The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme Selection Process Explained

A question I am frequently asked is “how do you select the 1000 entrepreneurs from such a vast pool of applications?

On the 1st March 2019, the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme closed its application portal for the 5th Round of the 10-year programme. An unprecedented 215, 852 African entrepreneurs from 54 African countries registered on the portal and 66, 957 submitted their applications.

By way of reminder, in 2015, 20,000 applications were received from 53 countries; in 2016, it was 45,000; in 2017 the total registrations were 93,246 and in 2018 an unprecedented 151,692 entrepreneurs from 114 countries in Africa and around the world registered to apply to the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme.

2019 Application Summary

TEF technology platform enables us to monitor the application flow daily, analyse the data and use the insights to adjust our communication and engagement strategies. In 2019 for instance we found that high number of applicants submit their applications on Friday and Saturday. This allowed us to target our media ad spend across those days. That applicants wait to the last week of the portal opening, which is when we received over 54% of the submissions. Application monitoring also enables us to target our application drive efforts to the under-represented countries which due to language and under developed entrepreneurship ecosystem are the hardest to reach. From the launch of the Programme in 2015, Nigeria has consistently delivered the most applications from across all 37 states.

With regards to sector, among the 215,852 application registrations, agriculture remains the top business sector, followed by fashion, commercial and ICT and 30 plus other sectors. The number of women business owners registering and submitting applications has grown organically from 24% in 2015 to over 40% in 2019. With regards to language, despite the programme being multilingual, applications from French and Portuguese speaking countries in Africa remains low.

Over 80% of the applicants are between the age of 18-35 and just over 14% are between 36-45. We know that the African continent is home to the world’s youngest population, and they see entrepreneurship as the solution to the unemployment challenges facing many of the 54 African countries.

Last year we began to monitor the business location and the data insights reveal that 68% of the applicants are urban based which over 31% are rural. While it is good to see this near 70-30 split, we know more needs to be done to democratise access to entrepreneurship development in the rural areas across Africa.

Finally, we monitor how the applicants hear about the programme, other than the intense television commercial we run every year on CNN and other television channels. This year we found friends, that is word of mouth, Facebook, Email, and Instagram were the leading information media for the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme. The ‘Friends’ include the active participation of the past TEF Alumni to share information, encourage and support new applicants to apply.

Application Criteria, Review and Selection Process

With 66, 957 applications submitted, it is obvious why shortlisting the top 1000 would be a herculean challenge. In this article, I want to share with you the application review, selection criteria and process we put in place in 2015 to identify Africa’s finest entrepreneurs for the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme.

Selection Criteria

In 2014, when I joined the Tony Elumelu Foundation as the Director of Entrepreneurship, I researched the world’s best entrepreneurship accelerator programmes to understand global best practice for the selection of applicants for the programmes. Based on this research, we adopted the following five (5) criteriaagainst which all the submitted applications are evaluated for the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme:

1.   Feasibility: A business that can be executed within the estimated cost and is able to generate profit.

2.   Market Opportunity: A product or service that is potentially wanted or needed by consumers and not sufficiently supplied by rival companies.

3.   Scalability: Ability to expand production capacity beyond the local community and increase revenue while minimizing rise in operational cost.

4.   Financial Understanding: A knowledge of income and revenue streams

5.   Leadership and Entrepreneurial Skills: The ability to organize and manage individuals, teams and/or organizations to achieve set goals.

These criteria are strongly in line with global standards because it has been recognised that if entrepreneurs are able to exhibit these attributes and more, their businesses are more likely to succeed and grow.

We are aware that businesses which apply are at various stages and as such their ability to prove some of these criteria, maybe limited; therefore, these criteria are assigned different weights based on the stage of the business being considered. For example, we expect businesses that are already operational to have a better understanding of their financials and running implications compared to someone whose business is in the idea stage.

Ethics, Transparency, and Quality Assurance

We further wanted to ensure that each application passed through the highest standards of rigour, ethics, transparency, and quality assurance. In 2015, we engaged the services of Accenture Development Partners—a company that specialises in providing innovative solutions to businesses via providing services in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations—to review the applications and make the final selection of 1000 entrepreneurs.

We worked with Accenture Development Partners to expand on listed five assessment criteria to interpret them further as follows:

1.   Feasibility:

  • Business idea is solving a problem in a novel or innovative way·
  • Business has the potential to create jobs and wealth
  • Business model is sustainable and commercially viable

2.   Market Opportunity:

  • Applicant understands market, customers, competitive and regulatory landscape
  • Applicant is aware of competitors and has positioned business to thrive in competitive environment

3.   Scalability:

  • Business has the potential to replicate across community, and extend reach to region, nation and continent with minimal barriers or costs

4.   Financial Understanding:

  • Applicant shows basic financial understanding of revenue streams, cost drivers, and financing needs

5.   Leadership & Entrepreneurial Skills:

  • Applicant demonstrates passion, commitment, leadership experience and entrepreneurial expertise.
  • Applicant demonstrates previous accomplishments with respect to mobilizing people and resources.

This was further expanded into 25 Yes/No drill down questions to guide the Accenture team of evaluators. The top scoring high and medium 1000 applicants are presented to the Foundation by Accenture.

Each year, TEF and Accenture Development Partners reviews and refines the criteria, the interpretations, and the drill down questions from the learning of the selection process.

2019 Selection Announcement

The final selection presentation and announcement of TEF 2019 Entrepreneurship Programme will be made on 22nd March 2019. The list of all the selected is posted on the TEF website.

If you are reading this article and you are one of the applicants who applied in 2019, then I urge you to follow us on social media, visit our website and log onto your TEFConnect account to see if you made it into the 2019 TEF Entrepreneurship Programme.

We look forward to welcoming the 2019 cohort to the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme. Upon their graduation at the end of the year, they will join the ever growing TEF Alumni Network of 4,470 entrepreneurs from 54 African countries. For those who don’t make it, you remain part of the network and can leverage the value-add opportunities we post on TEFConnect, our new digital platform connecting African entrepreneurs to the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

As I prepare to transition from the Foundation, after 5 years, I am proud of the rigorous, transparent, and credible selection process we put in place at the start of this ground-breaking made in Africa entrepreneurship programme and look forward to next five years of success.

In my next article, following the selection announcement on 22nd March, I will share the major trends that we observed in 2019 application.

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