IBM wanted to develop a virtual business incubator for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and asked us to help evaluate target markets, assess gaps in current offerings and desired functionality, and identify potential partners. Such an understanding would prepare IBM to develop a solution that best meets the needs of SMEs and maximize the impact on economic development.
BSR's initial analysis supported a competitive assessment of existing services and identified potential partners. We developed a framework for evaluating capacity-building organizations focused on small- and medium-sized businesses in emerging markets and provided a high-level assessment of SME needs in those markets. Once IBM used this analysis to help focus on the collaboration needs of such businesses, BSR created a framework IBM used to analyze the current offerings and collaboration needs of SMEs in India, Brazil and South Africa, and among women- and minority-owned businesses in the United States. We developed the strategy and tools based on our first-hand experience working with SMEs in emerging markets, our relationships with NGOs and multi-lateral institutions focused on supporting emerging market entrepreneurs or women- and minority-owned businesses, our knowledge and experience working with multi-national value chains and supplier diversity programs, and the specific content knowledge we have from past work in India, Brazil and South Africa.
IBM used BSR’s research to help evaluate potential collaboration partners and later formed a partnership with the International Finance Corporation and its SME Toolkit. IBM also leveraged the report findings and the company's increased understanding of SME needs in emerging markets to shape priorities for tool development. This project is contributing to economic development in communities that currently lack complete access to the market economy. It allowed IBM to leverage its technology strengths to develop tools that provide SMEs with access to peer support, mentoring, best practice sharing, and expertise of business partners. It also tied directly to IBM's business growth strategy: an increased focus on the small business segment as well as key emerging economies.