Africa Can be Built by Entrepreneurs

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Eleven years ago when I told my friends that I was going to build a business, they doubled up with laughter. Once they had finished wiping their eyes, they gave me their reasons for the scepticism: Since I had no business skills and no money at all, I could as well count my plan as a fat chance.

However, their amusement turned into amazement after I pioneered the first private public payphone (card operated) business in Southern Africa, the first cyber caf, and several other ventures.

And I did not stop there. Three years ago, my first Pan-Africa online currency trading platform – enabling individuals and institutions all over the continent to buy and sell foreign exchange and profit from constant price fluctuations – debuted. A simple concept and the flood of orders haven’t stopped.

So where did I get all the energy and enthusiasm to take the plunge? Well, in 1991 during a television presidential debate, US presidential candidate Bill Clinton made me remember something my father had said to me when I was a boy growing up: “America was built by entrepreneurs, I know Africa can be built in the same way”. Amazingly, Clinton used the same catch-phases my father had used. The challenge fired my drive, and from here, there was no turning back.

If you don’t believe that entrepreneurs built the US, please visit http://www.fortune.com and take a look at the profiles of Fortune 500 companies. Let me also help you by mentioning a few multi- billion dollar corporations that were started by individuals just like you: General Motors, General Electric, Microsoft, J P Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Walt Disney, J C Penney, Morgan Stanley . . …… the impressive list goes on.

“So what does this have to do with me?” you might be asking yourself. A lot actually. If you believe in Africa and know the potential of our continent, you will agree with me that you have more opportunities in Africa than anywhere else.

If you don’t believe me, go to your nearest African international, airport and count the number of people from overseas arriving to do business.

My heart actually breaks when I read or hear about Africa’s youth trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to get to the rich West to wash dishes in restaurants, clean toilets and look after elderly incontinent people. Were these fine daughters and sons of Africa to have a second thought, they would put themselves into better use and in their own motherland.

If you want to know how Africa can be built by entrepreneurs the same way the US was built(and even in a much shorter period given the technology available today), then read the following.

Perhaps the first question you can ask yourself is how to get off the ground in your entrepreneurship bid.

Most certainly, you think a good business plan is the starting point. Well you are wrong. In fact, you should forget just about everything you’ve heard from other business “experts”. What you need is a practical approach based on an African setting. Here is your road map:-

If you are the type that waits for the government or some donor agency to give you free grants and handouts, then you are on the wrong thought pattern. Sounds old-fashioned? Maybe but it is still a universal principle that the way you think and feel about yourself is very important. Don’t let the disillusionment of lack of free handouts block the unleashing of your potential if you are really bent on starting that business. With or without a financier, take the plunge.

Change your perception and rid the misconception of entrepreneurship. There is a tendency to ridicule entrepreneurs especially beginners. In African countries, business starters are variously demeaned with titles like “briefcase businessmen” “jua kali artisans” and “wheeler-dealers”, among others. But do you know that those simple individuals who started many successful corporations in the US did so with a single idea in a briefcase? What you need to remember is that entrepreneurship is about making money and having fun doing so.

Be creative. Do not go into a business venture just because someone else seems to be doing well in that type of business. Innovating, differentiating and finding something unique are the buzz words here. After you have identified a viable and creative concept, you can now start writing and planning your business strategy.

If you have to, find reliable people or organisations that will help push your venture. I am proud to say that all my ventures have been partly funded by African investors from Congo, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nigeria and South Africa. Somebody believed in my project. Stay away from people who don’t believe in you or your project.

Learn to overcome fear. In developing my projects, I had to learn how to overcome my fears. I had to learn how to talk in front of groups, how to market my business and even approach creditors. In other words, develop good communication skills.

Overcome procrastination. If you decide to do something which you strongly feel will succeed, act rather than procrastinate.

Give your customers priority and polish up your public relations skills; you will be amazed at the way your business will grow. Customers want to believe you are in business to help them. They don’t mind if you make a profit by helping them. But they won’t buy from you if they believe you are only in the business to get their money rather than for their welfare. Demonstrate your commitment to helping customers by building a friendly relationship with them.

Some of my customers became my investors because strategically built a relationship with them. You too can leverage your relationship with customers to raise more capital.

Capital can be split into liquid capital (cash) and no-funds involved capital (initiative). This means that you can start a business with very little cash or better still, without any at all. I started with very little cash and a lot of initiative.

If it comes, handle failure but don’t let failure handle you. Well, I am sure you must think by now I am a millionaire. Not yet, but I am very close. Some of my earlier projects ended in complete failure. But I learnt from those failures. Local and overseas investors now also benefit from my failures for I provide them with the “ins” and “outs” of doing business in Africa apart from reliable contacts.

So don’t take a leap from a skyscraper when your business fails. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself, smile and tell yourself “tomorrow is another day!”

Ian Mvula is the founder of OFT a brokerage dedicated to introducing new retail and institutional investors to investing in managed forex accounts- http://www.forexplatform.com managedfx@forexplatform.com

Africa Can be Built by Entrepreneurs
About Ian Mvula
Ian Mvula is the founder of OFT a brokerage dedicated to introducing new retail and institutional investors to investing in managed forex accounts- http://www.forexplatform.com managedfx@forexplatform.com WebProNews Writer
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  • isaac berkoh

    i am very greatful to talk to your organisation, about my interest to set up a business. my business is a registered business by name iberkoh enterprise, located in ghana.Aim to to set up a wealthy recorganise internet cafe. And i need some assitance from your very reputable firm in the form of starting capital .Interested parteners should contact me through my e mail address iberkoh@yahoo.co.uk.
    am very greatful in your assistance.

