New report ranks Lagos as Africa’s most valuable startup ecosystem

This month saw the release of the Global Startup Ecosystem Report and Ranking 2017, produced by Startup Genome in collaboration with the Global Entrepreneurship Network. Its findings, based on conversations with entrepreneurs and data on startups, made for interesting reading. No single African country made the top 20 ranking on the list, but Lagos, Cape Town and Johannesburg warranted mention in the report. Lagos has the most valuable startup ecosystem in Africa, with the local entrepreneurship scene worth around US$2 billion. The Lagos ecosystem has the ninth highest rate of founders with an undergraduate degree at 59 per cent, while 93 per cent of them have a technical background, the third highest rate in the world. However, Lagos startups have one of the lowest rates of foreign customers, suggesting challenges exist for those 11% of companies looking to go global. Cape Town is the largest startup ecosystem on the African continent, with between 700 and 1,200 active tech startups in the city. The whole ecosystem, however, is valued at US$172 million, well below both Lagos and Johannesburg. One-third of Cape Town startup founders have gained at least two years of prior experience in a fast-growing startup, making them five per cent more experienced than the global average. The ecosystem with the highest global connectedness was Johannesburg, which also has an ecosystem value of US$1.36 billion. The city has the third highest percentage of startups globally that experienced positive corporate interest and involvement, at 67 per cent. The global average is at 51 per cent.

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Learning the art of delegation 

The chances are as entrepreneurs we have all been in the position where as ourbusinesses start to grow we have to bring new people on board to expand our teams and bring in new specialist areas of expertise. Although growth is a good thing, it brings with it a new set of challenges. As business owners, we are responsible for overseeing all aspects of the day to day operations, but there are only so many hours in the day and it’s a case of prioritizing where our time is best spent. It’s not possible to manage everything and everyone at the same time, so the trick is to quickly learn the art of delegation - not always easy when you have moved from startup solopreneur to growing business owner. Here are 5 steps to take that will help you to delegate so you can focus on the things that you do best and that make the biggest contribution to the continuing growth of the business. Firstly, take a deep breath and let go of the controls for your people management to a dedicated, trusted person in your team. Secondly, develop a really effective framework for project and people management. Thirdly, become a better communicator, ensuring that everyone is informed, engaged and onboard. Fourthly, ensure everyone in the business knows and understands who is responsible for what in terms of roles and responsibilities. Finally, breathe easier knowing that essential tasks are getting done more efficiently without you micromanaging all the time. 

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Set your business vantage points closer

Do you remember the days when businesses would typically set their long term goals at 5 and 10 year intervals? These days, the business environment is changing so fast and so dynamically that long-term goals are being measured in months, not years, in order to stay fresh, relevant and on trend. And who knows how your business might look in 5 or 10 years’ time - probably very different from the vision you have for it today. So a different approach is needed to setting your business vantage points, to keep you moving in the right direction and letting you stay agile enough to adapt along the way. It’s still okay to have a big sweeping vision of where you would like to see the business in 10 years’ time, but your long term goals are likely to be around 24 to 26 months in reality. And your immediate goals determining your day to day game plan will have a vantage point of just three months. At the end of every business quarter it means you can review your progress, reset your focus if necessary, and adapt to meet new challenges and take advantage of opportunities. So, just how close are your business vantage points?

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Driving revolution through social entrepreneurship

Have you noticed how much time is spent by big corporates talking about innovation and how to disrupt existing marketplaces with new products and new ways of doing things? And how often do you see those same big companies collaborating with lean, edgy startups who have game-changing new ideas or who challenge existing ways of thinking and doing? Well, look out for a new revolution, one that is being led by social entrepreneurs who are looking to make big changes happen for society as a whole by collaborating with the world’s big corporates. Over the past few years, a new generation of impact driven social entrepreneurs have demonstrated that the innovative solutions to some of the biggest socio-economic challenges facing the world today won’t come from individual big companies or organizations. They will be found through smart collaboration, with social entrepreneurs challenging big companies to look differently at how they make a big societal impact, going beyond corporate social responsibility or philanthropy and instead creating win-win partnerships that make a difference and make good business sense. 

