Empowering environmental entrepreneurs in emerging economies

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This is the fifth installment of a five-part blog series on scaling environmental entrepreneurship in emerging markets. In this series, experts in the field provide insights on how business accelerators, technical assistance providers, investors, and the philanthropic community can work with developing market entrepreneurs to increase their economic, environmental, and social impacts. Read the rest of the series.

Here at WRI, our mantra is “making big ideas happen.” But these “big ideas” don’t need to come exclusively from “big” players like corporations and development banks. In 1999, we set out to prove a new concept—that entrepreneurs and the small and medium-sized businesses they create could make a profound impact on the health of the planet.

Thirteen years on, the proof of our concept is demonstrated daily around the world. As engines of economic growth and laboratories for environmental and social innovation, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are helping to build modern economies that improve people’s lives while conserving natural resources.

This is especially true in developing countries, where such businesses can account for as many as four in five jobs and almost one-third of GDP. Which is why, back in 1999, WRI chose Latin America and Asia as the focus of its pioneering New Ventures project to nurture environmental entrepreneurs.

The History of New Ventures

Today, New Ventures has more than lived up to its name. Our innovative model—helping entrepreneurs build solid business plans and skills, linking them with mentors, and showcasing them to investors—has taken root in six countries. Companies we support have launched mold-breaking products and business models, ranging from an Indian company that generates affordable rural electricity from rice husks to an Amazonian community business that sells premium Brazil nut products to overseas markets. In China, a New Ventures company created a vibrant national market for refurbished photocopiers, thereby reducing toxic electronic waste.

In all, New Ventures has supported 367 companies in six countries. It has facilitated $377 million in investment, with average deal sizes ranging from $100,000 to $3 million. To date, the businesses supported by New Ventures have collectively conserved or sustainably cultivated 4.5 million hectares of land while keeping 3.3 million tons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

With New Ventures now poised to scale up to the next level, the time is right for WRI to step back from its role as coordinator of the country centers in Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, and Mexico. We are immensely proud of our long association, but we recognize that the country directors have built strong, distinct programs that will reach new heights with greater local and regional independence. This strategic shift will ensure their long-term viability in the markets that need them most.

Empowering Local Centers to Support Environmental Entrepreneurship

While the six New Ventures country centers share the mission to support the growth of environmental entrepreneurs, their operations are uniquely tailored to be most effective in their respective countries.

  • New Ventures Mexico provides business support to both environmental and social enterprises through its well-established acceleration program. It also runs Las Páginas Verdes, the first directory of environmental products and services in Mexico. Most recently, the center launched an innovative new impact investment fund, Adobe Capital.
  • New Ventures Colombia is housed in the School of Management at the leading Universidad de los Andes and provides mentoring to companies through the university’s faculty and MBA alumni network.
  • New Ventures Brasil links environmentally-focused companies to investors. It also helps companies achieve access to new markets by connecting them with large corporations who may be interested in entrepreneurs’ products or services.
  • New Ventures India works closely with companies that provide clean energy access to India’s significant rural population as well as SMEs that provide energy efficiency services.
  • New Ventures Indonesia has specific expertise working with renewable energy and clean technology SMEs through its mentoring and investment facilitation services.
  • New Ventures China has a strong partnership with the government’s Information Center of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). Together, they promote “green SME role models” each year to encourage replication across the economy.

Moving Forward with Environmental Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies

The New Ventures model works, and we’ve seen the emergence of a new wave of enterprises creating positive impacts on the economy, the environment, and society.

With Earth’s resources rapidly depleting as populations soar, the need for such sustainable business models becomes ever more urgent. But local entrepreneurs cannot do it alone. Investors and donors are critical in helping groups like New Ventures scale up environmental entrepreneurship throughout the emerging world. New Ventures’ country centers certainly have the power to attract this financial support—and continue growing the kinds of businesses needed to help solve the world’s complex environmental problems.

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  1. I so much appreciate the development going on in various continents of the world with regards to development in environmental conservation, but I am yet to hear about a form of support or innovation in the African continent. I live in Nigeria (population of about 180 million and an emerging economy) we need empowerment in the environmental sector. The government is doing little or nothing about this sector, but there are individuals willing to invest in the environmental sector.

  2. i have carried out projects on composting of garden refuse and other organic waste in South Africa and Swaziland. i would like to recover nutrients and enhance the growth of beneficial microoganisms through the production of compost tea. how can i get assistance?

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