If you are signed up on social networks, you surely have seen several quotes that don’t always make sense but that give you the impression that their authors is smarter that he/she really is. A tweet from Loic LE MEUR has made me feel just like that.
The message is brilliant in its simplicity, but can this be applied to the African market? Are we “allowed” in Africa to think of anything other than revenues when we are launching a project?
It is hard to contest that THE African internet success story is Ushahidi. An interactive geo-localization platform for critical events where every one can participate and serve as witness in everything that is going on, from catastrophes, to civil war scenes, violences etc….
A member of the team who today has joined the Omidyar Network, Ory OKOLLOH is a Harvard graduate. After finishing her studies, though not from a wealthy family, she rejected important job offers to go home to Kenya and launch her startup which today, has enabled the saving of thousands, if not millions of lives. It is evident that Ory has followed COOK‘s advice and threw herself in a non-lucrative project out of conviction of her project’s viability. The platform’s business model is as revolutionary as Ushahidi in an environment as hostile to innovation as Africa was in the early 2000’s would have been difficult to defend in front of the Emirates Venture Capitalists. It seems today that it was well worth it.
Just like in the soccer sector, for every Didier DROGBA, there are 200,000 young men who did not get the chance to sign a professional contract. In an environment where the number of African start-ups who went from projects to companies and then to revenues is still very low and that the retirement funds, health insurance are still very rudimentary, can we really blame the entrepreneurs whose primary focus are clear business models, sacrificing both creativity and risks often attached to projects that can truly make a difference?
During the interviews that were obtained with startups that we deem interesting, when we ask the following question, “what are the difficulties that you have faced in your project’s evolution?” the answer is always the same, “We have a lot of trouble accessing funds, the banks aren’t lending to the companies that really need money.” It is just hard to ask of entrepreneur to show creativity when he/she is starving. African entrepreneurs too often have to worry about paying their rent to then have the margins that will allow them to launch the projects of their dreams. It is quasi-necessary to have a job to be able to meet their basic needs and to then be able to use the remaining few minutes of their day focusing on the projects they judge as viable.
As a result, entrepreneurs who chose making money as their primary goal, seem to have an understandable excuse.
Incubation centers and co-working spaces are growing here and there in Africa, thus creating a favorable ecosystem to the various projects on the continent, but these are still insufficient when considering the number of university graduates or unemployed who have projects for which, if the means were available, can help them launch the next Facebook.
Have you begun a project as an entrepreneur without means to meet your basic needs? Do you think that it is possible to do so in Africa?