Building bridges: A profile of TingaTinga Capital

Sean O'RourkeAll successful start-ups have to navigate the waters of failure as they bridge the gap between starting a venture and seeing it succeed in the real world. One such start-up’s business model hopes to serve as the bridge for 3rd world entrepreneurs as they set out on that precarious journey. The company, TingaTinga Capital, a non-profit start-up currently operating in Uganda, has provided entrepreneurs in the country with $50,000 in seed money to plan new ventures that have a social impact.

TingaTinga (the name is Swahili for “small bridge”) is the product of the minds of Daniel Croce, Dave Dietrich, and Nate Jackson—three friends who believe that finding and financing the small ventures of budding innovators in 3rd world nations can lead to big changes. Although budding entrepreneurs themselves, their romantic ideals are grounded in solid planning and they have an impressive and diverse wealth of experience from which to draw, despite their youth—Croce, 27, is a C.P.A., former senior associate at Ernst and Young, and current controller at Birchmere Ventures; Dietrich, 27, is a former math teacher, currently pursuing a masters degree at Millersville University; and Jackson, 26, is a former engineer at Deloitte and an employee at McKinsey & Company, and will soon be a graduate of Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business.

Dan Croce, Evan Addams, and Nate Jackson The idea for TingaTinga was initially sparked when Croce and Dietrich spent a summer in Uganda. As they traveled around the war-torn country, they met many talented people with great ideas, but who were unable to acquire the funding for their projects. After taking a closer look, Croce realized that the ideas were viable, had the potential to transform the lives of the people in Northern Uganda, and could easily be financed if a few donors in the U.S. pooled their funding. Upon their return, Croce and Dietrich worked to make this simple idea a working reality, and TingaTinga was born.

In Uganda by TingaTingaMany micro-financing organizations that have recently become popular operate on a model of providing small loans to many small-scale local entrepreneurs. TingaTinga differs in that they specifically select mid-scale investments that have the potential to impact impoverished areas on a large scale. For example, rather than providing seed funding directly to women in Uganda who were interested in learning how to operate a fruit stand in a local market, TingaTinga funded I Live Again (ILA), the brainchild of a local Ugandan entrepreneur, which provides counseling to victims of Uganda’s brutal civil war, paired with vocation and business training. Although this type of project requires loans on a slightly larger scale than traditional micro-loans, if successful, the impact of these strategically chosen ventures has far-reaching consequences.

TingaTinga in UgandaI have had the privilege of working with TingaTinga on some of their recent projects, and have seen that the evaluation of potential investments goes far beyond a simple examination of business plans. The most recent project I helped to review was an agricultural project that required seed funding (excuse the pun) in order to purchase seeds for planting, multiplication, harvest, and resale to a large agricultural seed provider. I met with Croce and Alex Moore, a college student who served as TingaTinga’s BridgeBuilder fellow in Uganda last summer. After reviewing the business plan, we decided to provide the seed money to the Adonai Foundation—a group of local Ugandan entrepreneurs who banded together and were looking to expand their own cash flow in order to fund local entrepreneurial projects in their communities. This type of project is a fulfillment of TingaTinga’s central mission—it is empowering local entrepreneurs to bridge the gap between conception and successful implementation of new ventures that have real community impact. Make no mistake: these investments are changing lives.

TingaTinga is a small organization, addressing local problems by encouraging innovative solutions. Surely, TingaTinga cannot solve the myriad problems that face the third world. Poverty, hunger, war—these are tragedies that stifle people’s lives, keeping them in a perpetual cycle of hopelessness. Yet TingaTinga is a step in the right direction; it is a reminder that the principles of entrepreneurship have the power to inspire, revitalize, and transform, and its vision is to see their clients experience that transformation. This is the essence of entrepreneurship. This is why entrepreneurship is thrilling. At its most basic level, entrepreneurship, and TingaTinga Capital, helps people bridge the gap between despair and hope.

By Sean O’Rourke, a full time educator and part-time graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. Sean will graduate this December with a degree in Public Management. While he is not sure where life will take him upon graduation, he hopes to contribute to an organization that believes creativity and innovation is the solution to today’s most pressing problems.

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