The 6th Global Entrepreneurship Summit held in Kenya in July 2015 put the spotlight on African Entrepreneurs as never before. President Barack Obama who co-hosted the event put the emphasis on generating more funding for African Entrepreneurs, with a clear focus on young and women entrepreneurs.

As participant to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, I got an insight of the current state of entrepreneurship in Africa by interviewing a few entrepreneurs who participated to the Summit. One such entrepreneur is Sharon Adisa, Business Development Manager at the Kenyan tech startup The ServiceLine.

Sharon, why are you attending the Global Entrepreneurship Summit?

I want to get up close and personal with Industry Influencers. These include fellow entrepreneurs, investors, and mentors who are both passionate and driven as I am about business, and specifically in the outsourcing field. These connections would definitely help me with accountability, guidance or even as a sounding board for new ideas.

I also want to promote and sell MyKarani and The ServiceLine as a whole to a global audience. I came to meet people in person and let them know who I am in person and how my service would help them, and eventually create a more memorable impression for future possible collaborations.

I came to examine the challenges and opportunities facing small scale businesses in Africa and the world as a whole and come up with ideas on how my product will help in solving some of these problems; and enhance the participation of SMEs, SOHOs and Startups in the global marketplace.

What is your business about?

The company is called The ServiceLine and the product MyKarani (Karani-Swahili word for secretary/agent) is a Cloud Based BPO Platform for Customer Advocacy. Having learnt that businesses, from small (busy professionals, start-ups and SMEs) to big (Corporates and Multi-Nationals), are struggling with managing and integrating customer interactions from different communication channels to their systems and business processes, The ServiceLine has designed and developed an Omni-channel end -to -end platform that offers customer support and back-office support and provides a single view of all key customer interactions available in the cloud at very affordable rates. All businesses, including those run from houses can access interactions from Facebook, twitter, web chat, email, sms and phone in form of tickets from one single view. The ServiceLine offers back-office support.

Sharon Adisa

What are the biggest challenges of entrepreneurs in Africa?

Very few entrepreneurs receive financial help when they need it. Small businesses find procedures for securing business loans from banks cumbersome, and the collateral demanded for such loans excessive.

Basic physical infrastructure required for economic development, such as good roads and ample power supply are in very poor shape in most African countries. This definitely increases production costs, makes their products less competitive and increases the cost of moving goods from one section of the country to another.

Most African small businesses mostly sell their products in their home market or in adjacent countries that belong to the same regional economic block as their home. There is this perception that most domestic markets are unsaturated and have a reputation for low quality products. It makes it difficult to join international supply-chain networks

The governments rarely support small businesses in most African countries. In terms of loan guaranty, direct loans, and training and counseling on how to effectively manage a small business.

Entrepreneurs lack access to substantial training material and programs. There are few training workshops which are mostly held in urban cities making it difficult for any existing and aspiring entrepreneurs in the rural setting to access them.

Do you personally know any entrepreneur who has faced such challenges? Can you tell me about it?

I am one entrepreneur who has faced a myriad of challenges by virtue of being young and a woman. It has been a challenge accessing training platforms and mentorship programs specifically for women and youth entrepreneurs, especially during the idea stage.

It has also been hard penetrating the market with an entirely new product and getting the right customer on-boarding strategies. I felt like giving up several times especially when I failed to convert a customer lead to a real business partner.

I have managed to stand out as a young and strong female entrepreneur because I had a strong team of skilled professionals cutting across Telecommunication, Customer Relationship and Management, Finance, Sales and Marketing and even economics who dedicated their efforts to seeing this product up and running. My vision is to change the stereotypes in women that they are equally important like men and that they can turn anything they lay their hands on to be successful. I had this motivation since childhood, to change the society in which I was born in, where women were never supported when it came to education, meaning they never had a say in any decision making process. I am amazed I have been able to move beyond it. I had really all but given up trying, but I did it because it was my lifelong dream.

Sharon3

What are the groups of entrepreneurs who face most difficulties?

There are two marginalized groups of entrepreneurs who find it really challenging to operate both in Africa and the global platform. For women, especially in the rural areas, gender stereotyped perception of self, lack of confidence and assertiveness appear to be the major barriers. Culturally, the girl child was not given equal opportunity to study like the boys; hence they had limited education and training, which tends to affect effective performance in running successful enterprises.

Many women and young entrepreneurs are unaware of specific support mechanisms, including sources of funding for the income generation activities. They lack access to capital, confidence, basic human capital, entrepreneurial skills and networks, and are hamstrung by social norms that want to keep them powerless.

Can you help me understand more how African entrepreneurs actually get funding, training and mentoring?

There are many startup accelerator programs offered by incubation centers. Examples in Kenya include iLab, Nairobi Garage, Nailab and Ihub, just to mention a few. These provide business training and mentorship from idea stage all the way to mature businesses. Some of them offer funding in exchange for a certain stake in your company. The ServiceLine was incubated in Nailab.

Entrepreneurs look for strategic Business Partners whose business ideals are aligned with theirs for ease of relationship during their partnership.

There are government programs to fund entrepreneurs in Africa to spur growth in small and medium sized (SME) businesses. The governments have put an emphasis in targeting the youth, women and the disabled in these programs, giving them the incentives for growth, productivity and financial independence.

Some entrepreneurs have become creative by participating in startup competitions that offer cash prizes and guaranteed financing and further training for the new business idea. An example is Demo Africa and Pivot East Competitions.

If you could be personally involved in helping African entrepreneurs, what would you do?

Most African entrepreneurs need capacity building and training in functional areas such as finance, literacy skills, marketing, production and managerial skills. I would definitely be engaged in programs that are working towards realizing the above gaps.

I have garnered vast experience as a woman and youth on how to run a business. I would love to join causes that are working towards promoting the social and economic empowerment of women, as they constitute a vulnerable social category that is critical in sustainable development endeavours. I look forward to mentoring many more women and the youth to be innovators and stop looking up on other people for employment, but rather being the employers.

If you had to start a business in Africa, where would you go to ask for money?

-I would take advantage of the government initiatives like GEN, that target the youth, women and the disabled by providing funds to open up enterprises or support existing ones.

-Incubation hubs and/or accelerator programs like the Silicon Valley Bank and Savannah Fundwhich will not only give me the money, but also the training and mentorship required to run the business.

-Crowdfunding platforms for Africa like Afrikstart and Lelapa Fund.

-I would also use my first customers to finance the businesses by asking for some sort of deposit cash before rendering a service to the customer.

-Angel Investors and strategic partnerships.

The interview was conducted by Jean-Baptiste Kattié.