In a gripping conversation with Dr. James Mwangi, Equity Bank’s Group CEO, the pulse of African entrepreneurship and innovation reverberates. Mwangi unravels the tangled knot of start-up failures, attributing them to a lack of market understanding. His poignant advice? Businesses should serve a purpose beyond profit, tackling society’s problems head-on for sustainable success. He ignites a spark in young minds, urging them to wield technology as a mighty tool, a gateway to global markets where transformative ideas yield unparalleled rewards.
Entrepreneurs in Africa are rewriting history’s monochrome narrative, painting it with vibrant strokes of innovation. They’ve shrugged off the colonial cloak, embracing fresh ideas that transcend borders. But amidst this symphony of progress, there’s a refrain of challenge—a song of both opportunity and obstacle. Kenya’s digital strides clash with the harsh reality of internet affordability, a paradox in Africa’s march towards technological prowess.
Yet, amidst the tussle, there’s a rallying cry for unity. Collaboration among African nations heralds a new dawn, fostering a harmonious voice and knitting together economies into a dynamic fabric. Governments are tuning in, investing in entrepreneurial dreams, and untangling bureaucratic knots for aspiring business tycoons. Challenges like financial constraints, taxes, and regulations are hurdles to leap over, not barricades to deter the bold. They spark a fire for fresh, daring solutions, casting a hopeful glow on Africa’s economic canvas.
This isn’t just a story—it’s a captivating saga. It’s Africa boldly transforming its destiny, shedding the shackles of outdated perspectives, and rising to embrace change. The continent’s entrepreneurial prowess is an unstoppable force, sculpting a narrative that defies expectations. Africa’s triumphs herald a dawn where success knows no bounds, and the continent stands at the helm of a vibrant economic future.
Here is an excerpt of the interview.
Statistics show at least 90% of start-ups fail before the sixth month of their operations.
What are some of the tips you would offer to such enterprises?
GCEO Equity Bank (Dr. James Mwangi): The biggest challenge is people jumping onto the bandwagon when starting businesses. They need help understanding the market. They do it because someone has done it. So, they keep copying what others have done without doing market research to understand what the market needs.
Businesses that thrive and grow to scale are the ones that attempt to solve society’s problems. If you look at Equity Bank, it was created to solve the exclusion problem; e.g., the mama mbogas, the kiosks, and farmers were excluded. 96% of the population had no bank accounts. Equity decided to solve this problem with an inclusive business model. So, we removed the barriers that made people feel excluded and became a movement. And now we have 60% of all the bank accounts in the country, with 14 million customers, simply because we have solved the problem. So the question is having a programme. Most businesses still need to start solving the problem. The objective of making money drives them. You don’t make money by starting a business; you make money by solving a problem. Profit is a reward for solving a problem. The bigger the opportunity, the bigger the scale!
Young people are advised not to place their focus on looking for white-collar jobs and instead, focus on entrepreneurship. Is this feasible advice?
Young people don’t have to go through the legacy of the past. They can improve on technology and provide intellectual technology just by starting with knowledge. It is no longer the old factors of labour and capital as the factors of production. We are now seeing intellect. The population is much younger and has very different tastes. It means that the products of the past will not be sustained into the future. The young people can study the tastes and preferences of young people and re-invent and disrupt the market all over again. Great ideas promise great returns. So young people should not be discouraged by the market; we are in a global market. If you look at Ali Baba, it’s more than just a Chinese platform. It’s now a global platform. Amazon and Facebook… So we should start seeing the market as a worldwide market. We should start seeing the global capital backing our great ideas because money always seeks excellent ideas.
It is undeniable, however, that the scientific data accessible today provides a wealth of fascinating insights into the connection between innovation and corporate success. Because of this, only a few individuals are genuinely knowledgeable about the roles that entrepreneurship and planned and dynamic innovation play in this field.
