New surveys reveal dynamism, challenges of open data-driven businesses in developing countries

Alla Morrison at World Bank Open Data blog: “Was there a class of entrepreneurs emerging to take advantage of the economic possibilities offered by open data, were investors keen to back such companies, were governments tuned to and responsive to the demands of such companies, and what were some of the key financing challenges and opportunities in emerging markets? As we began our work on the concept of an Open Fund, we partnered with Ennovent (India), MDIF (East Asia and Latin America) and Digital Data Divide (Africa) to conduct short market surveys to answer these questions, with a focus on trying to understand whether a financing gap truly existed in these markets. The studies were fairly quick (4-6 weeks) and reached only a small number of companies (193 in India, 70 in Latin America, 63 in South East Asia, and 41 in Africa – and not everybody responded) but the findings were fairly consistent.

  • Open data is still a very nascent concept in emerging markets. and there’s only a small class of entrepreneurs/investors that is aware of the economic possibilities; there’s a lot of work to do in the ‘enabling environment’
    • In many regions the distinction between open data, big data, and private sector generated/scraped/collected data was blurry at best among entrepreneurs and investors (some of our findings consequently are better indicators of  data-driven rather than open data-driven businesses)
  • There’s a small but growing number of open data-driven companies in all the markets we surveyed and these companies target a wide range of consumers/users and are active in multiple sectors
    • A large percentage of identified companies operate in sectors with high social impact – health and wellness, environment, agriculture, transport. For instance, in India, after excluding business analytics companies, a third of data companies seeking financing are in healthcare and a fifth in food and agriculture, and some of them have the low-income population or the rural segment of India as an intended beneficiary segment. In Latin America, the number of companies in business services, research and analytics was closely followed by health, environment and agriculture. In Southeast Asia, business, consumer services, and transport came out in the lead.
    • We found the highest number of companies in Latin America and Asia with the following countries leading the way – Mexico, Chile, and Brazil, with Colombia and Argentina closely behind in Latin America; and India, Indonesia, Philippines, and Malaysia in Asia
  • An actionable pipeline of data-driven companies exists in Latin America and in Asia
    • We heard demand for different kinds of financing (equity, debt, working capital) but the majority of the need was for equity and quasi-equity in amounts ranging from $100,000 to $5 million USD, with averages of between $2 and $3 million USD depending on the region.
  • There’s a significant financing gap in all the markets
    • The investment sizes required, while they range up to several million dollars, are generally small. Analysis of more than 300 data companies in Latin America and Asia indicates a total estimated need for financing of more than $400 million
  • Venture capitals generally don’t recognize data as a separate sector and club data-driven companies with their standard information communication technology (ICT) investments
    • Interviews with founders suggest that moving beyond seed stage is particularly difficult for data-driven startups. While many companies are able to cobble together an initial seed round augmented by bootstrapping to get their idea off the ground, they face a great deal of difficulty when trying to raise a second, larger seed round or Series A investment.
    • From the perspective of startups, investors favor banal e-commerce (e.g., according toTech in Asia, out of the $645 million in technology investments made public across the region in 2013, 92% were related to fashion and online retail) or consumer service startups and ignore open data-focused startups even if they have a strong business model and solid key performance indicators. The space is ripe for a long-term investor with a generous risk appetite and multiple bottom line goals.
  • Poor data quality was the number one issue these companies reported.
    • Companies reported significant waste and inefficiency in accessing/scraping/cleaning data.

The analysis below borrows heavily from the work done by the partners. We should of course mention that the findings are provisional and should not be considered authoritative (please see the section on methodology for more details)….(More).”