Lessons About Leveraging Inclusive Fintech for Impact

Photo Credits- PayGo Energy

Photo Credits- PayGo Energy

After three years working to accelerate 25 early-stage inclusive fintech startups in emerging markets, we reflect on what we learned and bring to you an evaluation of Catalyst Fund. Since we started, we continuously learned from our successes and mistakes, and refined our approach to be the best accelerator partner to fintech companies. This report highlights the program's successes and shortcomings, while providing actionable insights into what works and what doesn’t to spur fintech innovation that reaches underserved communities.

Whether you’re an investor, a donor, a startup or another accelerator program, you will find valuable lessons and a data-driven approach that can help us all better support entrepreneurs around the world.

Assessing the Accelerator Landscape & Catalyst Fund’s Model

While at the CEO Forum and Fintech for Inclusion Global Summit by Accion Venture Lab, Quona Capital and FMO in The Hague, we will be leading a customer trust workshop for the attendees, and sponsoring the Summit Day afternoon cocktail.

At the same time, we will also be launching the Catalyst Fund Report, "Accelerating Early-stage Inclusive Fintech Startups In Emerging Markets: Assessing the Landscape & Catalyst Fund’s Model," authored by Caren Holzman of Enabling Outcomes and Maelis Carraro of BFA, Catalyst Fund. The report examines different accelerator models and lays out about the pros and cons of various approaches within the ecosystem, to evaluate Catalyst Fund’s model.

main conclusions

  1. The number of acceleration programs focused primarily on inclusive fintech in emerging markets is relatively small. There is an opportunity for more programs to focus on enabling fintech solutions targeting low-income populations, given its potential for impact across markets.

  2. What sets programs apart is the mix of services and methods used to accelerate companies, which can include capacity building and hands-on technical assistance as well as access to valuable resources, partners, networks, and investors. However, determining the appropriate and most cost-effective mix and methods that deliver value for the entrepreneur is a challenge. The jury is still out to determine the perfect “secret sauce” that yields the best results and value for money for fintech entrepreneurs.

  3. There is little public information available about the details of fintech acceleration programs that can help startups and funders navigate and choose the offerings better. Programs should be more explicit about what they are offering, under what conditions, and for whom their acceleration services are best suited.

Considering Catalyst Fund in this context, we concluded:

  1. A key strength of Catalyst Fund is its close relationship with investors. Relying on a select network of fintech investors to source startups and connecting entrepreneurs with a broader circle of investors throughout the program improves a startup’s chance of finding follow-on investment.

  2. Catalyst Fund’s tailored and hands-on technical assistance delivered by fintech and emerging market experts is unique and helps ventures focus on the proof points they need to be on a solid path to growth. Furthermore, Catalyst Fund’s commitment to impact ensures that companies build strong value propositions that are accessible, affordable and appropriate for underserved customers in emerging markets.

  3. Catalyst Fund’s willingness to share its tools and learning from the portfolio companies benefits the sector and highlights gaps and opportunities to spur innovation for financial inclusion.

  4. There are opportunities to improve Catalyst Fund’s mentoring program by leveraging industry experts as well as by engaging more effectively with alumni startups to build local networks in their respective markets.

  5. It is important that Catalyst Fund considers new models aimed at achieving sustainability while maintaining its independence and focus on inclusive fintech.

Overall, accelerator programs should be more forthcoming in sharing results and lessons learned with others, as well as sharing best practices and tools for entrepreneurs. This openness can nurture a stronger global support ecosystem for startup innovators and attract more philanthropic and investment capital to the inclusive fintech sector.

Proven Strategies for Making Fintech Inclusive


Catalyst Fund seeks to uncover how inclusive fntech companies are creating new and superior value propositions, and to determine whether they are driving financial inclusion deeper and further. We work with early-stage fintech companies that span the globe and push the boundaries of innovation in sectors as diverse as lending, agriculture and insurance. Run by BFA, Catalyst Fund provides fintech innovators with grant funding and tailored technical assistance to complement their skill sets. In turn, the startups help us learn about how to advance financial inclusion among low-income populations in the markets where they operate.

We are examining how deep can Inclusive Fintechs get into their markets? Explore our proven strategies for reaching low-income customers: will they continue to be owners of these enhanced value propositions? And can they continue to maintain and improve offerings as they scale?

Read and download the brief here