  • Mr Aboje John

    I am a Nigerian born on the 30th October 1983 in Kaduna State in Nigeria.I am a National diploma holder from the Fedral College of Animal Health and Production Technology of the National Vetrinary Research Institute (N.V.R.I)Vom in Plateau State of NIgeria.

    I am proud to be an African and a Nigerian in Particular,but the major problem I battle is every day and night is how to overcome poverty.

    Presently I am establishing a fish farm,but the financial srength is my problem.So how did you do the magic,I sincerly need to know.You can verify the information I am giving to see if am actually one of the true Nigerians or not.

    I have a strong Passion for Entreprnuership and believe i would over come,but I need to act very fast.

    Thanks so much.

  • Guest

    We are about to embark on the scary challeneg of starting our own business in Africa- far from England where we were born. Thanks for your words of advice…here we go….

  • richard

    am impressed by mvula’s story of encouragement. howevery before you start on anything, i beleive some fixed costs have to be met. for example me and my friends have opted to open up a ana enteprise training company in uganda. but we need fixed costs like rent and othe start up costs which are nt easy to come by. please advise me.

  • Guest
  • http://www.mgnlaw.com Personal Injury Laywer

    This is a great article and shows the power of entrepreneurs

  • Frazer Evans

    Thankyou for the article Ian, most inspiring and close to home! I am a budding entrepreneur wanting to start business in Gambia, with several ideas ranging from Green technology and Renewable energy to Transport & Logistics, Waste Collection/Management, Translation and Employability training. The uniqueness of my ideas is that I hope to be able to set up as a Socially Responsible Business, which commits to paying wages above market average, improving working conditions for Gambian’s, and providing training and employment for unemployed people, as well as maintaining a strong awareness of the environmental impact of any such business. I also would like to be able to commit 30-40% of any net profits generated to go towards charities and NGO’s operating in The Gambia. I have already suffered the humiliation of being laughed at when sharing my idea, as I, (like you once didn’t) do not have the capital required for many of my ideas to come to fruition. I hope that with help, I can achieve these goals, and will be able to attract funding from both Western and African investors, and will be able to further improve the Standard of Living of the Gambian people. I would welcome any comments or advice you have concerning my ideas, thankyou.

  • Farai

    Thanks for such an insightful post. I must say i do share similar sentiments with the statement about how America was built by entrepreneurs and how it can also be the same with us in Africa. The world today shows that to a large extent influence is tied with financial resources. For instance the Mo Ibrahim african presidents leadership fund promotes good leadership and it uses financial rewards to motivate leaders. Basically i believe we need a mindset change in Africa, one man put it this way instead of just observing the philosophy teach a man how to fish and you will feed him for a life we should go beyond and start teaching ourselves more than just learning to fish we can go beyond to “owning” the pond ourselves…

    so i say lets continue to strive, lets continue to teach ourselves, lets continue to develop ourselves and become the entrepreneurs that will indeed change Africa.

    • http://www.india.com dido

      Very good post, thanks a lot.

  • Guest

    wow thats insipiringto all i really loved your articale and i hope you can share more with us through my email and your blog too.keep it up this will help many upcomming entreprenures in future and today.

  • Chris

    Hello Ian,
    What an inspiration to people who want to build a business in Africa.Great! Actually i,ve been thinking about creating some sort of business idea in Africa (on a small scale) and recently mentioned this to a couple of friends – they just laughted at me!
    I,m not an economist or anything like that but my gut feeling is that right now Africa has great potential.
    PS. Yes it,s a pity to see many Africans crossing the Med and ending up having to adapt to European culture and no jobs around…or only jobs for immigrants..

  • B.Mouss

    i always wanted to hear someone like Ian who can see the positive side of africa. i have the energy to start a business in africa but because of my poor background in doing business i do not know where to start my business in africa and in which field? so if there any help i will be greatfull.

  • Kundai Munjanja

    when I saw the title of your article it just stood out from everything that I have come across in a long time. I am a young female from Zimbabwe, who strongly and firmly belives in African solutions to african problems through entrepreneurship. I agree with you that individuals need to adapt a solution for the African context instead of borrowing ideas and am also saddend by the number of young peole leaving the continant for “greener pasture”, especially in Zimbabwe. The best advice I can give any young person who cannot secure a loan due to having no collateral is start with what you have, its amazing what kind of things the mind can come up with when put to the test,. I believe the afican context is such that you can do a lot with very little.

    I am interested in networking with individuals all over africa so we can exchange ideas and experiences thorugh the internet. If you have any information please assist me in contacting these individuals I would be much obliged.

    my email is kmunjanja@gmail.com

    I really appriciate the article please continue to encourage people to start investing in themselves


  • http://freewowtime.com Tina

    this is a very inspiring post, I never knew starting a business was something that you could just do without a large amount of money. What are the first steps one should take when en-devouring on a new project?

  • http://www.shopsavannahgalleria.com Bernetta Lanier

    African Americans are anxious to do business in African and with our African brothers and sisters. We want to build wealth together, for Africans and African Americans. From manufacturing clothing to building solar energy networks, lets talk.

  • Louisa

    I feel so passionate about Africa and I too believe the only way for it to rise from poverty is to create business. I feel that the key to Africa’s success lies within the diasporan community, we send billions of dollars a year to our families that if a network community was set up to bring together business ideas, inventions etc and every African contributed a small fee, don’t you feel that we could be companies in Africa? With the profits going back into the communities? I really believe this is possible. I would love to hear from like-minded people email louisa@bonnetbabes.co.uk. , w

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