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Co-op Spotlight: Frontier Market Scouts

By Caitlin Candee 

Last May, I left Boston to com­plete a fel­low­ship pro­gram in Cal­i­for­nia that would then place me with a clean tech invest­ment fund in India. Since then, I have met and worked with impact invest­ing indus­try lead­ers, famil­iar­ized myself with the energy sec­tor in India, prac­ticed yoga on the Ganges River, and sur­vived dengue fever, among other things.

The fel­low­ship pro­gram is called Fron­tier Mar­ket Scouts (FMS), run jointly by Vil­lage Cap­i­tal and the Mon­terey Insti­tute, and it con­sists of an impact invest­ing train­ing pro­gram and then an inter­na­tional place­ment with one of the numer­ous part­ners. The pro­gram was a packed 2 weeks of impact invest­ing lessons and get­ting to know incred­i­ble peo­ple. As an under­grad, I was def­i­nitely one of the youngest, and I was hum­bled by the rich expe­ri­ences of the participants.

 There are a vari­ety of place­ment options after the train­ing, includ­ing work­ing at social enter­prises, enter­prise incu­ba­tors, impact invest­ing funds or ‘scout­ing’ for Vil­lage Cap­i­tal, in 28 dif­fer­ent coun­tries (so far). My place­ment was at First Light Accel­er­a­tor (FLA) in Delhi, India, a very small impact-investing fund focused on expand­ing access to energy in under­served pop­u­la­tions. Com­ing from a civil engi­neer­ing back­ground, this was an appro­pri­ate fit because I’m inter­ested in how infra­struc­ture facil­i­tates devel­op­ment and how we can push the expan­sion of infrastructure.

As I was prepar­ing to leave for India, I noticed what I found to be a trend in the social enter­prise space– the lack of human resource sup­port in start-up envi­ron­ments. Both the fel­low­ship pro­gram and the invest­ment fund are only a few years old, and that means very lit­tle HR sup­port to answer ques­tions about visas or hous­ing. So I bought a plane ticket, slightly ter­ri­fied at all the unknowns – coun­try, hous­ing, co-workers, and job – and showed up in India. It was a good les­son in being self-sufficient and inde­pen­dent, skills I think are required to be suc­cess­ful in this space, espe­cially this fellowship.

First Light Accel­er­a­tor started as a co-venture between Shell Foun­da­tion and First Light Ven­tures (A Grey Ghost ini­tia­tive), but it has under­gone a few mod­i­fi­ca­tions in man­age­ment struc­ture, and is tran­si­tion­ing into a more inde­pen­dent entity. This made it an incred­i­bly inter­est­ing time to work there, because there were for­ma­tive deci­sions about the nature of the fund being made, as well as active invest­ments being man­aged. The mis­sion of the fund is increas­ing access to energy in cur­rently under­served pop­u­la­tions, and we were com­plet­ing research and dis­cussing strat­egy about the most effec­tive ways to do that. We stud­ied suc­cess­ful energy start-ups in India to under­stand how much money, what type of cap­i­tal, and what time­line led to the most suc­cess­ful growth of these com­pa­nies. We debated how to mea­sure impact, in terms of help­ing port­fo­lio com­pa­nies, build­ing a suc­cess­ful fund, and sat­is­fy­ing investors. In the midst of mak­ing these deci­sions, the fund was man­ag­ing invest­ments in early stage clean tech start-ups. First Light Accel­er­a­tor is a very hands-on investor and now I have a much bet­ter under­stand­ing of how the investor-investee rela­tion­ship works; what sup­port is pro­vided and what is expected in return. As a civil engi­neer­ing major, I had lit­tle expe­ri­ence with these types of deci­sions, but work­ing in this small start-up envi­ron­ment meant I par­tic­i­pated any­ways. Being thrown into those con­ver­sa­tions was a great way to learn experientially. 

But as any inter­na­tional coop stu­dent will tell you, my job was only part of the expe­ri­ence. While I had par­tic­i­pated on the Social Enter­prise Institute’s field study pro­gram to Cape Town, and  trav­eled to Uganda with Engi­neers with­out Bor­ders,  I had to relearn how to do sim­ple things, like buy gro­ceries and travel around town in India. I met amaz­ing peo­ple through room­mates and Hindi classes. We took trips to a yoga ashram, a Tibetan com­mu­nity, a nature reserve, and ruins from prior king­doms, among other things. There is an incred­i­ble rich­ness in Indian food, col­ors, cloth­ing, and his­tory that I had only begun to under­stand after 6 months there. There were chal­lenges– being a sin­gle woman in Delhi can be very hard and dengue fever put me out of com­mis­sion for a few weeks, but over­all I had an incred­i­ble experience.

This inter­na­tional coop was my first attempt at set­ting up a life abroad, and it was a suc­cess­ful trial-run for what I hope will become an impact­ful inter­na­tional career.