Acumen Fund Business Canvas

  1. Customer Segments: The Acumen Fund has a segmented market for recipients of its venture capital. The look for low income entrepreneurs located in developing countries. However, subscribers to their courses are a diversified segment or maybe even a mass market. Their online courses are mainly free, but the ones available for purchase are available to anyone who may be interested in the business modelling that goes into an organization that is trying to aid development or leave an impact.
  2. Value Propositions: The Acumen Fund offers financial resources and expertise to low income business builders who are looking for investments to sustain their companies. Acumen was really on the forefront of the impact investing wave. Started in 2001, their value proposition was unique for its time. It was entering an industry that opened up in 1983 with Grameen Bank, but had not yet been built out in the way it is now. The Acumen Fund tailored its offerings to the businesses in need. Beyond offering financial support, the Acumen Fund offers access to networks and expertise with deep sector understanding and critical insights. They offer post investment support to help companies grow and guidance in strategy, governance, customer insights, and fundraising. Their offering is a unique blend of superior in terms of the intelligence and resources available working with them, but also low cost for its customers.
  3. Channels: Acumen acts as an intermediary between philanthropists and social enterprises. They have headquarters in New York as well as in India, Kenya, and Pakistan, so they focus their efforts in Africa, India, Pakistan, or the US. There they are able to reach social entrepreneurs. The sectors that they focus in are energy, agriculture, health, and education. Within the United States they also focus on financial inclusion, health, and workforce development. They work through the internet as well as in-field experts.
  4. Customer Relationships: The Acumen Fund is extremely driven by mission. Their customer relationship falls into the category of dedicated personal assistance. They are all in when it comes to helping their customers become strong businesses. They are dedicated to making sure their customer relationships are driven by generosity and collaboration. They want collaboration to cross boundaries, and they are driven to make ordinary people know they are capable of accomplishing extraordinary goals. They focus exclusively on companies that are working to provide a product or service that addresses a critical need for the poor. They also look for companies that have the potential to scale the numbers of end users or be leading service providers.
  5. Revenue Streams: Acumen deploys equity, quasi-equity, or debt capital finance for early stage social enterprises. Some of their funders include the Rockefeller foundation, the Hitachi Foundation, Goldman Sachs, The Omidyar Group, the Knight Foundation, Philanthropy University, Newman’s Own Foundation, and One Foundation. They also have revenue from some of their online courses in effective social entrepreneurship and investing. Most of these courses are 45$ if not free. They are sold in the form of a usage fee and once they are available to students, they are available for an unlimited amount of time.
  6. Key Resources: Acumen Fund’s key instructors include Dan Ariely, Adam Grant, Elizabeth Gilbert, Chris Anderson, Seth Godin, Krista Tippett, Al Pittampalli, Angela Duckworth, Emily Esfahani Smith, Kim Scott, Scott Sonenshein, Daniel Pink, Sheila Heen, Jonathan Greenblatt, Prasad Setty, and Mihir Desair. These people are their intellectual assets, and are key to their value proposition and success. They also work with to leverage their customized online learning experience.
  7. Key activities: Acumen Fund’s primary activity when it started out was offering financial services to low income social entrepreneurs in developing countries. Since then, they have expanded to offer courses and create an online community of social investors and entrepreneurs to share their insights through blog posts and web forums.
  8. Key partnerships: The Acumen Fund’s listed key partners are the US Department of Labor,, the Omidyar Group, Teach for India, and International Planned Parenthood. These partners help to provide resources in the countries they are active in.
  9. Cost structure: I was not able to find a lot of information on the details of their cost structure. However, it seems apparent to me that the Acumen Fund has worked to build out their economies of scope more than their economies of scale. The companies that they invest in must demonstrate the potential to finance themselves beyond Acumen’s investment. This would take place either through follow-on capital or internal cash flows.


Investment Criteria and FAQ

Business model

What stands out in my mind the most from this talk is the amount that he simplified the core values of entrepreneurship. No matter how complex of an idea or concept, there are only really a few key issues that investors look at when they are looking at potentially investing in a company. I found it very refreshing when he said that as an investor, if a corporation is only looking to make money, he knows they will not have what it takes to make it in the market. Investors must know that the product is serving a greater mission for its customers, because that is what consumers will see and more importantly, that is what will attract high quality talent. Employees must be passionate in the beginning phases of a business. If a company is not dedicated to delivering something unique and valuable, then investors know the company will not have what it takes to make it. It is not much of a stretch to apply this concept to Global Social Impact Fellows projects. We all agreed to take on these projects because we are interested in being a part of a unique experience that will deliver value to people who really need it. I think that there is no shortage of passion coming from the students involved with these projects, and the missions unquestionably value customers.

Another aspect of entrepreneurship that he simplified is delivering something of unique value to customers. No matter what the project, if a new company is not set on delivering something that is unique, but also undoubtedly provides value to customers, then the company will have a very low chance of survival. For our projects, it is imperative that we truly understand what is valuable to our target consumers without asserting our own understanding of what consumers may be interested in. For our project in India in particular, identifying the value will be a task that requires intense studying of our target demographic. We are looking to promote transparency and understanding of nonprofits and corporations, so our business model will be centered around promoting knowledge. It will be difficult for us, as foreign college students, to position our information as unique and valuable to people that are already integrated into the community.

He talked about simplifying your pitch. It should not be too technical and easy on the eyes. Our topic is pretty complex, and the only way we can deliver value is to make our information seem superior to what may be common knowledge, so this part of our project will be tricky. We will need to make sure we find unique ways of analyzing the partnerships that are not overly complicated. He also talked about finding your ‘entrepreneurial soul mates’. While we didn’t have much of a choice in our partners, this is definitely a lesson I will keep with me. What we can do before going to India is strengthen our relationships and understanding of how each of us works in order to simulate one of these relationships that he referred to. Our project is made up of five people, and I think that is a good number to be able to play off each other with. Personally, I think I am developing a stronger understanding of when it is a good time to share my opinions and when someone else in our group may be more qualified. This will be crucial during our interview process. We must understand this dynamic so that our interviews don’t come off as cluttered or unprofessional.

He also talks about how a good product should not be afraid to polarize people. This is another difficult element to our project because we want anyone who may be interested in the topic to want the information we develop. However, I think the most impact would come from targeting our findings towards companies that are not engaged in CSR or have low engagement with CSR. If we specify that what we have researched will help companies from a strategic standpoint, then they will be more likely to want to look into our findings and apply them to their spending an CSR relationships.

In partnership with one or at most two team members, present a business model canvas for your venture.

Customer Segments- corporations, nonprofits, Indian professionals

Value Propositions- we will provide valuable insights that can help you to leverage your company in the eyes of potential customers by making the most of your CSR partnerships

Channels- online, digital

Customer Relationships- heavy focus on making our product appealing to people who may not initially consider being customers

Revenue Streams- usage or subscription fee

Key Resources- e-mail, phone call, video-making devices

Key Activities- gathering information from companies, organizing and promoting in an accessible and appealing format

Key partners- Lehigh University, every company interviewed