Ben Powell

Ashoka Fellow
Washington, District of Columbia, United States
Fellow Since 2009


This profile was prepared when Ben Powell was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
Ben is unlocking the potential of small business entrepreneurs in developing countries by providing management know-how and financing. In countries like Nicaragua, small business entrepreneurs have unparalleled potential to create new jobs and wealth in the formal economy. However, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the developing world have historically been constrained by entrepreneurs´ limited business skills and the lack of access to capital. Ben has developed a comprehensive model to provide small-scale, impact entrepreneurs in developing countries the business expertise and long-term investment capital they need to transform economies.

Agora Partnerships, the non-profit arm of Ben’s organization targets entrepreneurs with high potential to grow and create new jobs and provides them with educational opportunities and consulting services. Working with business schools in the United States and Nicaragua, Agora Partnerships recruits MBA students to help entrepreneurs develop strategies for issues including pricing, scaling-up and accessing new markets.

Through the Agora Venture Fund, Ben facilitates long-term investment into the small businesses. Because of their small size, lack of sophistication, and location in developing countries where financial markets operate sluggishly, small business entrepreneurs have virtually no access to long-term growth capital. Agora Venture Fund works with businesses caught in the “missing middle”– they are too big to receive microcredit and too small to be of interest to traditional venture capitalists or even business incubators.

Ben is using Agora to demonstrate to donors, future business leaders, and investors that investing in impact entrepreneurs in the developing world is an effective means to fight poverty and unemployment. Like Muhammad Yunus used Grameen Bank to demonstrate the feasibility of banking to the poor, Ben is using Agora to show that entrepreneurs in the developing world are a profitable target for socially impactful investment.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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