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Persistence pays off

If you are a tennis fan, you may have been watching the amazing turn of events at Indian Wells this week as Roger Federer, the veteran of the game, claimed a record-tying fifth title at the tournament, lifting the trophy to the astonishment of players and commentators alike. This latest win continued his career resurgence following a six months break for knee surgery last year. Hereturned from that surgery to win his 18th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January. With this latest triumph, Federer became only the second man to win five Indian Wells titles, and at 35 years old, Federer is the oldest ATP player to win one of the elite Masters titles. So what’s the secret? Persistence - he has the ability keep going because he loves the game, to keep going no matter what the challenges, physical or mental, until he achieves that important end goal. A lack of persistence or “giving up too soon” is one of the most common reasons for failure in any endeavor - in sport or in business. Things will inevitably get tough, it’s part of the journey, but keeping going, persisting in the face of adversity, is what gets you to the finish line - just ask another tennis legend, Bjorn Borg. He said: “My greatest point is my persistence. I never give up in a match. However down I am, I fight until the last ball. My list of matches shows that I have turned a great many so-called irretrievable defeats into victories.”

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There’s no substitute for sheer hard work if you want success

Talk to highly successful entrepreneurs about what has brought them success in business and in life and the chances are they will tell you it was less about luck and more about sheer hard work and determination. Developing a strong work ethic is key. As Thomas Jefferson once said: “I'm a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” So if you want to develop a strong work ethic that can really reap rewards on your business journey, then there are a few things you can do to put the right foundations in place. Firstly, be present in the business - you need to be in touch with everything that is happening and lead by example; secondly be professional at all times, in the way you conduct yourself and your business; thirdly set your goals and action plans for each day, and deliver; fourthly, dedicate yourself to getting the job done right, put the hours in until it’s done; fifthly, be tenacious and keep reaching for those goals and opportunities and track your progress constantly; and finally, take personal responsibility for the actions and outcomes in the business. As Oprah Winfrey says: “The big secret in life is that there is no secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you are willing to work hard.”

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Building a business with growth potential takes time and patience

Many entrepreneurs set out with aspirations to build a big business or brand, one that can make its presence felt in a particular market or get the world talking. And many would also like to see things happen quickly. But look at all those companies that today have achieved that sort of status and the chances are good that it took time first and foremost, patience and a good dose of self belief. So how do you give yourself and your company the best chance of building a business that can go the distance, one that can grow and become a force to be reckoned with in the future? Firstly, grow at an organic rate, at a pace that is manageable and allows you the time to get your products and services fine tuned. Secondly, put the necessary business foundations and people in place that can grow with you. Thirdly, keep asking yourself the question, are you solving a problem by doing things differently, by offering intrinsic value? Fourthly, leverage your strengths, stay authentic and don’t try and copy what others are doing. Finally, remember that there are no hard and fast rules, you need to take your time, be patient, work hard and get the basics right - the rest will follow.

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The rise of vertical commerce in Africa 

Over the past few years, there’s been an emerging trend across the African continent which has seen the rise of exciting new digitally-native, vertical brands - otherwise known as vertical commerce. It’s helping to reshape the retail landscape on the continent. Vertical commerce brands are companies that are innovative from the beginning. They are born online, created by entrepreneurs who are taking a completely different look at the way products and services are sold, and turning their existing and traditional retail models on their heads. They are creating new ways of selling everyday items to customers and making the whole consumer experience trendy and ultimately cool. They’re developing powerful digital, direct-to-consumer relationships which are not only good for the customer because it keeps prices low, but it also improves retail margins. Not only that, but these digitally-native, vertical brands are capturing the imagination and the investment of the traditional big players. A great example of this is Dollar Shave Club, a wildly successful vertical commerce brand that was acquired recently by Unilver for one billion dollars. So who will be driving Africa’s next big digitally-native, vertical brand?

