Shivani Siroya of Inventure: Unreasonable for Good

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Shivani Siroya, an Unreasonable Institute fellow, is tackling the cash-based economy with a new investment model and mobile technology.  After a career in finance and development that took her to India and West Africa, Siroya set up InVenture, a social venture that aims to help the “middle gap” – businesses that fall between micro-loans and the traditional banking sector. The solution: “quasi-equity,” which bridges these micro-entrepreneurs with equity-like instruments, or InVestors.  After a successful launch with InVenture, Siroya and her team set up a mobile-based tool, InSight, to track the financial workings of this cash-based economy, enabling them to earn a “credit” score and providing data on an informal economy that’s been largely neglected.

Dowser: What do you feel as a social entrepreneur has been the toughest phase: getting capital,  fine tuning the idea,  putting together a team? Any advice for others taking on a similar journey?
Siroya: I think putting a team together is challenging because you’re looking for people with specific skill sets, willing to travel, be committed to working at a startup, work hard/long hours and also who are passionate about the mission of the organization! We’ve been trying to hire individuals first as interns or otherwise have a three month trial period.

What is still lacking in the SE space?  Is it a shortage of funding, human capital, or something else?
I actually think its collaboration and mentorship. It would be really great to see more organizations/SEs working together. I feel like in some ways we still work in isolation and a lot of times we are reinventing products and services – rather than working together to improve existing products and services. I also think personally that we need mentors or leaders in this space who can break down their own successful best practices and how they’ve been successful specifically at implementation.

What are you hoping to achieve with InVenture?  What kind of change do you want to see?
I hope we can provide access and choice of financial services to low-income individuals. Through – the use of InSight – we are able to create credit scores for low-income individuals via SMS. InVenture’s goal is to provide a credit score for each individual thereby revolutionizing the financial services sector. It will increase the total available capital by improving efficiency, reducing risk, and lowering interest rates – thereby increasing overall financial inclusion within developing communities.

How does InVenture distinguish itself from other similar SEs?
We try our best to collaborate and partner with existing NGOs organizations that are already working within the communities that we are targeting. We realize that they already have built a foundation with the community – so it makes sense to gain their support first. We also try our best to understand our customer’s behavior and values – so that we can design our trainings, product and services around their needs and the incentives they need to use InSight. I think the biggest strength is our ability to constantly improve, learn and adjust our model based on what is working in the market and what our clients/end users want.

You’ve incorporated a mobile component to your organization. How critical is the mobile aspect?  What difference do you see in mobile use in India vs. here in the US?
The mobile aspect is our core service and the way that we help facilitate financial inclusion for our end users. I think the biggest thing that we’ve seen is the regulations around mobile in India – there was a lot of spamming happening and so now there are a lot of regulations that make it complicated to build applications and market to users. But it is amazing to see the innovation and creative use that is happening in India around using SMS specifically.

How plausible is it to take some of the work that you’re doing in India and apply it here in the US?  You’ve ventured into that space.  Tell us about it.
Very plausible! We are in fact running a small pilot in NYC in the South Bronx with immigrant cash-based businesses using InSight. It is interesting to see that even here, these businesses owners prefer SMS (text-messages) rather than smartphone applications. It is interesting to see the similarities in the use case for SMS accounting and the need to create simple tools that people can easily access regardless of what country you’re working in.

One book, article, talk…. that you’d recommend to aspiring social entrepreneur, something that you’ve found useful.
I think one of the best talks I’ve ever heard is — Simon Sinek’s TED talk on Starting with Why.  It’s always inspiring to me and makes me realize you always have to remember why and what you’re solving, regardless of the industry you’re in.


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