I recently had the privilege of being one of the Round 2 Judges on Africa’s Business Heroes with a responsibility to help select the Top 20 that would go on to the semi-finals from which the top 10 winners of the shared $1Million (yes, $1million) grand prize will be selected.
This was my second year as a judge and once again it was amazing to get a peek into just how talented we are as Africans and our capacity to transform the world around us. It was an intense and rigorous process for these start-ups selected out of a pool of over twenty thousand applications to get to the Top 50 stage where I engaged them. This got me thinking about what these shortlisted businesses had in common to stand them out and I listed some of the things that came out strongly:
- Solve a real problem: The founders were solving problems in their communities. From Melissa in Botswana providing education to children in environs where there were no schools, Shona in South Africa providing cost-effective mobility solutions for disabled persons Rahmah in Nigeria improving the yield of smallholder farmers who were losing up to 70% of their produce and much more. Because there was a real pain point, there was a ready market for their solutions.
- Leverage technology: This is always a game changer and makes it easier to make a tangible impact. For example, Melissa started off with a focus on children in her community, but when she built a mobile solution, she was able to reach hundreds of children and is now exploring partnering with other African countries to export her platform.
- Start small but think big: The founders started from small ideas and grew over time, but they had a growth mindset. This mindset opened them up to feedback from mentors, customers and critical stakeholders and they were willing to make changes where required. Many times, what the founder started off with went through various modifications over time to get them to the stage they are now. And more modifications will still be needed to take them further.
- Resilience: They didn’t give up despite the numerous challenges they faced. From my discussions with them, it was clear that none of them had an easy growth journey. Everything from negative government policies to losing key team members and some had to restart their business from scratch. They dusted themselves off and came back stronger.
They may not all go on to win the prize monies, but in my eyes, they’re all winners already. I hope this encourages you to also look around to see what problems you can solve and start what you can where you can.
To Your Success