How business incubators are helping entrepreneurs in Africa

Small & medium enterprises (SMEs) are the engine of economic growth in Africa, particularly when small businesses develop their potential to expand and contribute to job creation.

According to the World Bank, formal SMEs contribute up to 40% of GDP in emerging economies , and this number is much higher when including informal businesses. The Brookings Institute expects that consumer spending in Africa will reach $6.66 trillion in 2030, up from $4 trillion in 2015, and a large portion of this will be driven by small businesses.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, SMEs have been hit hard by economic lockdowns, curfews and cash-strapped consumers. The crisis also highlighted the importance of small businesses in our communities as many quickly adapted to serve evolved customer needs.

Recognising the challenges faced by SMEs, Standard Bank Group (parent to Stanbic Bank Botswana) provided R10.9 billion in relief to personal and SME clients across Africa to help them get through this difficult period.

“During the pandemic it was essential that SMEs and entrepreneurs continued to receive business development support and training, and leads to markets through our business incubators in Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, Uganda and Zimbabwe,” says Leon Barnard, Head: Business & Commercial Enablement at Standard Bank Group.

He adds that Standard Bank’s incubators were also able to support SMEs with trade innovations by guiding them on import and export requirements and regulations.  

Growing entrepreneurship in Africa should be a priority for corporates and governments as the continent responds to and recovers from the economic fallout of the pandemic. Entrepreneurs will need access to the practical tools, knowledge, advice, skills, and connections to markets that are essential for their growth.

“There are five strategic pillars that need to be considered for enterprise development support across Africa, if we can empower small business owners across all these pillars they will be on the road to success”, says Barnard.

With a focused effort on these five strategic pillars, small businesses can position themselves for growth: 

  1. Platform to nurture businesses ideas for growth and empowerment.

In Botswana, ACCELERATE, serves as a dynamic platform for entrepreneurs to develop innovation, business development, thought leadership and networking opportunities. Standard Bank and ACCELERATE work with partners and stakeholders across the public and private sectors towards finding solutions for the empowerment of the Batswana people. 

  1. Incubation as an innovative approach to helping businesses transform ideas into a minimum viable product.Incubation supports the de-risking of seed and early-stage businesses and thereby improve sustainability as well as improved access to finance.

Five digital iDeate bootcamps that hosted a total of 178 entrepreneurs were held in Mozambique in 2020, led by Standard Bank and supported by their delivery partner Ideialab. The virtual format opened participation to SMEs from across the country and accessibility to the programme was enabled through a sponsorship of data bundles by the bank in partnership with Vodacom.  

  1. Acceleration of assistance that leads to improved business operations for profitability and growth.

The Stanbic Bank Zimbabwe Incubator Hub was set up to help young people tackle the challenges they faced when starting or growing a business, as well as to support the Central Bank’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy as it relates to SMEs. Through workshops, training, coaching and mentoring, the hub provides support for young businesses to access markets and finance. 

  1. Value chain development by supporting high potential, local SMEs to access supply chain integration opportunities.

In Mozambique, a virtual iDeate bootcamp was held over five days, in partnership with ENI Rovuma Basin, to build SMEs’ from 14 different sectors, in their technical and managerial capacity as well as to enable them to access the value chains of oil and gas multinationals. The virtual format empowered SMEs from across the country to participate. 

  1. Financial Inclusion that supports gender, youth and informal sector empowerment.

In Uganda, the Stanbic Business Incubator was able reach more entrepreneurs across 10 districts by taking training online during the pandemic. Since its inception in 2018, A total of 1,219 small and medium enterprises benefited from the Business Development Services and coaching support.

Job creation is critical to the growth of Africa, and if small businesses have access to information and mentorship across these pillars, they will more likely be able to scale their businesses and increase employment opportunities in their community.

While the pandemic has had a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods, it has also created new opportunities to accelerate change. “Africa’s small business owners have proven themselves as inventive and resilient in the face of an unprecedented crisis, and we believe that they are well positioned to make great progress as the continent emerges from this pandemic,” says Barnard.