The growth is so evident that it makes it even hard to keep track of the number of myriad incubators, accelerators, kick-starters, tech hubs and many other initiatives aimed at harnessing the entrepreneurial energy of Africa’s largely young population.
However, as far as entrepreneurship in Africa goes, one of the most notable names is Dr Strive Masiyiwa the Zimbabwean-born, UK-based founder and executive chairman of the diversified telecommunications group, Econet Wireless.
He is undoubtedly one of the most admirable African Entrepreneurs, who has had a chance to rub shoulders with the who is who; from Presidents to Bill Gates, Warren Buffets and the Richard Bransons of this world.
So passionate is he on entrepreneurship that Masiyiwa has devoted his time to mentoring the next generation of African entrepreneurs on Facebook. In fact, Facebook has identified its platform as having the most engaged following of any business leader in the world.
Last week we had the privilege of having Dr Masiyiwa host the #Afripreneur Townhall talk at the Nairobi Garage// Kilimani Office space. Dr Masiyiwa couldn’t agree with us less, on the growth of entrepreneurship in Africa, a space he has been in for a while now. In fact, Dr Masiyiwa says that space has grown to an extent that the number of Entrepreneurs in Sub Saharan Africa alone has surpassed that of entrepreneurs in Europe and Silicon Valley.
However, despite the growth one of the business challenges that the African entrepreneur faces is scaling their business into a bigger and established brand. Something he admits was not quite easy for him as well when he started off his journey as an entrepreneur a couple of decades back.
During the talk, Strive Masiyiwa shared his journey into entrepreneurship that jets back to the early 90s, late 80s. Highly driven by the emergence of mobile cellular telephony, Dr Masiyiwa, majored in the telecommunications industry, but he soon ran into major problems when the Zimbabwean Government refused to give him a license to operate Econet Wireless.
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Later, he appealed to the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe, then one of the most respected on the continent, which ruled in his favour after a five-year legal battle, which took him to the brink of bankruptcy.
The ruling, which led to the removal of the state monopoly in telecommunications, is regarded as one of the key milestones in opening the African telecommunications sector to private capital, probably driving the industry to what it is now, a revolution he says was not brought about by governments but just goes far to show the power entrepreneurs have.
Strive Masiyiwa later listed Econet Wireless Zimbabwe in July 1998. Today, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe has gone on to become a major business that dominates the Zimbabwe economy. It is currently the second-largest company in Zimbabwe by market capitalization.
In 2000, Masiyiwa left Zimbabwe and moved to South Africa, where he founded The Econet Wireless Group, a new and completely separate organization to the listed Zimbabwean entity.
Econet has since grown to become a global telecommunications company with business operations and investments in more than 20 countries in Africa, Latin America, The United Kingdom, Europe, China, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and New Zealand.
“It’s not easy scaling up your business to have brands like Econet Wireless or Liquid Telecom, one thing that entrepreneurs should note though is that you should never satisfied with just an idea. Always keep in mind the three Ps of entrepreneurship Product, People and Processes,” Strive Masiyiwa said.
He added, “African entrepreneurs are running around with ideas that are global and all they have to do is start believing. The scale starts from believing. Once you have that idea do not be satisfied until it is a product and once you have the product do not be satisfied as well. Keep innovating around your product. Innovation is the new form of capital and If your first product doesn’t embarrass you in a year, you are not innovative.”
The second way to scale your business is by people. Once you have your product right, you now need to think about the people and specifically the entrepreneurs. Most people think getting entrepreneurs is expensive but all you need is equity. Reach out to other entrepreneurs while recruiting or even coming up with a business.
“Entrepreneurs do not recruit for loyalty. We recruit people who are passionate about your product. Join forces with other entrepreneurs. Co-founder is becoming a fancy word today, find one who will help you grow your business. And while recruiting go beyond the papers and see what people can do for your brand.”
Africa’s population today is 1.2 billion by the turn of the century it will be 4 billion and we will be 40% of the world’s population, these demographics Dr Masiyiwa said were pointing the continent into a bright future, creating more opportunity for the entrepreneurs to venture in Agribusiness an area Dr Masiyiwa admits being quite interested in.
“McDonalds is an Agri-food business. It is worth over $140bn worth more than 90% of African countries, Nestle is an agri-food business, started by a guy who sold milk. It is worth over $300bn only Nigeria, Egypt, and SA bigger. Starbucks buys coffee from us, they have $20bn market cap the size of medium sized African country they buy the coffee from. But do we blame these companies? No…we blame ourselves because we need to create our own brands and buy our own products. buy the coffee from,” said Dr Masiyiwa.
He added, “These agri-Foods businesses, including Coca Cola, Pepsi, employ hundreds of thousands of African people. They were all started by entrepreneurs, just like you today. It is time to innovate around the agriculture products grown in our countries. It will lift incomes, create jobs, and generate wealth.
In his conclusion, Dr Masiyiwa pointed out that in the era of technology there was also so much opportunity for the African Youth.
“The path to the future is never a linear line. It is only a linear line when we measure it backwards. Technology has the power to put the hoe in a museum somewhere in London. This can only be achieved if we stopped believing that Africa’s youths are the future of Africa. I believe that they are the now. They need to act now,” he concluded.