04/27/2012 11:16 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Nurturing Entrepreneurs in Africa

Entrepreneurship in Africa is on the rise.

In Ghana, tech startup Dropifi is helping companies manage and respond better to inquiries from existing and potential clients. In Nigeria, Bloovue, an ad network, is connecting companies with their customers no matter where they are. In South Africa, Motribe is enabling users, brands, agencies, and publishers to build and manage their own mobile social communities.

In South Africa, where I regularly meet with clients and partners, small and midsize businesses provide an estimated 11.6 million jobs. The government there has recognized the role smaller companies play in job creation by assisting startups through its SEDA (Small Enterprise Development Agency) Technology program. Since its inception in 2006, SEDA has aided 80 percent of startups in its program survive their first two years, the most difficult in establishing a foothold.

Smoothing the entrepreneurial path is the prolific growth of wireless technologies and social media. In South Africa, there were 1.1 million Twitter users in mid-2011 - a twentyfold surge in little more than a year, according to social media monitoring firm Fuseware. In examining 2012 social media trends, (South Africa) sees Twitter reaching a tipping point there this year, thanks in part to the boom in smartphones.

Savvy African small and midsize businesses are taking advantage of the worldwide social media explosion to drive growth. Using social media is easy, direct, personal, and affordable. Also constant interaction with their customers helps companies build trust over the long term and elicit feedback to further strengthen their brands.

This need to elicit and respond to feedback leads to another 2012 trend that Bizcommunity predicts for South Africa: companies learning how to adapt to social business and develop networking skills to get closer to clients and customers.

The African Development Bank believes the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Africa could grow by 900 percent to $15 trillion by 2060. But this economic resurgence cannot continue without both budding entrepreneurs and seasoned veterans investing in skills, technology, and infrastructure. For example, many African midsize companies are consuming IT as a service, from managed service providers. Software-as-a-service technologies and cloud computing will enable African businesses to replace older technologies, cut IT costs, and boost productivity.

The key hurdles that companies in many parts of the vast and largely undeveloped continent must overcome, however, are bandwidth reliability and Internet connectivity. Many companies are extending their commitment to Africa by putting the right resources on the ground and engaging with local business ecosystems to help startups -- as well as the many small and midsize businesses expanding into Africa -- make smarter business decisions. For example, Bharti Airtel is providing affordable mobile services across multiple sub-Saharan countries, connecting more than 400,000 villages.

"All across Africa, people are discovering that there's an economy to be built," says Nitin Nohria, dean of Harvard Business School. "If business leaders jump in, there's a glorious future for Africa."

To learn more on midsize businesses, click here.

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