German native Andrea Krause founded FYSE in Beijing in 2008 after working in youth development across the East for several years. “The regional focus is simply because I lived in many countries in Asia, and our research in 2008 has shown that the problem regarding youth entrepreneurship is prevalent all over Asia,” says Krause. “Young people everywhere have a really hard time finding jobs and many don’t consider entrepreneurship as an option for them.” Even those who do, have few resources to actually launch a successful enterprise.
“So you have this large group of people who have an idea but they don’t dare to do it because they don’t know anyone young who has done it and because they perceive it to be not feasible due to a lack of resources,” explains Krause.
The Fellowship, which finished its first cycle in October 2010, is a yearlong program that helps young social entrepreneurs who are in the early stages of their businesses by connecting them with established entrepreneurs across Asia for mentorship, training, consulting, and access to funding. These mentors serve on a voluntary basis and make up the majority of FYSE’s 100 volunteers.
In choosing candidates for the program, FYSE looked specifically for “changemakers”—people who had already begun transforming their ideas into organizations. They found them through an extensive network of 60 partnerships including universities, incubators, foundations, youth organizations, and media outlets. FYSE selected one hundred young social entrepreneurs from ten countries including China, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines for the first Fellowship. Throughout the year, they worked with mentors who helped them through business development issues.
An entrepreneur in India, for example, might be connected to a young businessman in China. Krause acknowledges that the culture and context can be dramatically different across counties, yet she says they still face many of the same realities.
“Basically,” says Krause “we provide young entrepreneurs with a platform of opportunities and they select what they need. We do capacity building, through workshops such as how to do guerilla marketing. We do not invest directly into them. What we do is we support them in developing their business plan and their pitch and connect them to people who can give them funding—foundations, impact investors, etc.”
Although FYSE is still evaluating the first round of Paragon, Krause believes it was a success and applications for the second round will open in late Spring 2011.
Social entrepreneurs can also connect with more senior entrepreneurs through iCatalyist, FYSE’s online mentoring program.
For the Almost Entrepreneur
Not many young people really start a business though, acknowledges Krause. While tier one cities like Beijing and Shanghai have many people interested in social entrepreneurship (due in part to events and organizations that focus on the issue), the reality is that few people have the gumption to turn their ideas into a company. Krause says, “The opportunity cost is very high. But if you expose them to entrepreneurship and give them the knowledge, they might do it a few years down the road.”
For those who want to get involved in social entrepreneurship, FYSE created the Social Venture Academy. Held over four days in Hong Kong, the academy will bring together 200 delegates and more than 20 social entrepreneurs from the region to discuss various Asian case studies and to provide participants with the tools and knowledge to turn their own ideas into reality.
In addition to their programs, FYSE conducts research on social entrepreneurship and partners with NGOs and social enterprises to host events that build community awareness of socially relevant topics.
Above all, Krause says she and her team at FYSE aren’t looking for the next Muhammad Yunus. “If we can find 100 people who add up to what Yunus does–people who make an impact on their communities—then we want to support them on that.”