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Changing the future for Africa’s women entrepreneurs through tech

An interesting debate took place this past weekend in London at the annual Women of the World Festival on the subject of how tech can address gender equality challenges. One of the key voices at the event was Senegalese techpreneur Marieme Jamme, creator of ImatheCODE, the organization on a mission to teach one million women to code by 2030. She firmly believes that the way to gender equality lies in tech, saying: “It is a global problem, not just an African problem. In fact, Africa is soon going to be leading the way. Africa is resolving its own issues...I see women in Senegal coding e-commerce sites. Our girls are making apps, we can’t keep up with them in science and literacy.” Tom Ilube, founder of the African Science Academy in Ghana for talented young women across Africa and another panelist speaking alongside Marieme Jamme had an interesting take on the challenge to empower young women on the continent, saying: “There are 250 million women under the age of 15 on the African continent. Statistically, this means there’s an estimated 10,000 young women in Africa with Einstein levels of intelligence who are not currently being given the opportunities to showcase their talent. We’re trying to find them. We want to help them on their way to the next stage.” The take-out from this discussion is that Africa has talented young women waiting to fulfill their potential, and with the right access to opportunity, education and training, they can be the next entrepreneurial tech game changers who can change the economic future of the continent.

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Mastering the art of creating the perfect work environment as a solopreneur

Are you one of those solopreneurs who can literally work anywhere - a true digital nomad? Is your perfect work environment dictated by the interesting people around you, or the best free wifi connection, or perhaps by the quality of the coffee? The fact is that more and more startup entrepreneurs are working in a truly mobile environment, not stuck in an office from 9 to 5 - in fact, that very thought would probably strike a note of dread in the heart of most solopreneurs. Yet to be at our most productive, it’s important to create the right environment that inspires us, helps us to focus, and makes us feel good. And that interpretation is different for everyone. There is the home office, which has its pros and cons - on the pro side, it’s cheaper than rented office space, you have hot and cold running food on tap, and you could work in your PJs if you wanted to. The cons - it can be lonely, you can easily blur the lines between homelife and worklife, and you can end up working 24/7 without breaks. There’s the co-work space option - they can be vibrant places to work and to meet fellow entrepreneurs, but can be distracting if you are not used to working surrounded by noise and lots of people. Then, there’s the coffee shop entrepreneurial culture - free wifi, great cappuccinos on tap and lots of people to meet, but the downside of perhaps too many distractions and excuses to socialize more than working. Whatever your choice of working environment as a solopreneur, the trick is to find what works for you.

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Africa’s women entrepreneurs need innovative financing solutions

Often, big challenges need innovative solutions, and that is certainly the case with the business funding landscape for women entrepreneurs in Africa. So, it was interesting to read of a highly innovative approach to solving this challenge in Ethiopia, where the country has seen a dramatic transformation of the funding environment for women entrepreneurs in the country. Drawing on International Development Association (IDA) funding and expertise since 2012, Ethiopia has loaned over $2 million to growth-oriented women entrepreneurs per month, and supporting over 10,000 women with loans and business training to date. In tandem, several hundred women participate in the project’s cutting-edge entrepreneurship training program each month, which draws lessons from modern cognitive psychology and equips participants not only with business skills in the traditional sense, but also with the ability to ‘think like an entrepreneur.’ In addition, a partnership between the World Bank Group’s Finance & Markets Global Practice and the Gender Innovation Lab, The Women Entrepreneurship Development Project (WEDP) is introducing innovative credit technologies to lenders, such as psychometric tests which can predict the ability of a borrower to repay a loan and reduce the need for collateral. This technology allows entrepreneurs who do not have collateral, a common challenge for many women entrepreneurs in Africa, to take an interactive test on a tablet computer which predicts their likelihood to repay. If they score highly, they can borrow without traditional collateral. The current rate of repayment of loans by women entrepreneurs going through this approach stands at 99.4%. So it seems that taking an innovative approach to providing finance for Africa’s women entrepreneurs is paying off.

