By Tony O. Elumelu
In the last week alone, the international media has been buzzing about Chi, a Nigerian drinks company, and Africell, the largest mobile phone operator in Sierra Leone and Gambia. They are the latest African firms to be courted by the world's biggest private equity funds - French insurer AXA is paying U.S. $246 million to purchase Assur Africa Holdings in a bid to extend its reach to the Nigerian market.
The funds' aggressive Africa investment strategies in and of themselves are revealing, as they highlight both the world-class calibre of entrepreneurial talent in Africa and the potential depth of the market.
Neither Chi or Africell is a household name across the continent, yet they are potentially attracting serious global capital. It begs the question: where else across the continent do we have undiscovered world class businesses and how can we tear down the barriers which prevent many talented entrepreneurs from achieving their goals?
How do we build an entrepreneurial revolution so the playing field is levelled, "institutionalising luck" so we build a critical mass of skilled African entrepreneurs who can go toe to toe with their global peers when competing for capital and opportunity and come out on top?
The raw ingredients are there. Home-grown businesses have deep insights into consumer demand and can spot gaps in the market for specific products and services. They can tap into strong networks and often exhibit a burning drive to create innovative, often disruptive, solutions to complex challenges. These are the people who fuel our future. These are the people who have brilliant ideas but often lack the capital, the training or the support to structure their savvy commercial instincts into a scaleable business plan and then to execute it.
We can't afford to waste this talent, not least because demographic trends mean that governments and big corporates alone will be unable to provide the number of jobs that are required to cater for the millions of young Africans entering the job market every year.
But African entrepreneurs can. The power of entrepreneurship means you no longer have to wait to see who will give you a job. You can seize the opportunity to secure your future and in the process, create jobs and livelihoods for others.
This is how we take ownership and demonstrate leadership - it's not up to anyone else to develop Africa but us. Entrepreneurship is how we control our own our destiny and tackle the serious risk that mass unemployment poses to the stability of our societies and economies.
There is nothing more important or urgent for our continent.
The programme will seek out and support the growth of African innovators in both technology and physical business. We are building an ecosystem to identify and cross-pollinate grassroots innovation across Africa, sparking intra-African trade and accelerating success. The programme will also promote the role of African entrepreneurs within the global supply chain and put African innovators front and centre on the global stage.
This is far more than a funding initiative or networking opportunity.
Our ambition is to transform Africa's entrepreneurial potential into an engine for the creation of both economic and social wealth, in line with the principles of what I call "Africapitalism". It doesn't happen by accident, just by providing the capital to create thousands of businesses. It's about how you build those businesses - the values they hold and the goals they aspire to. Their founders need to have a vision, a plan and the tools to execute in order to deliver real impact.
Through the programme, we will give entrepreneurs the support they need to build a sustainable and socially conscious company, taking into account the unique demands involved in doing business in Africa. To this end, we will focus on learning and mentoring, and on creating a pan-African entrepreneurial network.
There will, of course, still be financial resources available in the form of seed capital. But, beyond capital, we also want to create an entrepreneurial community, building a network of alumni that will then grow to become mentors to the next entrepreneurial generation. The programme will operate for a decade. We hope that at the end of that time, we will have laid the groundwork for many businesses to grow and flourish across the continent, creating new partnerships and trade routes both within Africa and internationally.
This is how a new generation of Africapitalist entrepreneurs will create winning businesses, businesses that are based on a real understanding of market demand and which have access to training, networking and funding to scale at pace.
This is how we will transform the lives of people across our continent, transform the way our societies grow cohesively and transform the way our economies thrive and deepen. The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme will give structure and support to the brilliant ideas and incredible talent that exist in abundance across Africa so as entrepreneurs we can join forces and change Africa and the world.
Tony O. Elumelu is chairman of Heirs Holdings, the United Bank for Africa, Transcorp and the founder of The Tony Elumelu
Please note: The Afrikan Heritage Foundation (AHF) in Barbados has been mobilized to advance the empowerment of entrepreneurs in a revolutionary manner and encourage the further development of upcoming businesses. If you would like to know more about the AHF please click link provided. International interest and membership welcomed.