Building a progressive, holistic ecosystem for sustainable enterprise

By:  Amma Gyampo

This past couple of months, several ecosystem support organisations and champions have been discussing what the Utopia of closer collaboration might look like. The main objectives: to attract more resources, look to other ecosystems for deeper learning engagement and how the wider business support community in Ghana, and the rest of the continent eventually, might become more effective and impactful.

In Ghana, we have quite some way to get truly connected as an ecosystem that can reap the benefits that scale could present to a truly African Entrepreneurship Ecosystem. We are yet to overcome common ailments of divide and conquer, silo mentality and individualistic approaches to doing business.

Ecosystem

Ecosystem players include innovators, investors, corporates with an interest in vertically integrating with innovators in their fields, as well as professional mentors, consultants and advisors in the space.  There is a broad range of buzzwords particularly in relation to incubation, acceleration, hubs, co-working space, seed, angel and series investments.

Incubators generally provide entrepreneurs with a physical space and access to a suite of services and advisors. Accelerators offer the next level of support by adding to this bedrock of support, some initial funding.

In my view, we need to do more work on developing our entrepreneurs with Innovation and Acceleration firmly embedded in the process, to enable us see and tell more stories of success and scale; measure how much our joint efforts lead to scale. For it is only at scale that we can start to speak of jobs and impact.

In Ghana, we have our AGI and NBSSI with small scale to industrial business membership base, we have incubators, accelerators, hubs and advisors but the trillion-dollar question for Ghana and the wider African ecosystem is: where are the market distribution channels that will fuel the growth? The answer lies within the mass market, the large corporates, multinationals and government.

Cultural Exchange

It is important for Ghana’s ecosystem players to learn and adapt from other ecosystems, how they deliver value for money, develop a culture of entrepreneurship beyond physical spaces and developing robust processes from ideation to exit. There are latent benefits that we can achieve from collaboration, including attracting resources. I would like to see some of our resources and programmes that will enable local business support professionals to visit and exchange points of view with forward looking ecosystems in London, for example. There is a lot to be said for collaborative learning and getting away from the day-to-day fire-fighting on the ground. An ecosystem tour to connect, support and offer hands-on learning for business development advisors, organizations and initiatives will sustainably strengthen our economies. This is where our international cultural partners could come into play; to facilitate such interactions and relationship building.

Access to markets: Think beyond borders

Globally, there are several risks which present global business opportunities. For example, the market need is truly global for sustainable water solutions.

In their Global Risks report, the World Economic Forum ranked ‘water supply crises second out of 50 in terms of impact. Insufficient water supply can trigger food shortages, demographic changes, political strife and even armed conflict.

Much has been researched and written about the challenges that developing countries face vis-à-vis developing their ecosystems. The World Economic Forum’s paper – “Entrepreneurial Ecosystems around the Globe and Company Growth Dynamics” – and Stanford Graduate Business School’s A Note on Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in Developing Economies by Steve Ciesinski and Ryan Kissick present case studies aimed at understanding the challenges and key success factors that characterise various ecosystems around the developing nations.

Access to adequate markets, an essential growth accelerator for early-stage businesses is probably the one factor that every business strategist or entrepreneur should strive to crack; distribution networks provided by the likes of multinationals, established corporates, governments and other SMEs. Ghana for example, has suffered from a general failure of entrepreneurs thinking beyond its modest market. Success lies with the bold that provide solutions for the continent, if not the world. This is a message many of us supporting entrepreneurs can never emphasise enough. An app here or there is great, but a solution that can be applied globally with proprietary infrastructure, intellectual property rights and sizeable market potential. We look to the potential of businesses like Zeepay, Inclusive Technologies, Swiftly Global and Incas Diagnostics.

We continue to watch this space, but any investor or partner in a growing business will pay very close attention to traction and market growth potential. Once a business is able to generate income internally, access to business support and professional services becomes less prohibitive. I will again emphasise the need to allocate resources and attention to the development of soft skills, communications, collaboration and Sales to further drive growth in our entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Business Development, HR & Professional Services

Resourcing Resource Persons. Valuing Mentors

Over the past year, or so, I feel a rising sense of mentor fatigue and pitch competition fatigue and have been thinking about how we push the needle to do something “big” for the ecosystem. There is a palpable shift in interest towards a system and better connected network that supports the intended beneficiaries – the entrepreneur, the mentors and advisors that need to be better equipped to support entrepreneurs that will grow and scale market-driven businesses.

Technical and management expertise are of immense importance but, if an entrepreneur is not part of an accelerator, hub or co-working space, generally professional services, or advisors, are out of reach to the average entrepreneur especially start-ups. This presents several risks to high-growth potential businesses, including intellectual property rights protection and potential litigation, not to mention sinking money into activities that do not yield a return or taking too long to validate a product. In relation to culture and collaboration, there is much to be said for self-sustaining HR and professional service models that are accessible to entrepreneurs.

Government Policies

Procurement: e-Government & Self-Service

We need to continue following through with programmes that are well resourced, well planned, streamlined and with a holistic approach to growing our businesses. This is where the value can be created. We have mastered the adoption of pitch competitions and start-up events but, in my humble view, it is difficult to measure how these can go on to create the sustainable global scale businesses with the potential for successful exits for investors without allocation of needed resources, especially government created market access initiatives such as Local and Central e-Government projects, for example.

By presenting viable procurement opportunities for local tech businesses to plug in their cost-saving and/or efficiency gaining solutions, government will help the ecosystem step up beyond an initial bit of pitch prize money and workspace. The caveat here would be agility, mobilisation of resources, transparent governance structure to ensure only the fit-for-purpose actually proceed, at the very minimum, to proof of concept stage.

Financial models

There needs to be better awareness of the options available to raise capital – from Angels to local stock exchanges, with a fine balance of regulation designed to protect investors as well as on support businesses to grow. Most entrepreneurs in Tech for example, will find the thought of listing on a stock exchange daunting but, with the right level of support and engagement, this need not be the case. It is a matter of educating would-be investors and investees on their mutual expectations.

Angel investment in Africa is in its infancy but growing fast. It is the syndication approach that has taken flight to spread the risk and develop a tighter network of Angel Investors.

Conclusion

It is becoming increasingly important, given recent phenomena such as deadly migrations and armed robbery, for us in the ecosystem to work more effectively to improve the lot of our nations and our youth. The potential of entrepreneurship is far from underplayed yet, we struggle to depart from the status quo which is an ecosystem which remains highly fragmented. African development agencies are getting ready to ramp up resources to “support” ecosystems in Africa to stem the flow of migrants out of the Region to Europe. I suspect we will need to critique and forge new models that work in our respective and collective environments if we are going to provide a truly holistic “fix” for our next wave of game-changing entrepreneurs.

GB&F Magazine

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