Aramide Abe is one of Nigeria’s high-flying executive-level women smashing through the glass ceiling. Described as everything a woman of substance stands for, Abe is the founder of Naija Startups, a vision aimed at strengthening African SMEs and empowering young entrepreneurs across the continent. In this interview with Oba Michael Soyebo, took us on free business nuggets for budding entrepreneurs. Excerpts:
What do you think is the major factor hindering the growth of SMEs and startups in Africa?
If I gathered a group of African founders together, I think funding/financing/investment is something that will be recurrent. Without sufficient investments, businesses are unable to scale. I find that women owned/led businesses receive even less funding and so more interventions need to be made to bridge this gap. Also funding for non-tech businesses – The agriculture sector has unprecedented potential.
What are the likely challenges African entrepreneurs encounter in building a sustainable business?
First is the enabling environment for innovation, and doing business in general. Many African governments are yet to table this as a priority for business growth.
We have already spoken about funding, but it is an ecosystem. If we do not have stable governments and keep suffering from things such as insecurity, direct foreign investments will not flow into the continent as much as it should. Policies are an interesting one. It is one thing to define policies with workshops, stakeholder groups and all. It is another to effectively communicate these policies to the beneficiaries and finally, to encourage and measure the adoption of these policies. Finally, talent – a double-edged sword. Africa has a huge talent problem, yet as the youngest continent with 60 percent of its population under the age of 25, it also has a massive potential to build good talent.
Is finance the biggest problem facing startups in Africa?
Yes and no. On the one hand, massive projects and capital-intensive businesses need lots of capital, so yes. On another, I think leadership and the ability to lead is a major gap with many founders/CEOs. They are great with the tech and fundraising but to effectively lead an organisation, takes leadership skills which is missing among many, who perhaps have come from organisations with poor work culture. As the world is changing, organisations and startups need to adapt to the new age and considerations of ‘people’ in organisations.
How can entrepreneurs influence the private sector policies?
It is important to engage and also build relationships. A lot of us private sector folk operate in our silos. I do not believe governments are anyone’s enemy. The financial services sector, the most sophisticated, policywise in Nigeria for instance is very big on engagement with its stakeholders and bank officials. I think the same can be adopted across sectors.
As a key influencer in the African SME ecosystem, what would be your advice to the new Nigerian government in terms of entrepreneurship and empowering the private sector?
I am hopeful and really believe growth can occur if insecurity and power are prioritised. In terms of empowerment, it is important for our government to engage with the startup and SME ecosystem and carry stakeholders along at all stages. Personally, I would like to see efforts to prioritise gender mainstreaming across agencies and activities. I do believe Nigeria’s potential is yet to be unearthed.