In recent years, a number of business incubators and accelerators have opened their doors in Nigeria and other African countries. One of the most prominent organizations providing support to African entrepreneurs is the Tony Elumelu Foundation, which will continue its Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme in 2016 with a second annual round of $100 million in funding. In 2015, the foundation received more than 20,000 applications from African entrepreneurs and chose 1,000 individuals to support with funding, mentorship, and business training. All 1,000 chosen entrepreneurs also participated in an entrepreneurship boot camp and gained access to a network of African investors.
Last year, the Entrepreneurship Programme invested nearly $5 million across several fields and industries, including agriculture, manufacturing, and education. The 1,000 entrepreneurs chosen last year represented nearly two dozen more industries.
Individuals interested in participating in the 2016 incarnation of the Entrepreneurship Programme must submit their applications during January and February. The application window will close at midnight on the first of March. Applicants must answer questions about their personal backgrounds, their relevant experience, and the idea that they wish to bring to life. In addition, applicants must account for the pan-African impact of their ideas. An advisory board of successful African entrepreneurs reviews all submissions and selects the finalists.
The Impact of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme
The Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme aims to drive economic development across Africa by giving promising entrepreneurs the tools they need to succeed. Last year’s participants have made great strides in launching their companies and improving their local communities. One alum of the program said that it allowed her to learn important business lessons while also expanding her professional network. As a result, she opened the first office for her company and hired two staff members. In addition, she solidified two web development deals that will continue to help her company grow into 2016.
The United States Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker has highlighted the program as an excellent way to encourage business innovation throughout Africa. This innovation leads to new companies, which in turn create jobs and bring international attention to the continent to attract more investors and provide even more opportunities. Mr. Elumelu looks at his foundation as a means of “institutionalizing luck” and giving back to his continent. Through entrepreneurship, he believes, Africans can take personal responsibility for wealth creation and forge strong value-adding businesses. His program accepts applicants from across the continent, regardless of age, sex, religion, race, or nationality. Over the course of 10 years, he plans to work with 10,000 startups to create more than a million new jobs and upwards of $10 billion in annual revenue.
The Seven Pillars of the Entrepreneurship Programme
Mr. Elumelu and his team have worked to define a program of support that helps fledgling business leaders realize success. The Entrepreneurship Programme currently consists of seven distinct aspects:
- The Enterprise Toolkit: A 12-week program, the Enterprise Toolkit covers all of the basic skills needed to launch and run a business in its earliest stages. The program brings together concepts from around the globe and contextualizes them for the African market and economy.
- Mentorship: Program participants are paired with world-class mentors from Africa and other parts of the world who have faced similar challenges in developing their own companies. These mentors provide direct guidance along the often tumultuous startup path.
- Online Resource Library: Mentors, alumni, and startups all have access to a curated online resource library filled with case studies, research documents, videos, industry articles, podcasts, and sample business plans.
- Boot Camp: The program’s boot camp lasts for only two days, but it’s an intense face-to-face and interactive learning experience. Participants go to boot camp after the 12-week training and learn how to apply the skills that they have learned.
- The Elumelu Entrepreneurship Forum: This annual forum attracts a global audience of investors, academics, corporations, and entrepreneurs. Program participants have the chance to pitch their ideas and expand their professional networks at the event.
- Seed Capital: Once participants graduate from boot camp and get the approval of their mentors, they receive a check from the foundation. If they keep up with their business plans and reach their goals, they are eligible for a second round of funding.
- The Alumni Network: Once startups graduate, they join an extensive alumni network, which allows them to keep current with the organization’s achievements and stay in touch with other alumni while making new business connections.
Forging a Brighter Future for African Innovators
The Tony Elumelu Foundation also supports African innovators through programs outside of the annual entrepreneurship competition. Funding from the organization additionally supports research about African entrepreneurship, which in turn informs advocacy for policy improvements. Vital policy changes can create better environments that make it easier for entrepreneurs to get their ideas off the ground. In 2015, the foundation published a report called Unleashing Africa’s Entrepreneurs: Improving the Enabling Environment for Start-ups. This report included insights from a diverse group of entrepreneurs who spoke about the business climate in their regions.