Investing in SMEs in Frontier Markets

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SME Ventures Program

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are critical to economic development in emerging markets. Often referred to as the “missing middle,” they play a key role in fostering economic growth and job creation. Despite their potential, SMEs in these markets are often constrained by the lack of access to capital and face a mismatch between available funding and their specific financing needs.

To help address this critical funding gap, in 2010 IFC launched the SME Ventures Program. The program invests in private equity funds - often run by first-time or established local investment managers - which focus on SMEs and operate in IDA-eligible countries and fragile and conflict-affected states. In addition to providing capital, the SME Ventures Program works with its fund managers to improve their ability to support SMEs with the networks, market expertise, and know-how they need to scale further. The program is designed to support the evolution of local private capital markets and improve the investment environment for SMEs through hands-on value-creation advisory services and technical assistance.

Since its inception, the SME Ventures Program has paved the way for other private equity firms to enter these markets, and by working with the World Bank and governments, it has also helped create regulatory environments conducive to private equity investments. IFC’s early market entries via the SME Ventures Program provides a powerful signaling effect, indicating the presence of a viable private equity market in these countries.

The SME Ventures Program continues to be a thought leader in the SME financing space as the founding host and organizer of the SME Ventures Forum, which every year brings together a global network of fund managers and investors interested in supporting high-growth SMEs in frontier markets. The forum provides a unique platform to analyze market trends, share lessons learned, explore challenges and opportunities, and mobilize new capital for SMEs in some of the world’s most challenging markets. 

Partner with SME Ventures

We continue to expand the SME Ventures Program, which as of 2023 has a footprint in over 24 portfolio funds around the world, ranging from the Kyrgyz Republic to Guatemala to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cambodia. We are actively seeking to engage with Private Equity Fund Managers and Limited Partners.

Private Equity Fund Managers:

If you are aligned with our mission and vision and have the relevant team and track-record to support institutional capital, we invite you to reach out to engage us about support for your fundraising journey.

Limited Partners:

IFC is a first mover in many markets, with a goal of setting best practice terms and conditions acceptable to the market. We also have on-the-ground presence, real-time market insights, and direct engagement with government stakeholder in more than 170 countries. We offer a unique opportunity for investors interested in high-impact investing in frontier markets to partner on fund investments and the SME Ventures Forum.

To explore collaboration opportunities, please contact us at

Key Stats

$273 Million

        invested in fund managers

$1.3 Billion


520+ SMEs


200,000+ jobs


IFC SME Ventures’ Portfolio Funds

Fund Manager: Ascent

Fund Manager: Joliba Capital

Fund Manager: XSML Capital

Fund Manager: Zoscales Partners

Fund Manager: Business Oxygen

Fund Manager: Highland Capital

Fund Manager: Pomona Impact

Fund Manager: Salt Capital


Amanda Cotterman
SME Ventures Head