African business tycoon Tony Elumelu
The Tony Elumelu Foundation_0601.JPG

A new $100 million (R1.2 billion) initiative aimed at promoting entrepreneurship is set to boost start-up and SME development and strengthen the economy and trade and investment of the African continent.

Revered business leader, entrepreneur, philanthropist and African business tycoon Tony Elumelu recently coined the term Africapitalism, which according to him is the private sectors’ commitment to Africa’s development through long-term investment in strategic sectors of the economy that create economic prosperity and social wealth.

In line with this concept, the Tony Elumelu Foundation launched the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme in January this year, a $100 million (R1.2 billion) initiative aimed at promoting this goal by investing in 1000 up-and-coming African entrepreneurs.

The programme will be an annual programme focusing on training, funding and mentoring, and is designed to empower the next generation of African entrepreneurs. Application for entries closed on the 1 March and the process is now in full swing. The 10 000 start-ups and young businesses selected from across Africa will ultimately create one million new jobs and add $10 billion in annual revenue to Africa’s economy.

Prior to the closing of applications, Parminder Vir OBE, Director of Entrepreneurship at the Tony Elumelu, foundation said, “Since the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme was announced, we have been enthused by the level of interest and excitement from entrepreneurs across Africa. We are looking forward to reviewing the entries and identifying the first cohort of the continent’s next generation of business leaders.”

At the launch, Elumelu spoke of his personal commitment to empowering African entrepreneurship, saying, “This programme is far more than a funding initiative or networking opportunity. It is an act of faith in our entrepreneurs and our young people to transform our continent; to be the engine for the creation of both economic and social wealth, putting into practice what I call Africapitalism.”

The first cohort of successful applicants from across Africa was announced on 22 March. The 1 000 selected applicants will continue through the programme cycle for the course of the year. This includes an intensive online training curriculum and participation in an entrepreneurship boot camp.

Elumelu set aside time in his busy schedule to talk to Opportunity about his plans for Africa and how the programme ties in with economic development on the continent.

The year of the African entrepreneur

“In December 2014, I projected that 2015 would be the year of the African entrepreneur. This will be the year the African entrepreneur will emerge on the global stage to show the world that our continent is home to some of the most exciting and innovative entrepreneurial talent in the world. This is also about legacy… I am dedicated to empowering African entrepreneurs. As I always say: God will not forgive me if I don’t help create hundreds if not thousands more Tony O. Elumelu’s.”

As Elumelu explains, Africapitalism is an economic philosophy that puts the African private sector in the driver’s seat of the continent’s development and generating social wealth for the people on the continent. “The Africapitalism Instiute, the Policy and Research arm of The Tony Elumelu Foundation, has been put in place to promote the philosophy to the African private sector. The institute will also produce rigorous and innovative applied research that demonstrates the critical importance of Africapitalism to Africa’s development, and remove policy barriers and create incentives to encourage Africapitalism in both the public and private sectors,” he says.

Elumelu says it has been amazing and very encouraging to see the enthusiasm and excitement from African entrepreneurs in Africa and the Diaspora. He also highlights that they have captured a global audience, letting them know that transformation is happening in Africa. “We are not a continent relying on international aid. We have resources and we have entrepreneurial talent. The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme has received over 20 000 applications from 52 of the 54 African countries. This programme is truly Pan-African. Applicants interact on our online portal and many of the responses have been very inspiring,” he says.

Looking at the training that will be provided, Elumelu says while raising capital is important for start-ups, it is equally important to know how to manage the money that one has raised and how best to use it to grow one’s business. Mentorship is also very critical to the success of one’s business according to him. This is why they have developed a comprehensive programme that goes beyond simply providing funding, but teaches the recipients how to manage funds. Budding entrepreneurs will also benefit from mentorship and networking opportunities with peers online and offline.

The programme will also be an important business networking platform. As Elumelu explains, business networking in Africa is very important to the continent’s overall growth. “As an entrepreneur, you must be open to learning from others. You can never know everything. It is especially important on our continent because we are not all one and the same. Therefore, if you are a western African business looking to expand in southern Africa, you need to understand your territory,” he says.

Regional integration

Elumelu says regional integration will help open doors for increased economic opportunity in blocs across the continent. This makes investing more viable, limiting the chances of failure since most of the markets in the bloc will be on the same page. According to him, government intervention will help facilitate such relationships, making it possible for a business in west Africa to seamlessly expand its business in other parts of the continent and vice versa. He also says the infrastructure must be there in order for investors to have that confidence in a specific market.

“At United Bank for Africa (UBA) we operate in 19 different countries across Africa and each of these country offices leverage each other for synergy across the group. When we are looking at new investment opportunities in a particular country or region, we have the resources in-house to get a better understanding of that specific market. It’s not enough for us to simply operate from Nigeria, without developing those relationships through networking and synergy to expand our businesses,” Elumelu says.  

During the programme, the 1 000 selected entrepreneurs will be participating in a two-day boot-camp in Lagos, Nigeria, with all expenses covered by the foundation. This is an intense interactive two-day live action learning experience where specialist trainers will help start-ups develop a range of soft skills using face-to-face, interactive teaching methods. “Entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to meet face-to-face and network with their peers across the continent, which enhances the synergy that we aim to achieve through this programme and the foundation. This is the type of training and education we hope to achieve showing the importance of peer-to-peer and peer-to-mentor networking,” he says.

So if Elumelu, one of Africa's most revered business leaders, entrepreneurs and philanthropists, could make a lasting change in Africa through this programme, what would it be? “I would institutionalise luck by developing the next generation of African entrepreneurs and leaders.”

Michael Meiring


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