Making Entrepreneurs Across Africa

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By Bisi Daniels

There is a story of a Lagos businessman, who invited Professor Narudeen Alao, the then Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos to speak at an event of his company. He invited many newspapers, happy about the PR prospects of the event. The following day, he gleefully bought all newspapers hoping to read stories about the event, with rich background of his company.

To his utmost shock, all the reports were about what Professor Alao said at the event.

“It was all Alao said….. Alao said…..and Alao said, with a passive mention of where he spoke,” the businessman said regrettably.

That was not the case of the second Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Forum, which held between October 28-29, 2016, in Lagos. Dignitaries at the event included Former Prime Minister of Benin Republic Lionel Zinsou; President Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President of Nigeria; His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone; Mr. Tony Elumelu CON, Founder of Tony Elumelu Foundation; Mrs. Awele Elumelu, CEO Avon Medical; Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija, Vice Chair of Famfa Oil; and Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Honourable Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture.

Former President Obasanjo is a newsmaker any day, even when he is not talking; and when he said his administration made the world’s richest Black woman, Mrs Alajika and 24 others billionaires, the story could have easily drowned many events in the news.

But the goal of the event, to make another set of 1,000 entrepreneurs drawn from all over Africa, could not be drowned by what the dignitaries said. It was an event for future Tony Elumelus, Alakijas and Aliko Dangotes of Africa. Big, successful dreams often start small!

The event was for people following the steps of Momar Mass-Taal from Gambia who turned his first $5,000 seed capital from the Foundation into a $1.2 million revenue business.

Mass-Taal is the CEO of Tropingo Foods. He moved back to Gambia from Canada in 2011 to try and seal a gap he had observed as a university student in Africa’s Agriculture sector. Tropingo Foods is an Agro-foods processing company that currently focuses on the production and processing of groundnuts and mangoes as dried fruits for exports. Momar is a 2015 Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneur.

Testimonies

Also from the 2015 set are: Emmanuel Olabisi, a Nigerian entrepreneur who specialises in providing professional accounting and allied services to entrepreneurs. He said of the opportunity, “I’m highly excited because this is what Nigerian and African youths have been waiting for in a long time -somebody that will draw the youths up and follow them up with training and all other resources that are needed to make one grow. In fact, this is a very fantastic opportunity for Nigerian youths. They’ve trained us for twelve weeks on various business processes and how to administer a business successfully. They’re still supporting us with $5000 seed capital. Apart from that, the networking opportunity they provided for us has been awesome.”

According to Ms. Onyinye Obi, who is into manufacturing tissue papers, “the Forum is the biggest gathering of African entrepreneurs. 54 countries participated and all of us gathered together to share ideas and learn new things. I’ve always dreamt of owning my business and managing it and creating employment opportunities for people. So when I heard about the Tony Elumelu Foundation and what they do, I decided to apply and fortunately my name came out. So I’m happy to be part of it, I really want to network so as to take my business to the next level, and also get some financial insight. So I thank Tony Elumelu for his generosity and concern for the youths of Africa, and may God expand his coast.”

Darsh Bholah from Mauritius, who is into medical tourism, said, “Well, it has been an awesome experience being here as a young entrepreneur. Everything about the programme is so helpful to us. The seed capital is really going to help our businesses. The mentoring programme is also going to be helpful to us. The networking is another value addition to us and our business. The founder of this Foundation, Mr. Tony Elumelu is doing a great job and I hope that he will continue to embrace young entrepreneurs in Africa. I think other African personalities in the calibre of Mr. Elumelu should join forces with him to increase funds for this programme so that other people will have the same opportunity that is given to us.”

Last month’s event was the second Entrepreneurship Forum of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, the largest gathering of African entrepreneurs in the world, which was attended by nearly 1,000 entrepreneurs from 54 African countries.

The Forum celebrated the 2016 cohort of Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs, selected from over 45,000 applicants. It is the highlight of the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme and allows leading policy makers and business leaders to support the Foundation’s $100 million commitment to empower 10,000 African entrepreneurs in 10 years.

