On the 16th of November 2019, the Jack Ma foundation hosted its first annual Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative grand finale which awarded a cumulative sum of $1 million in prize money to 10 entrepreneurs from across Africa. The initiative was birthed by Jack Ma after his first trip to Africa back in 2017.
The Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) is a US$10 million Prize competition for African entrepreneurs, founded by the Jack Ma Foundation. Each year for the next ten years, the Prize will host a pitch competition in Africa where ten finalists from across the continent will compete for US$1 million in total prize money.
All ten finalists will receive grant funding from the Jack Ma Foundation, as well as access to the Netpreneur community of African business leaders to leverage the community’s shared expertise, best practices, and resources.
By 2028, they would have identified and spotlighted 100 African entrepreneur heroes who will inspire the continent.
For this opening year, the ANPI received nearly 10,000 applications from entrepreneurs across the African continent. This large pool of applicants was eventually streamlined to 50 regional finalists and later reduced further to 10 finalists.
The grand finale event was tagged Africa’s Business Heroes and took place in Accra, Ghana where the 10 finalists pitched their business to a panel of judges which included Jack Ma, Founder of Alibaba Group and the Jack Ma Foundation; Strive Masiyiwa, Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet Group; Ibukun Awosika, Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria and Founder/CEO of The Chair Centre Group; and Joe Tsai, Executive Vice Chairman of Alibaba.
At the end of the event, the finalists emerged in the following order:
The other finalists received the sum of $65,000 each and they are:
During the event, two profound statements made by Jack Ma were, “It is my strong belief that entrepreneur heroes, like these finalists, will change the world – creating companies that drive inclusive growth and opportunity for the continent. Everyone is a winner tonight” and “I have more confidence in Africa, more confidence in the young people and more confidence in the entrepreneurs. This is the first time we have held this programme and we will continue to do so to inspire, support and educate African young people and entrepreneurs”
In light of these powerful words and his re-affirmation of his commitment to the African continent, here are some reasons why the ANPI is important to Africa today:
With nature and state of Africa’s economic climate, ample research has proven that Africa’s entrepreneurs are the heroes who will champion the development of economic growth and development of the continent. Still, there are different categories of entrepreneurs within the continent and various support structures that support them at various levels.
When it comes to support, specifically in the area of funding, Subsistence and Formalizing entrepreneurs (those who set up business out of necessity to make ends meet and those that lack or are yet to develop a formal structure) have more options in terms of financial aid and support. This is because their businesses are not at the stage where they need large amounts of financial investment.
Dynamic and High Growth Entrepreneurs are well established businesses with properly established organizational structures. These businesses creating innovative products and services targeted towards specific markets and are driving sustainability, profitability and social impact. This category of entrepreneurs have more difficulty accessing financial investment because the funds they need to make significant progress in their businesses is usually really large.
ANPI is specifically designed for this category of entrepreneurs and it is a very welcome development for Africa at this time. All the winners are creating local solutions to the local challenges and opportunities.
“Technology can enable every individual because in the early days, technology belonged to the rich people and big companies. Today, because of advancements in technology and the existence of mobile phones, everyone can access their markets in a simple, easy and cost effective way”
Jack Ma made the above statement at an interview with Bloomberg’s Yinka Ibukun in Lome, Togo.
The importance of technology cannot be overemphasized especially in a world that is as digitized as the one we are living in today. Jack Ma has expressed his desire not just to support businesses that are generating revenue but businesses that are utilizing technology to create modern and relevant solutions to their environments and the world at large.
One aspect of the ANPI mission is to give the finalists access to the Netpreneur community. As mentioned earlier, this community consists of African business leaders as well as fellow Netpreneurs for the creation of mutually benefitting relationship.
I daresay that the popular phrase, “no man is an island” is even truer for business as the act of developing and growing networks is essential for business (read more about networking here: http://parmindervir.com/the-power-of-networking/).
As the ANPI programme continues to grow each year, participating entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to expand their business networks for the sake of collaboration, shared learning and business expertise.
At its heart, the ANPI is a programme that puts Africa and its entrepreneurs on the center stage. Although still in its infancy, it is clear that these entrepreneurs are the nucleus of the initiative and their stories, achievements and potential for growth will help shape the African narrative for years to come.