24 November 2020

How to Build a Successful Business in Africa

In the fourth episode of the Ye! Enterprising Youth: Share series, we spoke with young Ghanaian entrepreneur, Jeph Acheampong, Founder of Blossom Academy. Jeph shared some valuable advice and experience from his own personal entrepreneurial journey. Here is a quick recap of the highlights and key takeaways from this session.

Starting a business in Africa can be tough, but dont give up! Innovation and partnerships can help you stay above the curve.

Like many young entrepreneurs doing business in Africa, Jeph faced many challenges when he started his business Blossom Academy about 5 years ago. Unlike in many countries in the West, in Ghana, young entrepreneurs enter into a business environment that can be difficult to maneuver and often makes bureaucracy a barrier to success. For instance, business registration and other essential processes can be complex and lengthy and basic necessities like internet and electricity can be expensive and unreliable.

An additional barrier he faced was ensuring active inclusion of young women in his initiatives. Jeph struggled to find qualified female candidates to participate in his initiatives, due to societal pressure and norms for young women in many parts of Africa. However, Jeph and his team did not give up easily, and they started thinking outside the box. They reached out to a variety of different universities and youth organizations to get recommendations for young female graduates, all to ensure that Blossom Academy included young women in their programmes to ensure that women had access to professional development services in data science.  Jeph and his team worked with unique partners like universities and youth networks to ensure that their programmes broke through social barriers to support the inclusion of young women.

Jeph and his team also developed tailor-made training materials, by collaborating with local partners. Specifically, in order to ensure their training materials aligned with the demands of the labor market, the team did not opt to use an existing curriculum developed by others. Instead, they designed their training materials leveraging feedback from local companies and youth, to better understand the needs and opportunities for employment in ICT areas. By working with local companies and ensuring that youth are included in the creation process, Blossom Academy created materials that aligned with the skills in-demand by the labor market. A strategic choice that paid off!

Communications is key to securing funds from investors.

In the Instagram live discussion, Jeph also explained how throughout his time as a founder, he has learned that clear communication is essential to attracting investment. Access to finance is common challenge faced by many young African entrepreneurs, especially at early stage. Jeph and his business were no exception. Over the years, he has learned what works and what doesn’t, when speaking with investors. A proven track record, stable revenues and success stories are critical points Jeph highlights to investors or other donors, which have allowed him to secure funding. In other words, you must not only know your business performs well and has the potential to scale, but you must also demonstrate it to others with concrete evidence and facts!

Localize and adapt your approach in building trust with your partners.

Jeph recalled how he often needed to adapt his style of working and thinking, when oscillating between working with partners in the West and other African countries. When he was working on Wall Street in the US, the common practice to communicate with partners was through email exchanges and formal meetings. However, when working in Africa, partners often prefer to network through more ‘casual’ catch ups, in person over lunch or dinner, where the conversations go like this: “tell me, what do you think I can do for you, my friend?” or “ How is your business going, any progress?”  For Jeph, both experiences have been valuable and have led him to a refined approach to his business partnerships that hits the mark across a broad spectrum. Thus, for success on the continent, it is critical to understand how work gets done and how to get the most out of your partners. You should know your context and adapt your approach according to the context when building relationships with partners.

International development agencies should/can do more to support young entrepreneurs in Africa.

Jeph emphasized the importance of international development organizations (IGOs) supporting young entrepreneurs. As a Ye! Community member, and having benefited from his linkage with Decent Jobs 4 Youth, an initiative by ILO, he knows very well that these types of relationships can be transformative, if leveraged properly. It is not easy access for young startups to establish partnerships with international organizations, due to their high threshold and restrictive policies for partner selection, i.e. requirements around years of operation and experience. In order to have a sustainable impact on the local entrepreneurship ecosystem, Jeph pointed out that international organizations should set up inclusive and conducive mechanisms for partnering with smaller enterprises and entrepreneurs, where long-lasting relationships can be built with early stage ventures with less experience. In this regard, as the startup progresses, it can leverage its work and contacts at IGOs to create change within the community and build stronger ecosystems. If IGOs worked directly with SMEs and entrepreneurs in this way, Jeph argues, they would really be ensuring youth and locals are driving change.

Advice for young entrepreneurs: continuous learning and ‘spider web philosophy.

As a successful young entrepreneur, Jeph never stops learning.  He likes to read and re-read books for inspiration, and write down his thoughts and ideas and revisit them after. He also noted that learning should not only be about technical knowledge; hard skills get you through the door but the soft skills will keep you in there!

During our conversation, he stressed the importance of connections with those who are experienced, and with those who have different experiences. Take having a mentor for example. Having someone as a mentor can help you grow your business more quickly and go through the entrepreneurial journey more smoothly or at least with a better understanding of what is coming next.

Another tip he shared is to know your focus and priority. Too often, entrepreneurs can be too ambitious and eager to achieve many things at the same time. Jeph mentioned he was a person with many personal and professional interests in the early days, he noted that this often caused distractions which led to his expending a great deal of time and energy on things that were not productive to from the management of his company. It is important to keep focused and try to narrow your focus for your business so as to remain true to your vision.

Jeph closed the session by sharing his ‘spider web’ philosophy: “the centre is something you really care about and what really matters to you.” He argues, you should focus on what’s at the center, this is your vision and what drives you. Concentrate on this and build the rest out in a web around it.

If you also need mentoring for your business and to connect with entrepreneurs from Africa, create your Ye! profile here and reach out!

To watch the full recording of the session below

You can also watch the full recording on Instagram, click here.

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