The Forum showcases the innovation and entrepreneurial potential that exists in Africa, the largest annual gathering of African entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, pan-African media, policy makers and more from across the continent. The dynamic platform allows Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs to form networks, share knowledge, build cross border business partnerships, and more through plenary panels, master-classes, speed networking, TED style talks and entertainment.

Established in 2010, The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) is the leading philanthropic organisation in Africa with the aim of promoting entrepreneurship as the catalyst for the socio-economic development of the continent.

The Foundation has set itself apart from grant-making bodies, by operationalising integrated programmes to support entrepreneurship in Africa and by enhancing the competitiveness of the African private sector.

On the first of the two-day 2016 forum, attendees benefited from master-classes on traditional and alternative means of financing, sales and marketing, as well as sector specific workshops and an in-depth session on Africapitalism – Elumelu’s economic philosophy that identifies the leading role of Africa’s private sector, including its entrepreneurs, in Africa’s transformation.

Dignitaries speak

In her opening remarks, Mrs. Awele Elumelu, CEO Avon Medical, Trustee of the Foundation and wife of Founder, Mr. Elumelu, welcomed the entrepreneurs to Lagos and commended their drive and effort in finding solutions to some of the continent’s most pervasive challenges.

The CEO of the Foundation, Ms. Parminder Vir, invited entrepreneurs in the audience to continue to build the future and to challenge the flawed perceptions of Africa.

Day Two featured a high-level panel dedicated to identifying policies to strengthen the enabling environment for entrepreneurs. Moderated by BBC anchor, Lerato Mbele, with panellists included His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone, President Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President of Nigeria, Former Prime Minister of Benin Republic, Lionel Zinsou, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Honourable Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture and Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija, Vice Chair of Famfa Oil.

Opening the high-level panel discussion, Mrs. Alakija congratulated the entrepreneurs, praised TEF’s focus on entrepreneurship and shared her own personal story of perseverance to demonstrate the entrepreneurs need for resilience and doggedness.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo hailed Elumelu’s perseverance and focus on giving back. “By every means, God has made His face shine upon you. You are not the only one, but unlike you, some others do not have the idea of empowering the next generation of Africans in the manner and scale that you are doing.”

He further emphasized patience to the young entrepreneurs. In his words, “For strength in life you need a bit of adversity.” He also called on the Nigerian government to implement policies that encourage investors and entrepreneurs to do business in Nigeria.

Former Prime Minister of Benin Republic, Lionel Zinsou, commended the Tony Elumelu Foundation, stating “What Tony Elumelu is doing is the exception, not the norm.”

Other speakers at the event included Clare Akamanzi, Representative of President Kagame of Rwanda, Kennedy Uzoka, Group CEO of the United Bank for Africa Plc (UBA), Minster of Solid Minerals, Hon. Kayode Fayemi, Segun Awolowo, CEO of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, Clem Ugorji, Public Affairs & Communications Director, Coca-Cola West Africa, Emeke Iweriebor, Regional CEO of UBA Africa (Francophone), Matthew Pearson, Head of Africa Equity Sales at ICBC Standard Bank, Sam Nwanze, Chief Investment Officer at Heirs Holdings.

Keynote address

In his keynote address Elumelu said: “I salute those here, our ambition is that you become ambassadors for entrepreneurship in Africa – you are a generation of wealth creators, who share our commitment to the economic and social transformation of Africa.

“As excited as I am about the 2,000 entrepreneurs that we have selected, this gathering is in some ways bitter-sweet, as I reflect on the 63,000 ideas we were unable to select – our commitment is to all entrepreneurs in Africa.”

He challenged all stakeholders from the public and private sectors, civil society, multilateral organisations and all individuals invested in Africa’s economic development to join hands with the Foundation to support the wider African entrepreneurial community.

