Lagos, Nigeria’s financial hub and commercial nerve centre, was agog at the turn of last month – all for the second annual Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) Entrepreneurship Forum.
More than 1,000 entrepreneurs from 54 African countries, many of them visiting the state for the first time, converged on the city centre.
Among the guests at the two day event were the continent’s leading policy makers and business executives, who came to support the Foundation’s $100 million commitment to empower 10,000 African entrepreneurs in ten years.
TEF’s Founder Tony Elumelu took advantage of the event to highlight the essence and power of entrepreneurship development in the economy of nations.
According to him, economies of great nations thrive on the strength and capabilities of their entrepreneur-driven Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). He said the development patterns across the globe, and Africa in particular, show the dominance of entrepreneurship in resource mobilisation and the emergence of industrial economy.
“I salute those here – our ambition is that you become ambassadors for entrepreneurship in Africa. You are a generation of wealth creators who share our commitment to the transformation of Africa. Momar Mass-Taal turned his first $5,000 seed capital from the Foundation into a $1.2 million revenue business. We will have many more of these” , Elumelu told his mainly-entrepreneurs audience and several others who watched the live-stream of the event.
The roll call of Africa’s leading lights at the event included: Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma; Nigeria’s former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; Benin Republic’s one-time Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou, Information, Tourism and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed and Famfa Oil Vice Chairman Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija, among others.
At the forum, held on October 28 and 29, entrepreneurs shared experiences and gained knowledge, built cross-border partnerships and connected with investors and policymakers, fostering intra-African innovation and collaboration.
The first day featured master classes, sector specific workshops and an in-depth session on Africapitalism, while the second day featured high-level panels to identify policies that could strengthen enabling environment for entrepreneurs.
The dignitaries gave their support to the Foundation and its promise to identify, train, mentor and seed 1,000 entrepreneurs in a decade-long $100 million commitment.
According to the Forum, each entrepreneur will be eligible to draw up to $10,000 for the implementation of their business plan.
Elumelu said: “As excited as I am about the 2,000 entrepreneurs we have so far selected, this gathering is in some ways bittersweet, as I reflect on the 63,000 ideas we were unable to select – our commitment is to all entrepreneurs in Africa.”
He urged all stakeholders from the public and private sectors, civil society, multilateral organisations and those interested in Africa’s economic development to join hands with the Foundation to support the wider African entrepreneurial community.
“We need to support our entrepreneurs because extreme poverty and economic opportunity rarely coexist in the same place,” Elumelu said.
He also announced partnerships with regional institutions such as the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and others including Coca Cola, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism in Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire Ministry of Entrepreneurship.
Former President Obasanjo told the selected entreprenuers: “By every means, God has made His face shine upon you. You are not the only one, but unlike you, others do not have the idea of empowering the next generation of Africans in the manner and scale that you are doing.”
Urging the young entrepreneurs to be patient, Obasanjo said: “For strength in life, you need a bit of adversity.”
He called on the Federal Government to implement policies that would encourage investors and entrepreneurs to do business in Nigeria.
Applauding Tony Elumelu’s promise to not only empower entrepreneurs but also to tackle the fundamental economic challenges confronting Africa, President Koroma called on others to emulate Elumelu. “Even when we had Ebola in Sierra Leone, Tony was there. His is an example which other successful Africans must follow.”
Focusing on the uniqueness of TEF’s approach to entrepreneurship development, Koroma hailed the programme as “a genuinely innovative approach to philanthropy in Africa – an African offering African solutions.
“What is unique about this programme is that it not only provides a platform for entrepreneurs to build connections, but they are also being taught how to build their businesses in a sustainable way. Other philanthropists will be inspired to support and promote this philosophy.”
Zinsou, said: “What Tony Elumelu is doing is exceptional, not the ordinary.”
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Avon Medical and Trustee of the Foundation, Mrs. Awele Elumelu, welcomed the entrepreneurs to Lagos and lauded their drive and effort in finding solutions to some of the continent’s most pervasive challenges.
The Foundation’s CEO, Ms. Parminder Vir, urged entrepreneurs in the audience to continue to build the future and to challenge the flawed perceptions of the African continent.
Mrs. Alakija congratulated the entrepreneurs, lauded TEF’s focus on entrepreneurship and shared her own personal story of perseverance to demonstrate the entrepreneurs need for resilience and doggedness.
Other speakers at the event included representative of Rwanda’s President Paul Kigame; Clare Akamanzi; Mines and Steel Development Minister Kayode Fayemi; United Bank for Africa Plc (UBA) Group Chief Executive Officer Kennedy Uzoka; Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) Chief Executive Officer, Segun Awolowo, Coca Cola’s Public Affairs & Communications Director (Coca-Cola West Africa), Clem Ugorji, United Bank for a Africa Regional Chief Executive Officer (Francophone), Emeke Iweriebor; ICBC Standard Bank Head (Africa Equity Sales), Matthew Pearson and Heirs Holdings Chief Investment Officer Sam Nwanze.
UBA and small businesses
Speaking on UBA’s role in facilitating economic development, Uzoka, said the lender has demonstrated commitment to the creation of sustainable and growing small business sector, towards the achievement of economic development across Africa.
He explained that formal Small-Medium Enterprises account for 45 per cent of total employment and generate 70 to 90 per cent of employment in middle income countries.
Uzoka said: “In emerging markets, most formal jobs are with SMEs; which also create four out of five new positions. Formal SMEs contribute up to 33 per cent of national income (GDP) in emerging economies and provide significant impact on the export earnings in developing countries.”
The bank chief said Africa’s economic development remains important in UBA’s aspirations as the continent’s global bank.
“Entrepreneurship has been an enabler of our institutional heritage. UBA is in Africa for the long-haul, Africa is indeed our home,” he stated.
The bank, Uzoka said, has adopted the value-chain approach in supporting business enterprises in its markets as well as established majors in the different sectors including the Fast Moving Consumer Goods, agriculture, energy, construction, healthcare, education, hospitality, among others.
UBA, Uzoka said, has been contributing significantly to deepening the skills pool and capacity building on the continent, boosting public revenue generation and facilitating regional trade and payment platforms.
Other TEF achievements
TEF’s efforts have continued to yield positive feedback across Africa. Its Founder disclosed that the government has accepted the TEF challenge restated d commitment to partner with it to improve the enabling environment for entrepreneurs in the much-neglected, yet growing, creative industries.
He also said that the government of Cote D’Ivoire has adopted the TEF model to identify, train mentor and seed thousands more aspiring Ivorien entrepreneurs while ECOWAS will partner with the Foundation to develop a regional strategy to promote entrepreneurship and Africapitalism in the West Africa region.
According to Elumelu, the Geneva-based ITC in and the NEPC will work with the Foundation to achieve its goal of helping to connect one million female entrepreneurs to global markets.
He said the Coca-Cola has been doing something similar with women on the private sector side by capturing a million women into their global supply chain.
Elumelu said: “General Electric is providing skills development for African SMEs; and Microsoft is providing $300 million worth of business software to help the TEF entrepreneurs manage their businesses in a systematic and sustainable way.
Large corporate bodies, philanthropists and high net-worth individuals stepping up to help fund some of the great ideas that TEF and other organisations are not able to finance”.
He also urged governments to make the environment conducive for businesses to thrive, introduce private tax relief incentives and create a singles collection point for federal, state and local business taxes.