubator (led by Villgro’s CEO and Founder, Paul Basil). We also met with three angel investors who talked to us about the different investing philosophies and models of their own groups. One focused on a community of professionals from different fields, another on a purely online community and the third on high net worth individuals.
Day 3 was spent in deep conversation with the India Foundation for Humanistic Development, one of the leading support groups for cooperatives in India. We closed our Bangalore sessions on the morning of Day 4 and flew to Madurai early that afternoon.
Thankfully, we had just enough time to get our first taste of India’s glorious uttapam (also known as onion dosa) and squeeze in a quick visit to the renowned Meenakshi Temple.
It has been an incredible journey working with xchange — an organisation that is home-grown from the Philippines, thousands of miles away from us in India, but shares so many of the same values, vision, and approach. The Frontier Incubators program has given us the platform to build a deeper connection and is now setting us on a new path as true collaborators and partners, to strengthen the Philippine ecosystem.
— Priya Thachadi
As if the previous few days were not extraordinary enough, Villgro saved the best for last. Our final day in India was all about Aravind, the impact enterprise and healthcare pioneer that’s been eliminating needless blindness since 1976.
Focusing on high-quality care and high volume, Aravind offers paid and free services to patients. Patients are allowed to self-select which service they want and the hospital doesn’t do a background check if they choose the free service.
In 2018, they were able to perform approximately 4,183,234 (that’s about 11,460 per day) outpatient visits and 478,028 (1,310 per day) surgeries. 50% of these patients received the service for free. Patients who came to the hospital were checked (this includes having their medication, wearing new lenses, etc) and were ready to leave within two hours of entering the premises.
That evening, we headed back to Manila, Philippines extremely excited by the mental flurry of new ideas, endless discussions regarding new possibilities for our work at xchange, and how to immediately apply and design experiments using all this learning.
We are so grateful for everything we have received and experienced so far, and deeply appreciate the generosity, openness and hospitality of Villgro. None of this would have been possible without the entire Frontier Incubators program and the support of DFAT innovationXchange and Australian Aid.
We’ve only hit the halfway mark of our program and already, the experience has surpassed all of our expectations. Our week in India showed us what collaboration in the most genuine form can produce: a community of support and practice that can accelerate the important work in the impact space.
xchange is one of 31 incubator and accelerator organisations participating in the Frontier Incubators program.
Frontier Incubators is an initiative of the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s innovationXchange and is delivered by Conveners.org, SecondMuse and ygap. Photos courtesy of xchange.