Written by: Aaron Rockwell

Our current Thunderbird Emerging Markets (TEM) Lab team has been working with CARA (a business incubator) in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar (Anosy Region). One of the main deliverables that the team’s client wanted was business plan creation taught to the staff. This was a curve ball thrown from the onset because the team arrived believing that the project was going to be focused on developing a mentorship program.

Meet and Greet:

The surrounding coast where the team was set to work was littered with shipwrecks. The team did not want to experience the same fate with the CARA staff, so upon arrival to Fort Dauphin, we had breakfast with the staff to introduce ourselves and start building a relationship.  

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Team Having a Meet and Greet with CARA Staff


Before setting sail for Madagascar, the team created a crowdfunding campaign because we thought it would be important to give back to a region that has suffered from hundreds of years of poverty, malnutrition, business voids, and political strife. Though that was the picture we had in our minds before disembarking, we never realized how great the people and welcoming the country would be. The crowdfund site was able to raise a significant amount of money. This birthed the idea to combine two key project elements: general business plan training and applied learning. The applied learning piece involved providing CARA coaches with real-life experience in creating a business plan for an actual client. Hence, the CARA Entrepreneur Challenge was formed.

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Challenge Logo

The Process:

The team set up connections with local organizations to create the contest. Since a previous business plan contest, announced to the general public, yielded 470 entrants, this time we had to be selective. The team therefore advertised to the local JCI chapter (junior business professionals), a local university, and the local English center.

The First Day of the Contest:

The first day of the contest arrived, starting with the jitters that form in the face of the unknown, but turned to a great success. The panel of “Shark Tank” judges asked poignant and applicable questions to the contestants. Contestant business ideas included: biodegradable gas from Zebu waste (the local cow with a hump), a countryside pharmacy, woodworking artisan, smoked fish, ‘employees for hire’ firm, and several others.

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The Judges Deliberating

First Round Deliberation:

The judges included:

  • Director of the chamber of commerce

  • Local content manager for Rio Tinto

  • Director general deputy of a microfinance agency (IFRA)

  • Regional director of industry, private sector, and development

After the scores were tallied the judges met secretly to decide if the final contestants made sense. Three entrepreneurs were selected to move on to the next round to include: the woodworker, the smoked fish idea, and the biodegradable gas idea.

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Woodworker's Crafts

Let the Training Begin:

With the first round of winners selected, the CARA coaches now had the opportunity to create business plans with real entrepreneurs from the training that the Thunderbird students gave them. Over the course of the next couple of days, the air in CARA was buzzing as the coaches were teaching the entrepreneurs business concepts and creating well thought-out business plans.

The Final Day of the Contest:

The final day of the contest came and one of the judges was replaced with a member of the World Bank that does financing in Madagascar. The three contestants gave their pitches. The smoked fish contestant ‘wowed the crowd’ when he presented samples to the judges. The woodworker showcased his broken tools and concept to open a shop, and the biogas contestant rebutted the judges queries that methane-filled car tires might be an idea stretch too far. Ultimately, the smoked fish contestant (Tisimanandy) won the contest with his ability to deliver a logical business plan and financial budget.

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Winner Holding the Ceremonial ‘Big Check’

The Wow Factor:

A year ago, the World Bank had commissioned CARA to coach 15 young entrepreneurs in business practices. Unfortunately, soon after the World Bank decided that they did not have confidence in CARA's skillset and team’s ability to coach the entrepreneurs. Thus, the World Bank turned off the initiative. Up to present day, or to be exact, three working days after the contest, the World Bank decided to turn the project back on again for CARA to coach 7 young entrepreneurs. Though it is only speculation, having the contest and having a World Bank judge on the contest panel might have been just the reason that, out of the blue, the World Bank turned the program on again. Wow. Overall the contest was a great success and there is now a concept set in place to repeat it in the future.