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  • Writer's pictureMatt Wallace

Unlocking Effective Support for Small Businesses

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

Reflections from ANDE’s “Scale through SCALE” event in Bangkok, Thailand

Charging for our services is the key to unlocking true value and success, but we’re all scared to do it.

Event image provided by ANDE

I’m thrilled to share insights from our recent participation in Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs’ (ANDE) East and Southeast AsiaScale through SCALE” workshop. As an experienced business development services provider, ONOW had the privilege of attending this transformative event, which took place in May 2023 in Bangkok, Thailand.

I want to take you on a journey where we explore key workshop takeaways and our commitment to optimizing and scaling effective support for small businesses. Let’s delve into the valuable lessons learned, as well as ONOW’s vision for driving impactful change. (Read more about the event on ANDE’s blog posts here.)

We believe that SCALE is the right tool to help Business Development Support Providers, and the enterprises in their cohorts, to scale their businesses and eventually their impact. Accelerators, incubators and funders who give support to BDS are equipped with best practices when they design or upgrade their programs to achieve better results.
— Joy Munthamraksa, ANDE East and Southeast Asia Chapter Lead

The SCALE event was important because it helped us consider if the services we are providing are creating actual value to the businesses we support. We explored the benefit of implementing the SCALE considerations into our programming. It increases the likelihood that we will achieve the impact we aim to achieve!

Unleashing the Power of Effective Business Support

At ONOW, we firmly believe that nurturing entrepreneurship is crucial for economic growth and social impact. The “Scale through SCALE” workshop, organized by ANDE, aimed to disseminate evidence-based considerations for distinguishing impactful Business Development Services (BDS) programs, originating from research conducted by the Argidius Foundation. The event showcased associated tools and resources, enabling Entrepreneur Support Organizations (ESOs) to maximize their impact and drive transformative change in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. This experience further solidified attendee’s dedication to revolutionizing support for entrepreneurs and creating an environment where businesses can thrive.

Charging for Value: The Path to Sustainable Impact

A significant and challenging insight emerged from the workshop: the importance of charging for our services as BDS providers. While we often hear skepticism about entrepreneurs’ willingness to pay, we must critically examine the value we provide.

The entrepreneurs look at the different options available for incubation and acceleration, look at the monetary value, and make a choice. That enables a marketplace approach, but entrepreneurs also saw the true cost, and the true value of that incubation.
-Stephanie Arrowsmith, Impact Hub Network, Regional Lead, Asia-Pacific

If entrepreneurs are reluctant to invest financially, we must innovate and enhance our services to improve our value propositions, and thus the likelihood of their business success. This realization fuels our commitment to delivering high-impact programs that entrepreneurs recognize as valuable and are willing to pay for, ensuring sustainability and creating a win-win scenario for all stakeholders involved.

Key Insights that Resonate with ONOW

Among the various insights gained during the workshop, three particularly stood out for us at ONOW.

  • Charging for services reverses dynamics of paternalism

  • Charging encourages commitment from the businesses we serve

  • Charging helps our programs become more sustainable

If you look at the ESO as an organization running like a startup, then they need to have growth, they need to have a business around them. The government can never sustainably keep supporting a larger and larger pool. At the end of the day…I understand the value and agree with the concept of charging.
-Surasit Sachdev, CEO Hungry Hub, former acceleration program participant

Charging for services not only improves business performance but would also reverse the dynamic of the business support industry’s programs. When we treat the businesses we serve as customers, with the agency and power to choose our service by paying for it, we shift our perspective and prioritize their needs. This customer-centric approach ensures that our services are tailored to their specific requirements and delivered with their success in mind. By embracing this shift in mindset, we create a more balanced and mutually beneficial relationship where businesses actively engage with and invest in the support they receive.

A customer-centric approach ensures that our services are tailored to their specific requirements and delivered with their success in mind.

Secondly, charging for services encourages a sense of ownership and commitment from the businesses we serve. When entrepreneurs financially contribute to their support, they are more likely to be actively involved, motivated to make the most of the resources available to them, and dedicated to achieving their goals. This increased engagement leads to higher success rates, improved program outcomes, and ultimately, greater impact on the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Event image provided by ANDE

Lastly, charging for services opens new avenues for revenue generation and program sustainability. By diversifying our income streams and reducing dependency on traditional funding sources, we strengthen the financial resilience of our organization. This financial stability allows us to innovate, expand our offerings, and reach a broader spectrum of businesses in need of support. Furthermore, it enables us to invest in ongoing program improvements, develop additional resources, and create a sustainable ecosystem that can thrive in the long run.

These insights further shape our approach to creating transformative support systems that are customer-centered, foster a sense of ownership and commitment, and ensure the financial sustainability of our programs. By integrating these principles into our services, we can deliver even greater value to the businesses we serve, strengthen their entrepreneurial journey, and drive lasting impact in the communities we operate in.

Shifting Focus to Addressing Problems and Outcomes

Another crucial insight that emerged from the workshop was the need to shift our focus from mere content consumption and module completion to addressing the real problems faced by the businesses we serve. Instead of fixating on checkboxes and the quantity of modules completed, we should prioritize tailoring our support to the specific needs and challenges of each participant.

We can eliminate time wasted on irrelevant content.

