Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at 1am

Landing My Dream Job with Venture Capital Firm Villgro

Landing My Dream Job with Venture Capital Firm Villgro main image

One year ago, Paul Belknap graduated from Penn State Smeal College of Business with a desire to combine his business acumen with a career in social enterprise. I recently spoke with Paul, who completed his MBAs Without Borders assignment in India last December. After working with clean cookstove provider, Sustaintech for five months, Paul began a full-time position as executive producer at Villgro, one of India’s oldest social enterprise incubators.

In your first interview for MBAs Without Borders, we talked about the paradox that MBAs need to have international experience to get international experience

Yes! I went into the Penn State MBA program with two goals in mind. I wanted to work abroad and I wanted to work with a social enterprise. In business school, those goals evolved to focus on emerging markets, most likely in a consulting role. But after talking with mentors who were also alumni of Penn State’s MBA program and MBAs Without Borders, I learned how difficult it is to get that first international assignment

Most companies don’t want to take a gamble on someone without substantial international work experience, especially in emerging and frontier markets. They are looking for talent who already has that experience – candidates with proven records that they can easily adjust to diverse cultures in challenging and dynamic environments. When I realized how difficult it is to get that first international job, I started looking at ways to enhance my résumé.  

I remember you were nervous about the prospect of picking up, moving to India for five months and working on a pro-bono assignment

That’s right, I was. It’s definitely not the traditional route! The position sounded fantastic and the MBAs Without Borders alumni I spoke with all had great things to say. But still, it’s a bold decision to uproot and move to India. Those alumni spoke strongly about the power of the experience and ultimately went on to become extremely successful.
 
One of my top concerns was whether or not five months was enough time to gain sufficient experience. When I shared my apprehension, I remember you said it’s all about what an advisor makes of the opportunity. Advisors who seize the opportunity, leverage their experience, and take advantage of the networking opportunities propel themselves into some amazing opportunities post-assignment. You noted that MBAs Without Borders was a life-changing experience that gave graduates the opportunity to chart a distinctive course setting them apart from the rest.

I did say that! There are few things in life that I believe to be as useful as a true experiential learning opportunity. How did it all work out for you?

Quite serendipitously! My current position at Villgro came directly out of my MBAs Without Borders assignment with Sustaintech. (Readers can learn about that assignment here.)

Initially, Sustaintech, a fast-growing clean cookstoves enterprise asked me look at approaches to increase sales. During my first month, I helped the company’s leadership take a deep dive into the business to understand its opportunities and challenges. Performing this full analysis proved useful. We learned that Sustaintech’s marketing and sales strategy wasn’t an isolated problem. Instead, we uncovered larger challenges that not only impacted sales, but the business as a whole. We saw that Sustaintech’s fast growth left the company vulnerable in its management and business processes.

For Sustaintech to keep up with its rapid progression, it needed to strengthen its operational processes and shore up its resources at the senior management level. I conducted trainings with middle managers and field level personnel, led the recruitment and hiring of key staff to fill the talent gaps, and introduced process-based thinking across the company. I presented these findings and recommendations at Sustaintech’s board meeting where Villgro’s COO was present.

Villgro, a venture capital firm based in Chennai, incubated Sustaintech. Since 2001, Villgro incubated 94 early stage social entrepreneurs and secured 873 million rupees, or US$14.5 million, in follow-on funding, while touching over five million rural lives.

And they were so impressed by your analysis and presentation that they offered you a position!

I hope they were impressed! The analysis showed deeper systemic problems that needed to be addressed beyond their salesforce. Without addressing those problems, increasing orders would have strained Sustaintech and potentially harmed its ability to grow.

Villgro’s COO and Portfolio Manager were excited about what I accomplished with Sustaintech. They liked that I could peel back the layers and “look through the mess that most startups are.”

This fit right into what Villgro was working on. They were revamping an incubation program designed to help entrepreneurs scale their businesses. During the eight-month program, startups develop sound business processes and sustainable revenue streams. Ideally, by ‘graduation’, these companies can raise an additional 2-10 million rupees, or between US$30,000 and US$170,000, in capital on their own.

When I joined Villgro as executive producer, the incubation program was already in place. The entrepreneurs, however, were looking for more hands-on support and bridge funding of around 1 million rupees, or US$16,000.  Rather than input from investors at the end of the eight-month cycle, they needed more focused interactions from what we call a diagnostic panel.

The panel, which includes senior enterprises managers, mentors with sector expertise, Villgro staff, and investors, is now involved from start to finish. The entire group visits participating enterprises and rips apart the business, identifies the problems, and makes recommendations to move the entrepreneur forward on the path towards ‘investability’.

These enterprises present back to the panel through bi-monthly check-points. They share insights learned, receive feedback, and work collaboratively to get to a place where raising funds is realistic. Early and ongoing investor input helps budding entrepreneurs stay on course. If they are executing well, the entrepreneur has the opportunity to earn the one million rupee bridge funding in the first check-point

So this panel is doing a similar process to your work with Sustaintech?

Exactly. Working with Sustaintech prepared me to manage this program and our partnerships including the industry experts that sit on Villgro’s diagnostic panels. Right now, there is a heavy pipeline of companies in the building phase. We are talking to prospective entrepreneurs and doing preliminary evaluations to determine if they have a scalable business model. You need to take a deep dive into the entire operation and analyze the business model from the bottom up. When I evaluate these businesses, I’m pulling straight from my work with Sustaintech and Penn State. It’s incredibly exciting!

Three years ago, I wanted to work with a social enterprise. Now I’m working on a program that is supporting fifteen enterprises annually – each that will create jobs and improve livelihoods across India.

I love it! Villgro is doing incredible work and you’re now a part of making it happen! What would you tell an MBA who is considering MBAs Without Borders?

I would say that this experience will change their perspective and that alone is extremely valuable. This is a concentrated learning experience. You don’t just learn about business realities in other markets. You gain wisdom about yourself – who you are as a professional and as a person. You work and live in a challenging environment that forces you to self-reflect – to challenge your assumptions, question your communication habits, and adapt your work style.

You are also gaining highly sought after experience. Corporations, non-profits, startups – they are all looking for talented people with a truly global lens and tangible work experience in emerging and frontier markets. Even though I only had five months, I made it work because it was such a focused experience. As soon as I landed, I made it clear that I was serious about staying in India after my assignment. I built my network. I gave my assignment 150%. Doing those things built my professional reputation and showcased my talents. From there, I was able to land what is for me a dream job.

Learn more about opportunities with MBAs Without Borders.

About Jailan Adly

Jailan Adly is the Director of MBAs Without Borders (MWB) at PYXERA Global, where she is responsible for the overall design and implementation of the MWB program. She also manages International Corporate Volunteer programs for companies such as IBM, FedEx, John Deere, Medtronic, and Novartis across multiple continents. In addition, Ms. Adly serves as PYXERA Global’s lead tourism expert on various projects.

Prior to joining PYXERA Global, Ms. Adly was the Deputy Director at Rising Sun Energy Center where she designed and managed strategic leadership training programs.  Ms. Adly received a master's degree in Tourism Administration and a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs from The George Washington University.

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