State of Startups – The African Perspective

Start-ups and the entrepreneurs who run them are no longer just a buzz word in the world today but are main drivers of development across the global economy. This week, as global leaders converge at the World Economic forum, the state and impact of start-ups is high on the agenda. Thanks to our Founder, Tony O. Elumelu (CON) who engaged the Executive Chairman of WEF Klaus Schwab to incorporate entrepreneurship into the 2018 Davos agenda; leaders from across diverse geographies shall discuss the outlook on start-ups for 2018 and the role they are playing to foster sustainable and inclusive economic development. To discuss this critical issue, our Founder shall be joined by will.i.am Founder and Chief Executive Officer, i.am+, USA; Alice Gast President, Imperial College London, United Kingdom; Badr Jafar, CEO Crescent Enterprises, UAE and moderated by R. May Lee Dean, School of Entrepreneurship and Management, ShanghaiTech, People’s Republic of China.

For us at the Tony Elumelu Foundation, our agenda is clear, we shall share the inspiring stories of our entrepreneurs and their Start-ups which are creating bottom-up solutions to problems within their communities.

In the past 3 years, we have championed entrepreneurship in all 54 African countries by providing 3000 start-ups with access to funding, mentorship, training and networking opportunities.

We have invested direct seed capital of $15 million in 3000 African entrepreneurs in 30 sectors from 54 countries. We have built a model which works and we are proud of the impact our alumni are making all over the continent. In Seirra-Leone, Start-ups like Track Your Build  founded by Tony Elumelu Entrepreneur Edmond Nonie created an innovative solution in response to the unfortunate mudslide the country experienced last year. Track Your Build engaged in Crisis Mapping by drone mapping, surveillance of crisis or danger zones for use in risk assessment, search and rescue and post-crisis analysis.

In Botswana, Mavis Nduchwa of Chabana Farms is a quintessential case of the resilience and determination of African entrepreneurs. Operating from a 247 acres of land growing grains and legumes such as lablab (a legume that produces high-quality forage for livestock), she employs 10 full-time staff, also provides six weeks’ training in managing a poultry business for unemployed single mothers. Chabana Farms have also recently been awarded a $2 million contract by the government of Botswana to supply jugo beans to the local market. The business has made such great gains that in peak seasons, it generates as much as $1.5 million in profits.

The importance of entrepreneurship cannot therefore be overstated especially in Africa whose population is projected to account for more than half of the global population by 2050, in addition, studies have shown that 29 million youths join the region’s labor force every year between 2015 and 2030. We therefore need to hasten the pace of employment creation across the continent and this is why entrepreneurs are crucial as vehicles of job creation. African entrepreneurs are indeed taking up this challenge gallantly, according to the AFDB, 22 percent of Africa’s working-age population are starting new businesses, which is the highest rate of any region in the world. In fact, small and medium enterprises (SMEs)—those with fewer than 20 employees and less than 5 years’ experience—now constitute the largest providers of formal sector jobs in sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite this commendable progress, critical challenges remain in terms of infrastructure, access to finance and the development of skills relevant to the needs of the world today.

At the Tony Elumelu Foundation, we are confident and convinced that our model works and if scaled by organizations (public and private) across the continent, Africa will be onto an entrepreneurship revolution.

It is comforting to see that many governments are indeed taking the lead in this regard. The AFDB reports that at least 42 African countries have put in place explicit policies and strategies that provide SMEs with training, finance and the enabling environment that allows them to thrive. In Ethiopia for instance, government agencies work together to provide managerial training and financing for SMEs. In Morocco, special measures have been instituted to ease access to finance to support SMEs. In Rwanda, the Business Development Fund is cantered at the forefront of SME development – pushing for SME partnerships with local and foreign investors.

Still, a lot remains to be done, more endowed individuals, corporates and non-profits around the world need to contribute to this revolution – it is highly imperative that they do so because African entrepreneurship is central to global prosperity, peace and security. The biggest business opportunities in the coming decade will be created by Africans who start businesses, generate jobs and wealth, and capture growth opportunities – they need all the support.

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