Business Oxygen: Breathing New Life into SMEs

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Business Oxygen: Breathing New Life into SMEs

Nepal’s first private equity fund is empowering SMEs in a bid to foster development and augment the country’s economy.

Siddhant Raj Pandey, Chairman and CEO Business Oxygen

Siddhant Raj Pandey
Chairman and CEO
Business Oxygen

As Nepal goes through a transformational change in business patterns, private equity is becoming a valid market solution for companies with excellent growth potential. The need for risk capital remains high in this situation. Business Oxygen Private Limited (BO2), a part of International Finance Corporation’s Global SME Ventures initiative, which supports the creation of risk capital funds in fragile, frontier, and post-conflict markets, is Nepal’s first private equity (PE) fund. It is also the first climate-related PE fund in the country. BO2 is a White Lotus Centre (WLC) venture that manages small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and has been in operation for three years . BO2 is enabling Nepali companies with the vision of creating a social impact to grow further in the market. 

 
Scaling up Nepali SMEs                                                
BO2 helps entrepreneurs running SMEs to scale their operations by injecting equity and providing technical assistance. The requirement for the companies before collaborating with BO2 is that they need to have enterprise value and a good track record.The company provides four  to seven years of funding and a ‘harvest period’ of six months. Investments range between Rs 10 million to Rs 50 million, require no collateral and the companies don’t need to pay any interest. 
 
BO2 combines risk capital financing with advisory support to help investee SMEs develop fundamental financial systems, quality-assurance standards, and corporate governance frameworks. BO2, which was registered in 2012 and started operations in 2015 , has International Finance Corporation (IFC), UK Aid’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Strategic Climate Fund’s PPCR along with a Nepali company, WLC Ventures as its investors.
 
Creating Impact 
Nepal is among the countries most vulnerable and least resilient to the impact of climate change because of which being resource efficient is essential. BO2 considers helping companies become more resource efficient as its prime priority. The company does this in two ways – first by promoting low carbon growth by investing in solar energy, and secondly, by helping businesses it invests in, regardless of the sector, to become climate smart. BO2’s partner companies like Himalaya Chain Resort, Saral Urja, and Shanti Engineering have been promoting the use of a solar panel for electricity, harvesting rainwater, and recycling dry and wet wastages. 
 
Even three years after the Gorkha earthquake, remote communities in Nepal still face challenges like lack of access to water and electricity. In Nepal, 22 percent of people don’t have access to electricity, and at least 20 percent don’t have access to clean water. Saral Urja, an investee company, has been installing solar panels that provide 30-kilowattsof electricity in Raksirang VDC, home to the Chepang, Dalit and Tamang communities of Nepal. These solar photovoltaic panels provide power to the solar-generated pumps to distribute 150,000 litres of water every day that not only irrigate the fields but also provide drinking water to each household through a network of pipes.The company claims that this measure has changed the face of this small town in less than a year as since its installation, every household has its own water tap and irrigation is now possible for 60 ropanis of land, on which villagers farm red chillies commercially. 
 
Companies that have received investment from BO2 have reached the lives of 60,000 people and have employed over 2,800 people, which is an increase of 131 percent since BO2 started making investments. With an indirect employment contribution of 6,500 down the supply chain, it has seen a rise in female employment by 209 percent. In companies supported by BO2, women hold 23 percent of all direct jobs, a 250 percent increase from the date BO2 first invested. In an attempt to promote women’s economic empowerment and especially those from underprivileged backgrounds who are vulnerable, Bo2 has been employing women through its partner companies.
 
 
Challenges 
While 11,000 SMEs employ 1.75 million people and contribute 22 percent to Nepal’s GDP, its contribution towards poverty alleviation and the overall advancement of the private sector is also significant.
 
However, this is one of the neglected segments due to lack of funding available to the SMEs. Only 39 percent of SMEs in Nepal have access to finance. Alongside macro challenges like political instability and inadequate resources, they also suffer from a lack of proper managerial skills.
 
To create jobs and support local economies, BO2 has been working to promote the building of SMEs throughout Nepal. The company has been investing in SMEs for the past two years to become the alternative access to finance to narrow the gap slowly and to boost the country’s economy by creating jobs.
 
Investments Made
Impact investing is all about positively changing the livelihoods of communities. The focus of private equity impact funding is to establish fundamental financial systems in the companies. Quality assurance standards are developed along with the corporate governance framework. The idea revolves around creating entrepreneurs and companies along the lines of best international practices that make a difference in the local economy.
 
BO2 has made seven investments in SMEs from different sectors in the last two years. The companies that received investments are attempting to uplift the local economy be it by assisting hundreds of dairy farmers down the supply chain in the process of producing dog chew or by providing solar power systems as an electricity alternative.  
 
BO2’s investment in the Himalayan Chain Resort (HCR) in the Khumbu Region is all about developing eco-tourism. They expect the ten lodges that are being built will improve overall hospitality standards and attract high-paying customers to generate better revenues in the region.
 
 
The accommodations will also facilitate better environmental and safety standards as well as improve medical and emergency preparedness in the area. Shanti Engineering, which fabricates metal products, has purchased two pieces of machinery and its relocation at Pokhara Industrial Park has made diesel consumption null from 1,641 litres in 2017 resulting in 5 percent wastage consumption. Due to the availability of 24-hour electricity, the overall efficiency of products has increased by 15 to 20 percent despite a 25 percent reduction in working hours per kg produced.
 
Godavari International Pvt Ltd, one of the companies BO2 has invested in, manufactures Himalayan Churpi (Pet food), a completely natural product and a signature export from Nepal. On average, a micro-dairy produces 300 kg of churpi per month, and around 20,000 stakeholders-livestock farmers, micro-dairy personnel, collectors, cooperatives, transporters are the direct beneficiaries of this sector. The churpi is sold to local retailers and exported to dog-chew brands in the US, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and India.
 
BO2  is sector agnostic and invests in areas like agri-business, tourism, pre-fabricated housing, import substitution industries, education, e-education, eco-friendly manufacturing and technology.

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