“We need to support our entrepreneurs because extreme poverty and economic opportunity rarely coexist in the same place,” he stated.

He also announced partnerships with regional institutions such as the African Development Bank, ECOWAS, and others including Coca Cola, the International Trade Centre, and Nigerian Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism and Côte d’Ivoire Ministry of Entrepreneurship.

The dream

In the first year, the Foundation spent over $8 million of our $100 million commitment – with $5 million going directly to entrepreneurs as seed capital. It has funded entrepreneurs, established pan-African networks and helped extraordinary people take control of their destinies.

“At the end of our 10-year commitment,” the Foundation says, “Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs will become a generation of dynamic African business owners, who will prove that local business growth will drive Africa’s economic and social transformation. We believe that by the end of this ‘Decade of African Entrepreneurship,’ thousands of businesses will grow and flourish, driving sustainable prosperity across Africa. Furthermore, they will create ripples and waves of economic transformation across the continent.”

The morning after

Looking back, 11 days after the 2016 Forum, Elumelu said:

“In the days since the Forum ended, the Foundation has been inundated with messages, calls and visits of gratitude from our entrepreneurs. Like I often reiterate, the future of Africa depends on an army of industrious, intelligent citizens joining forces to make this continent the powerhouse it ought to be. It is my deepest belief that entrepreneurs and start-ups have a vital role to play in this socioeconomic revolution. African entrepreneurs and those they inspire are the lifeblood of our continent’s development and the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme is a demonstration of our unwavering belief in budding African businesses.

Our entrepreneurship programme is a $100m investment in empowering 10,000 entrepreneurs over the next decade in the hopes that they will create at least 1,000,000 new jobs and contribute at least $10 billion in revenues across Africa over 10 years.

“The 2nd Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Forum was the highlight of this year’s cycle where nearly 1,000 extraordinary African entrepreneurs selected from over 45,000 applicants, gathered in Lagos to once again form the largest gathering of African entrepreneurs since our Forum last year in Lagos. Entrepreneurs learned both hard and soft skills specific to doing business in Africa and formed relationships with each other, planting the seeds for essential pan-African collaboration and trade.

“It was remarkable to be joined by His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone; Former President of Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo; Former Prime Minister of Benin Republic, Lionel Zinsou, and other notable leaders. Our entrepreneurs benefited from master-classes on traditional and alternative means of financing, sales and marketing, sector specific workshops and an in-depth session on Africapitalism – my economic philosophy that identifies the leading role of Africa’s private sector, including its entrepreneurs, in Africa’s transformation, as well as inspirational lectures from some of Africa’s most successful political and business leaders. For one of our entrepreneurs, Joshua Oyeniyi, CEO of Amborion Media Global Enterprises, the business workshops and sector-specific sessions revealed key insights about running a business: “The Tony Elumelu Foundation Forum for entrepreneurs has broadened my mind scope. It has introduced me to a lot of different business aspects that enable me better understand the very intrinsic and intricate part of my business. I’m really grateful to the Foundation for such unusual opportunity.”

On support from African governments and international agencies, he said, “Like I announced at the Forum, in two short years since we launched the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme, the Foundation has entered partnerships with regional institutions the African Development Bank, ECOWAS, and others including Coca Cola, the International Trade Centre, Nigerian Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism and Côte d’Ivoire Ministry of Entrepreneurship.

These groups are working with us to improve the enabling environment across Africa for not only selected Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs, but for all African entrepreneurs everywhere on the continent. What is good for one entrepreneur is good for all of them. However, as I also said in my remarks, as excited as I am about the 2,000 entrepreneurs that we have selected, it is a bittersweet experience as I reflect on the 63,000 ideas we were unable to select.

I call on all stakeholders invested in Africa’s economic development to join hands with the Foundation to support these entrepreneurs. We need to support our entrepreneurs because extreme poverty and economic opportunity rarely coexist in the same place.”

– Daniels is a journalist, author, and corporate communications expert.