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Uganda tops Africa list in the 2016 Mastercard Index of Women’s Entrepreneurship 

In a new report, the 2016 Mastercard Index of Women’s Entrepreneurship (MIWE), released by MasterCard this week, it was reported that 34.8 percent of businesses in Uganda are owned by women, making the East African nation the top performing country in Africa in terms of women entrepreneurship. Uganda also has the highest percentage (90.5%) of female entrepreneurs in the world borrowing and saving money to start a business, which is significantly higher than the 52.4 percent average of other low-to-lower-middle-income countries. The report suggests that women in Uganda are as likely as men to start a business activity, showing the cultural and social acceptance of women as entrepreneurs is a key factor in the country’s high women business ownership representation. What is most inspiring is that the average entrepreneur in the country is a millennial, between 18 and 34 years old, with at least secondary education and operating predominantly in the customer service sector. Although support for entrepreneurs in the country as a whole is poor, organizations such as UWEAL (Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Ltd) have been highly supportive to women owned businesses. The MasterCard Index of Women’s Entrepreneurship (MIWE) is aimed at helping governments and other relevant bodies better understand and identify ways of bridging the gender gap among business owners in different economies. The American financial services corporation examined 54 countries around the globe, including Botswana, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Uganda. 

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Forget the hard sell, connect with customers through great content

As many women entrepreneurs will tell you, selling is not always something that comes naturally and can be a constant challenge. It therefore makes sense to look at creative and effective ways of getting customers to connect with you and your brand in other ways instead of having to continually go out there looking for them. That’s where having a great content marketing strategy comes in. By creating relevant, interesting and engaging content and publishing it on your website, social and mobile media platforms, you can do just that. A proactive SEO and content marketing campaign with innovative, entertaining and informative content will help you to drive your customers to your brand, hold them in conversations, and encourage them to buy your products and services. Not only that, but as you build a reputation for creating great content that customers actually want to engage in, they will bring their friends and family with them, extending your marketing reach in the process. So if you are not a natural salesperson but you still need to engage those customers, get your content marketing strategy working for you.

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Confidence equals success in business and in life

Have you noticed how some of the most successful entrepreneurs around the world just seem to exude confidence, in all aspects of their life? It seems to be part of their DNA and you get the feeling that they were just born confident. And yet for those of us not blessed with inbuilt confidence, this is a quality we can absolutely develop over time. It starts by being the best at what we do, demonstrating to ourselves and to others that we have a real sense of pride in what we are creating. Confidence building also comes through sharing our knowledge, expertise, skills and passion with others, and there is no doubt that a real love and passion for what you do can not only drive your confidence levels but inspire others to find their own too. Confidence is all about action, the ability to ‘Just Do It’, in the words of Nike. And let’s face it, if you want to find a source of inspiration from some of the most confident people on the planet, then look to those who reach the pinnacle of success in the sports world, who exude confidence and courage each time they head out to the track, pool, court or pitch. As the legendary woman tennis player, Chris Evert, said: “In a decisive set, confidence is the difference.”

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How to navigate your way as a solopreneur

Anyone who has started a business as a solopreneur will be able to tell you that it can be a pretty lonely journey at times. When times are tough, there is just you to work things out, to find the solutions; and when times are good, who do you share your victories large and small with? Being a solopreneur does have its challenges, but there are a few ways you can build your support systems and better enjoy the journey. Firstly, join other groups of entrepreneurs who meet regularly to share experiences, information and networks. Secondly, perhaps look at a co-working space for your business, somewhere that has a great location and that works for you, but importantly brings other entrepreneurs into your day-to-day working life. Thirdly, get a mentor, someone who has the depth of business building or specialist experience that you lack and who can be your go-to person for advice, support and encouragement. Fourthly, create a support team of employees or service providers who can help you to develop your product or service offerings, and who become your back up system on a daily basis. Finally, remember that friends and family are there for you - they may not understand the intricacies of your business, but they are there for emotional support when you need it. Above all, remember to enjoy the special journey you are on as a solopreneur.

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Learning the art of influencing consumer purchasing decisions subconsciously

Did you know that it’s estimated 90% of all purchasing decisions are made subconsciously? It appears that our brains are on autopilot most of the time. If you have ever caught yourself dashing through a grocery store and looking into your shopping basket only to find that it’s filled with the same brand groceries time after time, you will understand this phenomenon. It’s not only habit that influences our buying decisions - it’s sounds, smells, and colours - all stimulating our senses and tapping into our subconscious. For example, how often do you walk into a store where the smell of fresh bread hits you immediately from the bakery counter and you find yourself buying bread and confectionary that you didn’t plan to buy, but it’s too irresistible not to?    It’s the same with sound - did you know that wine stores sell more French champagne when they play classical music as opposed to any other type of music? When planning your own retail experiences and environments for your brand, it’s good to remember how much our senses dictate our subconscious purchasing decisions, and tap into those senses for maximum sales returns and brand connections. 

