On 5/14, Jeffrey Liebert, CEO of EF’s partner Gazelle Finance, presented a case study for impact investing in the South Caucasus.
A “gazelle” is a fast-growing small or medium-sized enterprise (SME). In developed markets, gazelles—the star performers among SMEs—have been found to be the primary drivers of job creation. In emerging markets, however, SMEs are often referred to as “the missing middle” due to a lack of access to capital. Investing in gazelles in developing countries is crucial for fostering job creation, entrepreneurship, and overall economic development—a key part of EF’s mission.
As a special initiative, EF is seeding the establishment of Gazelle Finance, which seeks to unleash the potential of entrepreneurs in the Eurasia region by providing a combination of growth capital and technical know-how. Gazelle Finance will identify promising SMEs with a strong track record and will provide them with long-term financing based on a sound plan for expansion. By investing, Gazelle Finance will enable SMEs to acquire equipment, property, personnel, or other inputs necessary to expand rapidly. In addition, Gazelle Finance will work with its clients to identify management expertise gaps and provide technical assistance that enhances their potential to grow.
Gazelle Finance is distinguished by its financial product, which is generally not available through banking or private equity channels in the region. SMEs in the Eurasia region have reasonable access to bank loans, but they lack access to “risk” financing, where the investor shares in the risk of the SME. Gazelle Finance will provide income participation loans and equity financing to its clients, typically in the range of $200,000 to $1 million per investment.
Gazelle Finance is in the process of launching investment operations in four countries: Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Moldova. All four countries are undergoing rapid economic development, have achieved meaningful market-oriented reforms, and have reached major milestones in the development of democratic systems since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They also possess similar types of SMEs (operating in industries such as agribusiness, light manufacturing, healthcare, and education) with the potential to contribute to export growth, import substitution, job creation, and overall economic development.