On July 12th, the Berlin-based non-profit organisation Ampion (short for Amplifying Pioneership), hosted an event called “Startups in Africa – Success Stories on a Rooftop.” Ampion enables entrepreneurs to launch businesses in Africa and to use technology for innovation with a vision to be “a globally recognised catalyst for private sector-driven economic growth and [to] promote impactful and sustainable development throughout the [African] continent and the world.” CEO and Founder Fabian-Carlos Guhl acknowledges that the main reason for organising and hosting the informal event was to “connect different stakeholders doing Africa-related start-up businesses and provide them a platform to exchange know-how and ideas.” Different African entrepreneurs were provided the opportunity to showcase themselves, their organisations, and their achievements to date. It is evident that entrepreneurial opportunities exist in a huge variety of different fields and industries right across the African continent ranging from agriculture to health to ICT to renewable energy to many others. However, what is required is an increasing number of people who can identify such opportunities, take them and turn them into successful businesses not only empowering themselves but many others around them in the process. Here are five of the key entrepreneurial success factors that were shared and discussed by the entrepreneurs who presented.
Have a Clear Vision
Whether it be to help solve a particular issue or to design a particular product or service it is important to know what you want to do, how you would like to achieve it, and why you are doing it. With these ideas in mind it can help an entrepreneur remain focused instead of being distracted by side events or issues, and show drive to achieve his/her ambitions. Across Africa there have been far too many examples of entrepreneurs showing promise and potential but then not achieving their results because they have lost sight of their vision. Guhl says this is important because “one can easily be distracted by partners, investors, clients, and even employees. Never lose sight of your vision and values. Stay true to yourself.”
Know Your Market
Who do you want to sell your product or service to? How do you want to promote and sell it? And, is your market big enough to help transform you from an entrepreneur with potential into a successful one? These and others are all important aspects to consider when it comes to an entrepreneur understanding the market he/she operates in. “Markets across Africa are evolving rapidly and the way people and communities engage with one another is also rapidly changing. It is very hard to gather market data in Africa. Thus entrepreneurs need to take bigger risks than in well researched markets,” commented Guhl. As the middle class grows across the African continent so, too, will their desire for new, improved, and different products and services which allow them to have an improved quality of life.
For growth to be sustainable it should also be inclusive. Guhl says targeting low-income classes is a strong customer acquisition strategy as this group is the fastest growing and largest customer segment. The good news is that the opportunity for an entrepreneur to be inclusive presents itself in many different ways across Africa. Regardless of the type of business product or service that you are offering, measures can be devised to include staff members in the process, engage with customers and your market to better understand their expectations and needs, form partnerships with other entrepreneurs, companies, or government stakeholders, and to access funding from different sources. Entrepreneurs and start-ups that manage to do so are more likely to improve their chances of success.
Enable Knowledge Transfer and Maintenance
This is linked to the issue of inclusivity but is also an important area for any aspiring entrepreneur or start-up to consider. Although many entrepreneurs begin life on their own (which can be daunting and lonely) many others are supported by a team (often they can be volunteers). Therefore, it is important to make sure everyone feels part of the process and continues to remain inspired by the ultimate objective or vision. An important way of achieving this is by enabling knowledge transfer throughout the company and can be achieved by removing hierarchy, involving team members of all levels of experience and knowledge in all aspects of the entrepreneurial venture, organising team bonding or training events, and simply by encouraging those around you to pursue their own dreams. Another benefit of transferring knowledge is the (often unexpected) benefits that can result later on your own product or service. Guhl agrees with this benefit and notes that “the more people are aligned and work towards a common vision the more opportunities will come out of it.”
Prepare Your Next Move
Always try and think one step ahead because if you don’t your (potential) competitor will likely do so. An entrepreneur is constantly operating in an innovative space so it is possible that your “next” move can change based on changing circumstances or developments but one should always have a consideration for his ultimate objective(s) and how one wants to get there. Regarding the need for an entrepreneur to be flexible enough but to remain aligned to his/her strategic or company visions, Guhl says, “many successful companies stayed close to their vision but totally changed the way to how to get there. Think of AirBnB, which started as a community and transitioned to a house sharing platform but their community is still the most important value.”
The African continent is ripe with entrepreneurial opportunities. Many exciting initiatives are being heard of and discussed, while there are also many others who have been inspired by something and have tried and not succeeded. More can certainly be done to support aspiring entrepreneurs in all fields across the continent and it is just a matter of identifying such opportunities. Ampion is playing a small part by connecting entrepreneurs, businesses, funders, and others together. Commenting on what else can still be done, Guhl concluded by saying that “we need to bridge the financing gap and help international investors to inject capital into early stage ventures in Africa.”