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Open a window for your customers into your world

How many times do we hear as entrepreneurs that we need to find a way of differentiating ourselves in the marketplace, making our brands connect with our customers, making our businesses stand out and stand up for what we believe in? Well the way to do that is simply to be authentic, and although it seems like that’s the marketing buzz word for 2017, this is not simply a tactic that has worked for decades, it’s a way of being. Building a brand that is authentic simply makes sense - it’s not about marketing spin, it’s about telling a story about your business and your brand that is human, that touches people and their lives, that builds relationships based on a real emotional connection. How do you do that? Share your story - tell your customers where the inspiration for your business came from, how you built the business, what happens behind the scenes when creating your products, share your values and vision. Also as the founder and face behind the business, introduce yourself to your customers through your storytelling, make it personal. And finally, get creative and make your story human. It’s okay to share the triumphs and tribulations that are part of your entrepreneurial journey, and your customers are interested - they want to emotionally walk that journey with you.  So if you want to build a business and a brand that can really connect with customers, then open a window for them to look into your world. 

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Overwhelmed? You are not alone as an entrepreneur. 

As an entrepreneur, how often do you feel like you are overwhelmed, trying to constantly juggle the demands of building a successful business at the same time as keeping up with the demands of family life, children’s education, community responsibilities, friendships, and still have some time left for you as an individual? Is precious leisure time getting rarer by the week because you spend your evenings and weekends catching up with all the business admin you didn't quite get around to in the week because of other time pressures? If so, then you are not alone. It’s a feeling that many women entrepreneurs experience on their journeys, particularly in the early days of building businesses and brands, and innovating in the product development space. Chatting to women entrepreneurs regularly around the African continent, it can feel like life is just a constant battle with time and never actually having enough to go around - although somehow, women entrepreneurs find a way of making it work regardless. So if you are feeling overwhelmed right now, and leisure time is a long distant memory, take a look at author Brigid Schulte’s interesting takes on the subject in her book ‘Overwhelmed - How to work, love and play when no-one has the time’. It offers a really insightful look at how to attempt to find a balance between work, leisure time and personal achievement.

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Pitching for success is all about confidence

For many women entrepreneurs, the idea of standing up in front of an audience of business decision-makers and corporate procurement panels to pitch their businesses in a competitive environment can be a daunting, if not terrifying, prospect. But like anything in life and business, it’s all about developing confidence in ourselves and in the businesses and brands we are building. Successful pitching is a skill that can be learned, but like so many things, it is underpinned by confidence. I was reminded of this yesterday when I was attending our Lionesses of Africa Accelerator session in Johannesburg. The topic was on Pitching with Confidence and for some in the session, the prospect of standing up in front of an audience and pitching remained daunting. And yet here’s the thing - these amazing women entrepreneurs have been learning over the past few weeks how to grow and develop not just their businesses, but also their confidence, and it showed. These women found their ‘inner lioness’, confidently presented their businesses and connected with the audience on a human level, and got their messages across powerfully. It was a great example of how important confidence is to achieving business and personal success in life. 

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A little more collaboration please!

Are you one of those entrepreneurs who feels like they are constantly looking over their shoulders to check out what the competition is doing, and then worrying about how to get ahead of them? Do you get anxious and insecure and then perhaps a little jealous when the competition seems to be doing better than you, or they get a big customer win, or they win an award for their products and service? If the answer is yes, then read on! Competition is a reality in business and it’s human nature to compare ourselves to others, but the bottom line is that if you spend precious time focusing on what your competitors are doing, constantly readjusting your own business model to react to theirs, you end up working for the competition instead of on your own business and clients. So perhaps a more radical approach is to look at collaborating rather than competing? Maybe you and your competitor have ideas or solutions to consumer problems that are two halves of the whole, and brought together could create a much bigger market changing solution? Perhaps a consumer challenge in the marketplace requires a big, innovative, out-of-the-box approach that is too big for one entrepreneur to take on alone, but could represent an incredible business opportunity for two entrepreneurs to collaborate on to find the answer?

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