The worldwide pandemic has spurred digital transformation across the African continent. Tech is booming in Africa, it is all too clear to see. Now more than ever, driven African entrepreneurs and startup founders are innovating new waves into the ocean of technology.
All they need is funding.
Enter: The Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) initiative – Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s flagship philanthropic program is spotlighting and celebrating the continent’s top entrepreneurs and startups.
Africa’s Business Heroes is calling for applicants to the 3rd edition of its annual grant funding of $1.5-million intended to boost entrepreneurship across Africa. The funding is open to all 54 African countries.
To unpack the upcoming awards event, ITNA’s Luis Monzon chats with Zahra Baitie-Boateng, Head of Partnerships & Programs at Africa’s Business Heroes Prize Competition. They discuss how COVID-19 has affected the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Africa and how innovative African entrepreneurs can apply to be the next African Business Hero.
Here’s what transpired:
1. How has the Africa’s Business Heroes initiative continued to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem across Africa, especially now that the world is still trying to emerge from the mire of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Entrepreneurs and small businesses have shown incredible resilience in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the challenges they have faced, they continue to do what they do best – creating solutions and solving problems.
Following their participation at ABH, many of the previous years’ finalists have been able to develop their businesses and secure key investments. Most importantly, they have stepped up to do their part to fight COVID-19.
For example, 2019 1st prize winner Temie Giwa-Tobosun – CEO & founder of Nigeria-based LifeBank has expanded her company’s services to include the delivery of oxygen and testing, and Omar Sakr, CEO & founder at Nawah Scientific supported COVID-19 research in the region by offering cheaper and quicker diagnostic tools. At the onset of the pandemic, we ensured we touched base with each of our Top 10 Heroes to see how best we could provide support and we also saw how they worked with each other to support one another during the pandemic.
With Africa’s Business Heroes prize competition, we hope to provide African entrepreneurs with a lifeline to be able to grow their businesses. Our program not only allocates a total of $1.5 million in cash grants to 10 outstanding entrepreneurs every year, but we are also intent upon providing applicants with exclusive training and learning programs to help them take their companies to the next level.
We want to ensure that they have important chances to network with like-minded business leaders and VCs so that they can secure partnership and investment opportunities beyond the prize. Finally, we also produce a television show that captures our finalists’ stories with the aim of inspiring others to pursue entrepreneurship and to encourage key stakeholders to actively support Africa’s entrepreneurs.
2. Who are the judges involved in the ABH initiative, and why should they be the people to decide who deserves the prize money?
We uphold a rigorous judging process and applicants go through several rounds of judging as well as due diligence. We are proud to see our community of expert judges and partners grow every year. ABH judges are true leaders in their industries and communities, and bring diverse backgrounds, accomplishments, and skillsets to the table.
Importantly, they are also aligned in our mission to recognize entrepreneurs that are driving impact and creating opportunities.
We are also honoured to have an all-star panel of business legends serve as finale judges at our Grand Finale. Past finale judges include Jack Ma of the Jack Ma Foundation, Strive Masiyiwa of Econet, Ibukun Awosika of The Chair Centre Group, and Joe Tsai of Alibaba Group.
3. What are the most important factors in deciding who is an African Business Hero?
We are looking for entrepreneurs who are leveraging business to build a better and more sustainable future. We are calling for mission-driven, impact-oriented leaders who are creating jobs, solving pressing challenges and doing so innovatively and competitively.
They not only drive successful businesses but display outstanding leadership and are of inspiration to others.
Eligible applicants are African founders or co-founders of Africa-based businesses or social enterprises with a track record of three years or longer. We think ABH can be an especially great opportunity for those running small businesses, and for female and young entrepreneurs.
4. How can young tech entrepreneurs and startups sign up for Africa’s Business Heroes Prize Competition?
ABH is open to entrepreneurs regardless of sector, age or gender.
I really want to encourage any interested entrepreneurs in South Africa and beyond to not miss this chance, and to visit africabusinessheroes.org or our social media accounts @africabusinessheroes to apply.
The deadline was just extended and applications now close on June 21. I hope to meet many of you during the competition!