By Ajong Mbapndah L
With a grand finale that reminded people of what has been missed in the two-year hiatus on in physical events because of COVID 19, the 2022 edition of the Jack Ma African Business Heroes (ABH) Prize Competition defied expectations on many counts, says Zahra Baitie-Boateng Partnerships & Program Manager at the ABH Programme.
With the winner and the runner up from Eastern Africa, and third place winner from Egypt, the competition had a record-breaking number of 21000 entries from all the 54 African countries. Women-led enterprises were up 31%. Though the average age of the participants was 35 years, the youngest applicant was 19 years old, and the oldest was 72. The judging pool grew from 241 to over 500 experts from 75 countries representing dozens of industries globally. There was a 300% increase in the number of applications from entrepreneurs in 36 out of 54 African countries.
Entrepreneurship remains the greatest tool to create social impact and touch the lives of millions of Africans in a sustainable way, says Zahra Baitie-Boateng in salute of the success of this year’s edition.
Zahra Baitie-Boateng: How will you sum up this year’s ABH prize competition?
Zahra Baitie-Boateng: This year has been thrilling to say the least. The ideas presented were diverse and innovative. We had plenty of new entries from countries that previously had low participation rates. Women-led enterprises were 31%, this is the highest we have ever had since 2019. Although on average the age of the participants was 35 years, we had the youngest applicant apply at 19 years old, and the oldest one was 72 years old. This just goes to show that being a visionary has no time constraint – it is never too early or too late to start.
What were some of the significant differences for this edition compared to other ones?
Zahra Baitie-Boateng: The history of Africa Business Heroes makes each consecutive edition very special. We are constantly using feedback from previous editions to improve the overall experiences of the participants, judges, partners and all stakeholders.
2022 had the most diverse applicant pool yet. We had representation from all 54 African countries with a marked increase in the number of applicants from North and Central Africa – majorly francophone countries.
The hybrid experience in 2022 was also a first for us. Due to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic we did everything virtually in 2020 and 2021. It was exciting for us to have a mix of physical and virtual experiences this time round.
Additionally, our judging pool grew from 241 to over 500 experts from 75 countries representing dozens of industries globally.
In terms of numbers, how many people went in for the competition and how was the geographical spread like in terms of covering the entire continent?
Zahra Baitie-Boateng: This year we saw increased geographical diversity. We received over 21,000 entries from all 54 countries in Africa. Not only did we continue to meet our goal of Pan-African coverage, but we also improved the representation among the regions. For example, we saw a 20% increase in the number of applications from Central Africa with entrepreneurs from this region accounting for 9% of the total applications received. Southern Africa accounted for 17%, while East Africa and West Africa accounted for 17% and 43% of all applications, respectively.
Additionally, we saw a 26% increase in the number of applications from North Africa compared to last year, with entrepreneurs from this region accounting for 7% of the total applications received.
We saw a 300% increase in the number of applications from entrepreneurs in 36 out of 54 African countries. This was especially for small countries such as Seychelles, Madagascar and Eswatini where we saw increases of over 10x.
The number of applications from 34 countries rose by more than 50%. Countries such as Egypt, Burkina Faso, Malawi and Burundi especially saw a tremendous growth in applications.
Can you share a breakdown of some of the key or popular sectors that were popular with participants and how these meet the needs of the continent at this time?
Zahra Baitie-Boateng: This year we received diverse entries cutting across various sectors: commerce, technology, social wellness, energy; and they all sought to address specific needs in Africa. The top 3 winners were East Africa Fruits Co, a social enterprise that integrates sellers with buyers of fresh fruits and grain optimizing food security and empowering farmers through use of Agri-tech; in second place was Marketforce which provides a unified digital commerce marketplace to facilitate trade among Africa’s informal merchants and leading consumer brands; while number 3 was Rahet Bally , a platform that offers financial, physical, social, emotional & intellectual support, both online & on ground for mothers, including granting them access to trusted doctors so that mothers are equipped to deal with the demands of motherhood.
We also had entries that sought to eradicate energy poverty in Africa through recycling energy as well as sourcing for alternative sources of energy. Energy is an issue of global concern, and it was refreshing to see an Africa centric approach towards solving energy related issues.
This is just a summarized overview of the immense talent and untapped ideas that exist on the continent, and we are eager to bring these ideas into reality through the ABH initiative.
Any projections for next year’s edition of the ABH and any success tips for prospective participants?
Zahra Baitie-Boateng :1n 2021, we received just over 12,000 entries. This year we had over 21,000 entries. Following the success of this edition, and the interest it has generated among the entrepreneurship ecosystem, we are confident that the number of entries will spike upwards considerably in 2023, and we are excited to see what visionaries on the continent have to offer.
We are looking for individuals whose businesses can inspire change within their communities. Their enterprises should at least be three years old and headquartered in their respective countries. We are scouting for visionary entrepreneurs who embody innovation, resilience, growth potential and impact on Africa.
Entrepreneurship is the greatest tool to create social impact and touch the lives of millions of Africans in a sustainable way. I urge young African entrepreneurs to be resilient because what each entrepreneur is doing has the potential to change many lives.
It is important to focus one’s business plan on efforts that truly meet people’s needs to create prosperity and improve people’s lives. For example, bridging the gender gap has become a key concern for most countries.
Many entrepreneurs are building great businesses but do not tell a great story alongside it. Your business should be an extension of yourself. Being able to explain concisely and convincingly what problem you solve, how you are going to solve it, why you will have an impact in the market, why you will win and how big your business can get is very critical in building a globally competitive business.
Finally, network. In the entrepreneurial ecosystem, all players matter. There is always something to learn from stakeholders, customers, even competition. It is through networking that you also get to learn of other opportunities your business could benefit from: competitions, grants and funding, mentorship. Therefore, it is important to participate in initiatives where you can meet peers, collaborate, learn and share ideas that can not only make your business better, but can also impact the continent and even the world.