With the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on economic development, especially in emerging economies and businesses, grant funding is a major opportunity entrepreneurs and start-ups across Africa should look out for.
Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH), ABH announced the 2021 Top 50 outstanding African entrepreneurs chosen from more than 12,000 entries, selected by a prestigious pool of 233 judges.
The entrepreneurs are going through various evaluations in a run for an opportunity to win a share of $1.5m (Shs5.2b) in grant funding plus invaluable networking and learning opportunities throughout their ABH journey.
Each year for 10 years, the ABH awards grant funding to 10 outstanding African start-ups/entrepreneurs as follows; the winner receives $300,000, the first runner up receives $250,000, the second runner up receives $150,000 and seven others in the top 10 each receives $100,000 cash, on top of other networking opportunities and support.
Two Ugandans each won $100,000 (about Shs 353m) as they both emerged among the top 10 competitors.
This year’s top 50 entrepreneurs represent 16 African countries including Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Botswana, Rwanda, Eritrea, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Madagascar, Togo and Uganda with five candidates.
There is diversity in the type of businesses, with 16 different sectors represented including agriculture, beauty and wellness, construction, consulting, education, energy, environmental protection, financial services, food and beverages, healthcare, ICT, logistics, manufacturing, media and entertainment, retail, and transportation.
Among the top 20 finalists is Daniel Mukisa, founder and head of operations at RideLink; a third-party transport and logistics company focused on stimulating the growth of businesses by creating sustainable and affordable mobility solutions tailored to facilitate the smooth running of business operations, increase revenue earning, improve mobility efficiency, performance, and ability for businesses to tap into new markets.
“Our transport system at the time (2016) was really broken with unsafe, inconvenient and generally defunct public transport infrastructure and unfavourable for small businesses,” he says.
Out of this inefficiency, Mukisa seized an entrepreneurial opportunity.
The first and second lockdowns were the peak time for Mukisa’s Redlink because so many small and medium enterprises wanted to have their cargo and goods transported since not so many vehicles were in transit.
“The pandemic affected so many businesses but it was a great opportunity for us since so many business people wanted to transport their goods to and from different production points. We had more customers than before,” says Mukisa.
Investing without capital
Emmanuel Emodek, the founder of Chap Chap, is also another finalist. Emodek says his company was founded in order to help people who were underserved in terms of income through technology. Founded in April 2016, Chap-Chap is an application that enables micro and medium enterprises to participate in trade.
From his experience, Emodek knows that it is challenging for small businesses to find financial support from banks because they do not have the securities and this is where his Chap Chap comes in handy.
“These enterprises extend financial services to the community through mobile money and utility payments from which transactions we earn. The application also has a slot which enables the dduukas to do digital bookkeeping other than the manual way to track inventories. The app also analyses historical data for an enterprise and does a credit score depending on the previous transactions then provide it to financial institutions for them to access loans without a security,” he explains.
Emodek wanted to experiment with the idea that one can start an innovation with zero investment because from his experience, today’s innovators do not want to start from zero.
“We never invested a single coin, it was our past experience that we relied on to create the products. Borrowing money to start a business does not work out because you might get excited and overspend it. It is always better to start with the little you have, build capacity and multiply what you have with time,” he remarks.
According to Ghirmay Zeray Abraham, founder and managing director of Aptech Africa Ltd, Uganda is the hub in East Africa for entrepreneurs and has the geographic advantage of being strategically located in the middle of its East African neighbours.
He says, “There has been huge support on the national level to improve the investment environment and to encourage local manufacturing and the start-up of local businesses. Start-up companies and entrepreneurs should take advantage of the current business opportunities, make sure to integrate digital solutions into their business models, and always remember that Africa is the future.”
Mukisa remarks that the entrepreneurship environment is open and friendly because it requires no work permit like it is in other countries but there is little information on how to grow business with fewer accelerators in place.
The challenge, according to Mukisa is that, “Many people do not take entrepreneurship as a career. They only do it as a side gig. Entrepreneurs are not taught how to grow business from the start. There is a need to have innovation hubs and the schools should take on entrepreneurship as a career other than something that you do when you fail to get a job.”
He adds , “It is difficult to get capital to start businesses. If the banks, which are the drivers of productivity in the economy, can help entrepreneurs to grow without making it so hard for them to get financial help and also train them, the entrepreneur environment would be so favourable.”