Spending less time on generic content delivery and more time on business assessment and problem-solving will result in a far more impactful support experience. It’s not about how much content a business consumes; it’s about the significant improvements they achieve as a result of our interventions. A single substantial improvement in a business’s operations, revenue, or profitability is far more valuable than completing every module in our program. By shifting our focus to addressing problems and delivering tangible outcomes, we can eliminate time wasted on irrelevant content and better utilize our resources to serve more entrepreneurs effectively.

Event image provided by ANDE

It is essential to transition from an “outputs” mindset to an “outcomes” perspective. While outputs might include metrics like module completion rates or days of training attended, an outcomes-focused approach looks at the tangible impacts on businesses’ revenue, profitability, investment attained, job creation, and increased sales and marketing budgets. By tracking these outcome indicators, we can better gauge the effectiveness of our programs in addressing the core problems faced by businesses, and create significant value that they are willing to pay for.

It helps us ensure that our support is truly making a difference and generating meaningful outcomes for the entrepreneurs we serve.

There is a need to understand, after the program, how it is going with your startup? Has it led to increased outcomes? On the ESO side, it’s hard to get follow up after the program. But also from the startup side, it is challenging to make the time and energy to do more reporting.
-Stephanie Arrowsmith, Impact Hub Network, Regional Lead, Asia-Pacific

To reiterate that point, making the switch from measuring outputs to measuring outcomes can be challenging, but the gains to making such a switch are the key to differentiating our programs from the less effective ones out there. This shift in focus not only aligns with the insights gained from the workshop but also reinforces our commitment to providing high-impact, results-oriented support. By dedicating our resources to addressing the real challenges businesses face and delivering tangible outcomes, we can not only enhance the value and relevance of our programs but also create a stronger foundation for charging for the services we provide.

Applying SCALE to Optimize “Valley of Death” Support

At ONOW, we understand the unique challenges faced by businesses in the critical “Valley of Death” phase of a startup’s journey. This essential but painful phase, characterized by limited resources and the need to quickly find product-market fit, is where effective support can make a crucial difference. We’re working to implement the SCALE lens to our programs serving businesses in these challenging phases and expect it will yield remarkable outcomes. By tailoring our services to address the specific needs and constraints of entrepreneurs navigating this phase, we can provide invaluable support, helping them find their path to success. Integrating the SCALE methodology with our primary workshop insights strengthens our ability to drive impact, optimize resources, and create a sustainable support framework that equips businesses to overcome the Valley of Death and thrive in the marketplace.

We have found that supporting businesses in the Valley of Death improves our understanding of how to better deliver incubation services, as well as improving the quality of acceleration programs. More business support organizations should be providing services during this stage in a startup’s life. Reach out to ONOW if you want to improve your service offerings to startups in this phase.

Realizing the Power of Collaboration

The “Scale through SCALE” workshop fostered rich and vulnerable conversations among passionate members of the BDS ecosystem. This collaborative environment empowered us to take a frank look at the quality of our programs and share learnings from our respective experiences. The importance of collective efforts in driving impactful change became evident, as we collectively strive to create an ecosystem that supports and empowers small businesses. At ONOW, we are committing to helping other BDS providers scale their impact, adopt the SCALE lens, and optimize resources to better support small businesses. Together, we can create a vibrant ecosystem that empowers entrepreneurs, fuels economic growth, and creates a sustainable future.

By some estimates, more than 330 million small businesses exist globally. With roughly 7000 ESOs out there, the industry is serving only a tiny percentage of these. Adopting these principles would allow us all to significantly expand the number of businesses who could not previously access business support programs, resulting in increased profitability, more resilient businesses, and higher levels of stable employment.

The SCALE lens can help us get there together.

Event image provided by ANDE

Join the Movement: Revolutionizing Entrepreneurial Support for Lasting Impact and Growth

Together, we can revolutionize the way we deliver support, empower entrepreneurs, and shape a thriving entrepreneurial landscape. Let’s unlock the full potential of entrepreneurship and make a lasting impact on the business community. In our pursuit of optimizing and scaling effective support for small businesses, we invite you to join us on this remarkable journey.

You can get started with the SCALE lens through this toolkit, which includes a helpful diagnostic tool created by Argidius.

Additionally, go here to learn more and follow along with ONOW on our journey to optimize the services of Enterprise Support Organizations like yours!

Visit our page and sign up to receive updates as we share our progress, insights, and success stories, as we build a platform that incorporates the SCALE lens into the tools that help BDS providers scale and optimize their services.

Let’s come together to drive impactful change, foster innovation, unlock the full potential of entrepreneurship, and serve more of the world’s businesses with amazing services. Join us on this transformative journey as we deliver deeper impact at a larger scale.


Who is ONOW? Empowering Entrepreneurs, Driving Impact

ONOW is a leader in fostering entrepreneurial ecosystems. Recognized for our work, we secured the 1st Runner Up spot as the Gender Responsive Marketplace SME Champion in the 2022 WEP Awards, and recognized as an Enabling Ecosystem Winner in the 2023 Women Entrepreneurship Accelerator Challenge. During the pandemic, we coached 16,000+ business owners, preserving 20,000+ jobs. Leveraging technology, we achieved a 23x growth in businesses directly supported.

Join us in revolutionizing Entrepreneur Support Organizations and scaling impact. Visit our landing page to learn more.


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