Upon closer examination, it becomes evident that dynamic entrepreneurs are business owners who started their venture based on an opportunity rather than a necessity. These business owners are more likely to take on creative projects. Thus, among the numerous characteristics that distinguish dynamic entrepreneurs from their static competitors is their willingness or propensity to innovate. It pushes them to seek fresh, innovative ways to grow and fortify their companies.
People have had diverse viewpoints about the African continent for a long time. The colonialists have imposed an alternative vision of Africa. But we still need to be more creative. Because of this, African entrepreneurs haven’t given up or hesitated to give their continent the recognition it so richly merits. They are rewriting its history and developing a new economic model to provide the continent with a new lease on life. Using individuals such as Dr. James Mwangi and Aiko as examples
Thanks to the efforts of Nigerian businessman Dangote and several others, who are actively involved in various areas of the African economy, people can now perceive that the continent is eager to absorb innovative ideas from around the world and be the birthplace of ground-breaking solutions.
Embracing technology-driven solutions
These days, digital technology such as computers, applications, and machine learning has given Africans new business and employment prospects. On the other hand, existing data indicates that the availability of the Internet has, in many nations, led to an increase in jobs and a partial decrease in poverty. For instance, in Kenya, the internet service is said to be among the best on the continent. The Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Rights and Inclusion Annual Report 2022 states as much. But still
According to this article, there are difficulties as well. Its position for affordability on the continent has declined compared to markets such as South Africa. Although most Kenyan homes are currently linked to residential fibre, which offers the best speeds and lowest latency, affordable Internet is still frequently discussed.
According to a different study conducted by the British technology research firm Cable and headlined Worldwide Mobile Data Pricing 2021, Kenyans were paying twice as much for mobile Internet, coughing out an average of Sh244 for every gigabyte of data, as opposed to Sh112 in 2020. Kenya’s Vision 2030 has been made possible mainly by internet access, which has also been essential in advancing the nation’s development strategy in other areas. Kenya continues to be a leader in broadband connectivity, general ICT infrastructure, value-added services (VAS), mobile money, mobile banking, and FinTech services, among other areas, as it serves as an ICT hub for East Africa.
The government’s creation of the Digital Economy Blueprint, a framework to help Kenya outpace regional economic growth, was made possible by the ongoing economic expansion spurred by Internet access. Many thanks to the new generation of African visionaries. They are driven and compelled to pursue entrepreneurship. The number of young people grabbing opportunities will rise as the continent’s population swells. As a result, their concepts are genuinely upsetting to individuals who have played the game for a very long time, and their novel viewpoints are making the continent appear more optimistic.
Collaborations across nations will be essential for the region. This will facilitate the continent’s speech in unison. Additionally, as the President of Kenya has already demonstrated, promoting pan-African collaborations would be more crucial, encouraging the exchange of ideas and expertise. In addition to bolstering individual businesses, this will inspire aspiring entrepreneurs to direct their efforts towards supporting a more integrated and robust economy.
The good news is that African governments are already paying attention to the current wave of entrepreneurship and are dedicating resources to help foster it within their nations. More programmes are being implemented in schools to support the entrepreneurial tide and to produce the next generation of intelligent and skilled entrepreneurs who can successfully navigate their entrepreneurial journeys. On the other hand, small and medium-sized business owners find it more accessible to register their companies with the government. This significantly influences the rise in the number of entrepreneurs in the nation.
Even if these attempts are being made, we can’t deny that there are still difficulties. There are obstacles for entrepreneurs as well. Obtaining financing, paying hefty taxes, and occasionally experiencing regulatory hurdles are a few of them. Their tenacity to pursue commercial success drives them to look for novel solutions. In turn, this is improving the economic picture for the continent.
And in light of these factors, business owners keep trying to shatter the glass ceiling. Africa’s economy has a very bright future. The story now shifts from what the colonists depicted of Africa, and everyone talks about the change process. In addition to influencing all of these, the triumphs of our frontlines are also changing the economic landscape of Africa. It should be noted that Africa is doing better than expected and that the continent is undoubtedly winning.