In Africa, like any other part of the world, business is about starting with the right idea. What makes this beautiful continent of mine very unique is the fact that it's rapidly changing. 'There's money to be made everywhere.' That's how a friend of mine put it. You only have to look around to see what the youth are doing and appreciate the powerful potential of these initiatives
With Africa's big challenges come big opportunities, and those of us who don't dwell on political bickering are fortunate to spend our time looking for the next best thing - doing business!
It's said that innovation is the key to a prosperous business. To me, innovation is the product of invention and commercialization of an invention. At the moment, Africa's youth are doing a good job of disrupting the traditional ways of doing things. Young entrepreneurs on the continent are inventing -- big time!
As economies around the world reorient towards low-carbon and green growth philosophies, technology remains the key factor in efforts to mitigate and adapt to the current and future impacts of climate change. In this vein, the number of green initiatives in Africa has skyrocketed.
However, as a green entrepreneur myself, I cannot help but notice the growing number of innovative ideas that are starved of the critical funding they need to start making a positive impact on the continent. Local access to finance remains a key challenge on the continent, and the single most intimidating nightmare for hundreds of to-be green conscious African entrepreneurs.
I read a tweet from a fellow African the other day that I feel I ought to share. It read: "Some can raise money from foreign investors because they are addressing Africa while others struggle to raise money because they are Africans."
This indeed sums up the opinions of many of my fellow African youths in business that I come across. My argument is that Africa needs to think local before it can think global. Local investors are perhaps the most ideal given their knowledge of the local landscape and willingness to take the risk.
That said, the challenge in green initiatives especially those in renewable energy are capital intensive. Other than innovative competitions that are available online and offer not more than $250k, African-owned medium-sized green enterprises require far more funding but sourcing capital locally is a huge challenge.
Most banks on the continent do not take renewable energy seriously, citing unfriendly government policies towards the sector. Adding salt to injury is the fact that foreign startups entering Africa's green space secure millions of dollars in funding at an early stage. To my mind, some of these innovations are far less innovative their African counterparts. This leaves many of us bitter when a foreign 'volunteer' learns from their companies and comes back with millions to set up shop next door!
In my opinion, business is not only about the right idea; it's actually about the right idea meeting the right people at the right time. Africa's youth have to learn and understand the nature of business so that the invented idea, product or method can be commercialized. The commercial element is arguably more important than the idea itself because in the end, every investor wants to make the highest possible returns from entrepreneurs they know and 'trust' and be able to exit when they wish.
Since ideas are flowing and the challenge is clearly known, I remain hopeful for once that Africa's youths will learn to commercialize. When more of us can do this, we will certainly be a force for the whole world to reckon with.
Only Africa's youths hold the key to unlocking the Africa we want!
Patrick will debate his ideas with other young global entrepreneurs at the IMF's 'Youth Dialog' being held on Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. as part of the IMF / World Bank Annual Meetings. It will be webcast live on this page and on imf.org.