Noel Ki Tshiani Founder of Congolese Business Network, which has been working with Congolese entrepreneurs since 2018 to help them develop the branding, marketing and networking skills needed to find investors, business partners and customers 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 significant fiscal periods in the past five years. Despite the development of several African start-ups, entrepreneurship in French-speaking Africa remains a subsistence activity rather than one that provides added value and solutions to consumers in the marketplace.
In French-speaking countries, the 5 main skills entrepreneurs need to transform from subsistence living to value creation are:
- Branding and marketing
- to lobby
- Mastery of LinkedIn
- English proficiency
After working with startups for the past 4 years, I have observed that entrepreneurs need to create a corporate brand distinct from a personal brand.
The topic of branding is more relevant today as social media platforms have expanded over the past few years, making it essential for startups to develop a recognizable brand from the time they first launch. There are some elements like company name, unique website address, professional logo with attractive colors, social media pages and company email address.
Marketing becomes much easier when an entrepreneur knows the difference between a personal brand and a corporate brand. Since marketing involves communication and sales, if an entrepreneur has a good grasp of branding, the chances of finding an investor, business partner or customer are increased.
networking and lobbying
Networking skills require branding, marketing and communication to establish relationships with various stakeholders in business.
In French-speaking 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 so many conferences in Africa, but there are 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, innovation in public policy is lacking because it is very rare for entrepreneurs to come together to lobby a government institution.
The situation worsens because many ministries or government agencies that need to recognize entrepreneurs and startups in their environment have no interaction with each other. Public policy innovation is an ongoing process that requires regular interaction between entrepreneurs and government institutions.
Mastery of LinkedIn
In addition, LinkedIn is a real social network for entrepreneurs who want to present themselves as market leaders at the local level and make their startups visible abroad. For entrepreneurs living in French-speaking Africa, speaking English is an essential skill.
For entrepreneurs looking to raise money from investors, mastering the English language opens the door to many opportunities to network and reach investment funds from New York to San Francisco in a way that would not be possible if one spoke only French.
The emergence of entrepreneurship in Africa is a noble phenomenon to welcome, recognize and celebrate. However, it is wise to regularly assess whether the startup ecosystem in Africa is developing the real and valuable expertise that entrepreneurs need to excel in the market. Otherwise, the noise, fuss and subsistence activities are characteristic of the typical startup, which disappears from the scene after a few years for not creating value and providing a sustainable solution for consumers.