In Ghana we’ve discussed, researched, and held numerous workshops on the challenges in starting a small business in this country, tech-oriented or otherwise. We’ve known for years that the biggest challenge has been the difficulty in accessing affordable credit. However, despite the ‘best’ efforts of our central bank, credit rates remain high and distinctly unaffordable for most entrepreneurs. So the government’s plan so far isn’t working, that’s obvious. But can the private sector do anything themselves about this?
What our budding entrepreneurs and small business owners need are two main things, guidance and money. People in the private sector are well positioned to provide both of these. Business executives in the private sector have the practical experience and knowledge that entrepreneurs need. The vast number of annual seminars and workshops aimed at fostering entrepreneurial activity and teaching business hopefuls is a good sign and an active example of the private sector providing guidance. However, we must move from one-time speeches at seminars and workshops to much deeper collaborative and progressive mentorship systems where entrepreneurs can be guided through the establishment and early growth of their organizations. Joy Businesses’ ‘My Business’ initiative is an excellent example of a peer mentorship program that meets the guidance need of entrepreneurs over a long period.
So that’s guidance being covered independently, what about the money? In this section I’m really talking to the ‘big boys’ in our society. I’m talking to the big business leaders, the politicians, even the ‘Woyomes’ of Ghana. The ones who, quite obviously, have some extra cash to go around. At the risk of sounding like a member of the ‘Occupy’ movement I have a few suggestions concerning how you may invest some of that extra cash. That’s right, I said ‘invest’ not ‘give’. This is not a call for charity; this is more of investment advice.
The entrepreneurial scene, especially in tech entrepreneurship is what is going to drive future, sustainable economic growth in Ghana. The days of looking to government to solve all social ills and create wealth are past and it is the private sector in Ghana today that is solving our major problems including sanitation, communication and housing. By taking charge of the credit problem and seeking to invest directly in new ideas and strong entrepreneurial prospects your money would most likely have far more direct effect in the development of Ghana than simple tax obligations would provide. It would be an investment because you would buy a stake in the business and thus be directly concerned with its success/failure. Just as with any ordinary investment, if, with your guidance, the business succeeds that’s profit for you. You know the alternative. That’s a far better option than tax-payments which you don’t directly track and which are often lost through corruption.
So how exactly could these needs be brought together? Enter the concept of the business accelerator. What’s that? Essentially it’s a comprehensive program aimed at funding & fostering entrepreneurs to establish and grow their businesses. Similar to business incubator programs which provide office space, guidance and financial management tools to bussing businesses. Business Incubator programs exist in Ghana already, for example, one supported by the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology and another hosted by Busy Internet. A business ‘accelerator’ usually differs from this concept in that it is usually backed by venture capitalists or a fund looking to directly invest in new ideas and exciting concepts for a later profit.
Outside Ghana one of the biggest examples of a business accelerator is the Y-Combinator Program based in Silicon Valley. This accelerator programs provides funding and intensive guidance to a wide range of startups to help them solidify their ideas and business plans before pitching those businesses to an array of investors. This mix of financial assistance and direct involvement in the business start-up phase has birthed many successful tech stars such as Reddit, DropBox, Disqus,Posterous and Scribd among many others.
Locally, perhaps the best example of an accelerator program is the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (M.E.S.T.). With funds provided by the non-profit Meltwater Foundation, this accelerator looks to bring in hopeful tech entrepreneurs and runs an intensive program to give these tech hopefuls the necessary training to create their proposed business or service and launch it at the end of the program. MEST doesn’t only provide general software development or business formation help. It is a program specifically tailored towards helping entrepreneurs create viable products and business models and then further nurtures these businesses after launch to thrive. This program has already created viable tech companies such as Saya and Nandi Mobile.
It’s very interesting to see how many successful businessmen in other countries set up foundations to help invest their funds in new businesses or causes. Bill Gates, for example is a well-known one where he’s chosen to plough his billions of dollars into tackling some of the greatest problems in the world today. MEST in Ghana was started by Jorn Lyseggen, a Norwegian and a successful tech entrepreneur who’s now investing his earned wealth into the success of others in Ghana. Another big example is Patrick Awuah, a successful Ghanaian who returned from a successful tech career in the United States to help solve the education problem in Ghana by starting Ashesi University. I don’t think Mr. Awuah regrets his investment in Ashesi today.
As Ghanaians we pride ourselves on our so-called ‘communal spirit’ and propensity for helping each other out. It’s time we show this same spirit in truth. Looking at these examples it’s absolutely clear that our private sector and private individuals especially can come together to invest in our local entrepreneurs and thus in the development of this country. Forget about the government. Let the people of Ghana solve the peoples’ problems.-Terence Adjei-Otchwemah Executive, Product Evangelism & Media Relations DreamOval Limited