Accelerating Women Entrepreneurs Prize 2018: Apply Now!

At the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that Feed the Future would launch a new competition (Accelerating Women Entrepreneurs Prize) for women-led enterprises to access investment advice, business analysis, and other services to take their agribusinesses to the next level.

To support this initiative, Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation is issuing a competitive Request for Applications (RFA) from women owned or operated agribusinesses in sub-Saharan African countries where USAID operates.

Businesses with women in leadership positions including founder, CEO, president, or managing director that meet the eligibility criteria below may apply to receive technical assistance that will help prepare businesses to access external investment.

Women lead approximately one-third of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in emerging markets, but, remain disproportionately underserved and often face less favorable terms for financing, inhibiting their ability to grow.

More than 40 percent of women-owned SMEs cite lack of access to finance as a major barrier to growth. In the agriculture sector, which investors consider particularly risky, women-owned SMEs earn 25 percent less in sales and own 35 percent fewer assets than men-owned SMEs, including financial assets.

Women often have less access to collateral and training, preventing them from obtaining the financial and technical support required to expand their businesses.

However, given the support they need, women entrepreneurs can play a significant role in contributing to economic development. With the tools to expand their businesses, women can contribute to job creation and economic growth and boost gender equality across society.3 Investing in services to support the growth of women-owned businesses is essential to economic growth in any market.

Partnering for Innovation partners with private sector businesses to expand smallholder farmers’ commercial access to products and services in order to improve long-term agricultural productivity, smallholder livelihoods, and food security.

By developing innovative partnerships with and providing acceleration services to local and regional agribusinesses, Partnering for Innovation supports the growth of businesses focused on scaling in smallholder markets.

  1. Prize Opportunity

This prize will help woman-led enterprises access capital to scale improved agricultural products and services in smallholder markets. The selected finalists will receive investment readiness consulting services and investor matchmaking support.

This RFA will identify woman-owned or women-operated, for-profit businesses that match the evaluation criteria set forth in Section IV. Up to two companies will be awarded a package of technical assistance valued at $50,000.

The technical assistance package will include:

  • An assessment of investment readiness, including a review of the enterprise’s corporate systems and a summary of key challenges and overall readiness for external investment.
  • Co-development of a five-year business strategy and financial projections, preparation of an investor overview document and outreach materials including a pitch deck, a landscape review of potential investors, and initial introductions to principals of the funds.

Application review will take place in April 2018. Shortlisted finalists will be notified of application status and next steps in May 2018. Selected finalists will undergo additional due diligence between May and June 2018.

Notification of due diligence is not a guarantee of continuing service. If selected, prize awardees will receive investor readiness and matchmaking services between June and July 2018 (subject to change).

III. Eligibility

Applicants must be a woman-owned or operated (i.e. women in leadership positions including founder, CEO, president, or managing director) commercial enterprise that is selling products or services in smallholder agricultural or livestock markets.

Companies must be headquartered in a sub-Saharan African country where USAID currently operates (see country list here). Companies should have viable business models and incorporate and ultimately benefit smallholder farmers in at least one the following areas:

  1. Increased access to agricultural inputs (e.g. seeds, fertilizer, crop protection products, equipment), technology (e.g. information and communication technology, cold chain logistics, mechanization, irrigation), financial and/or risk management services, and/or better agricultural practices.
  2. Expansion of market access through improved services by off-takers or processors. Applicants must demonstrate that the company is in a position to take on external investment and sustainably scale significant development impacts for smallholder farmers, such as productivity increases, increased income, reduction in postharvest losses, and/or expanded market access.

All applicant businesses must be legally recognized entities in the country of operation and able to provide documented proof of legal status.

Applicant businesses should have been in operation for more than one year with demonstrated potential for commercial viability and seeking external investment.

Businesses currently or previously supported by Partnering for Innovation will not be considered.

  1. Selection Criteria

Partnering for Innovation will evaluate applications based on the responses to the questions in the application.

Qualifying agribusiness applicants must be owned or operated by a woman who has been in the position for at least one year (i.e. women in leadership positions including, founder, CEO, president, or managing director). Questions are listed in descending order of importance and include the following:

  • Business Model: Applicants will be evaluated on the viability of the business model and products and services offered to smallholder farmers.
  • Smallholder Impact: Applicants will be evaluated on the potential impact on smallholder farmers.

Applicants should demonstrate how the product or service will benefit smallholder farmers with regard to one or more of the following areas: improved productivity and improved yields, increased sales revenue and profitability, increased resilience, improved business practices, reduced post-harvest loss, improved agricultural practices, increased access to financing, and/or access to new technologies.

Where possible, applicants should also demonstrate how the product or service impacts women farmers in particular.

  • Market Opportunity: Applicants will be evaluated on current and potential market share and strategies for growth.
  • Investment Strategy: Applicants will be evaluated on perceived readiness for external investment.
  • Sustainability: Applicants will be evaluated on long-term strategy to scale products or services in smallholder farmer markets. Applicants are asked to provide five-year projections for sales and revenue.
  • Organizational Capacity: Applicants will be evaluated on perceived ability to sustain and grow the business based on capacity, experience, and years of operation.
  1. Instructions for Submission

Please submit an application addressing the points in Section IV and using the attached application form.

The application must be typed with a minimum 11-point font. Please do not include any hyperlinks to external documents, websites, videos, or other sites in your application as these will not be considered by the reviewers. Any information about your concept should be captured in the application form.

Applicants may submit questions to until March 26, 2018. All questions and responses will be posted on the AgTechXChange ( no later than March 29, 2018.

All applications must be submitted via e-mail to with the name of your organization and “Accelerating Women Entrepreneurs” in the subject line. Receipt of submitted application will be confirmed. Only documents in Microsoft Word or PDF format will be accepted.

Issuance of this RFA does not constitute an award or commitment on the part of Partnering for Innovation, nor does it commit the US government or Partnering for Innovation to pay for costs incurred in the preparation and submission of an application.

Applications must be received by April 25, 2018 at 18:00 Eastern Daylight Time. Applications will not be considered if delivered in hard copy form. Applications will not be considered if incomplete or received after the deadline.

Review of applications will take place in April 2018. Shortlisted candidates will be notified of next steps in May 2018.

Good luck as you apply!

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