Noel K. Sheani Is the founder of Congo Business Network, which has been working with Congolese entrepreneurs since 2018 to help them develop branding, marketing and networking skills to find investors, business partners and clients in Africa and abroad.
Africa’s startup ecosystem is experiencing rapid development. English-speaking countries such as Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya and South Africa have experienced impressive funding rounds in the past five years. Despite the progress made by some African startups, entrepreneurship in Francophone Africa remains a subsistence activity, instead of work that adds value and provides solutions for consumers in the market.
In French-speaking countries, the top 5 skills needed by entrepreneurs to go from subsistence to value creation include:
- Branding and marketing
- Mastering LinkedIn
- English proficiency
I have been working with startups for the past 4 years, and I have noticed that people starting entrepreneurship need to develop a company brand that is different from a personal brand.
The topic of branding is more relevant today because social media platforms have proliferated in recent years, making it a requirement for startups to develop a recognizable brand from the first time they are launched. There are several elements to consider such as the company name, a unique website address, a professionally-designed logo with appealing colors, social media pages and a company e-mail address.
Marketing becomes much easier when an entrepreneur knows the difference between a personal brand and a company brand. Since marketing involves communication and sales, the chances of finding an investor, a business partner or a client increases if an entrepreneur has a good grasp of branding.
Networking and lobbying
Networking skills need branding, marketing and communication to establish relationships with various stakeholders in the business.
In Francophone Africa, entrepreneurs tend to be transactional in the way they approach interactions in the business world. This is one of the main reasons why there are many conferences held in Africa, but very few organizations through which entrepreneurs can petition the government with the aim of changing or innovating a public policy.
In Africa, entrepreneurs, especially those in the same sector, can become stronger by joining forces in a lobbying organization to influence government institutions and policies. In Francophone Africa, there is very little to non-existent public policy innovation because it is extremely rare to see entrepreneurs come together to lobby a government institution.
The situation is worse because many government ministries or agencies that should know entrepreneurs and startups in their own environment, do not have any interaction with one another. Public policy innovation is an ongoing process that requires entrepreneurs and government institutions to interact constantly.
In addition, LinkedIn is the de facto social network for entrepreneurs who want to position themselves as market leaders at the local level and gain the visibility of their startups abroad. For entrepreneurs living in Francophone Africa, speaking English is a must-learn skill.
For entrepreneurs looking to raise money from investors, being proficient in English opens doors to many opportunities to network and reach investment funds from New York to San Francisco in a way that would not be possible if the person spoke only French.
The rise of entrepreneurship in Africa is a noble phenomenon to welcome, recognize and celebrate. However, it is prudent to constantly assess whether the startup ecosystem in Africa is developing real and valuable expertise that entrepreneurs need to excel in the market. Otherwise, noise, hype and subsistence activities will characterize the typical startup that will disappear after a few years from the scene due to the failure to create value and provide a sustainable solution for consumers.