If it goes according to plan, as it ought to, two words will best capture the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) which commences tomorrow in Ota, Ogun State: audacious and unprecedented.
A thousand emerging entrepreneurs from across Africa will converge on the Covenant University in Ota basically to partake in the knowledge acquisition and financial support aimed at transforming their dreams to reality and to galvanize entrepreneurship in Africa in an impressive manner.
Those men and women of vision looking for their big break in life are not guests of the Covenant University authorities. Rather, they are the lucky ones out of the 20,000 applicants from 52 African countries that responded to TEEP’s offer to empower the next generation of African entrepreneurs through training, funding and mentorship.
TEEP of course is an initiative of the philanthropic foundation by Tony Elumelu, chairman of Heirs Holdings and United Bank for Africa. But this weekend’s programme is an audacious one running on the promise of a staggering $100m meant to discover and support 10,000 African entrepreneurs over the next decade. The target, I’m told, is to create one million jobs and $10bn in additional annual Gross Domestic Product contribution across Africa by the end of the programme.
The average African spirit should leap for joy anywhere that ideas to discover and empower young and emerging entrepreneurs are mooted, particularly if it is a private sector-led initiative.
The reality of our continent today is that governments can but do little. Even when great ideas are on offer, expertise and manpower are painfully lacking. The few that consider public service are forced to struggle with the bureaucracy and corruption in government. If those bottlenecks are creatively bypassed, funds are ever hardly sufficient to see any meaningful ideas through.
Yet, in a continent where unemployment, on the average, is more than 27 per cent, according to IMF, the ‘Generation Next’ – that band of talented, educated and enthusiastic young lads – is forever looking for men and institutions with means and kindness for upliftment. And there is no gainsaying the fact that the generation that will rescue Africa is not the one that will earn degrees just to join the 9-to-5 bandwagon. The generation that the continent craves is the inventive and visionary lot that will create jobs and wealth and move from ‘good to great’ in the manner that Jack Welsh, the American entrepreneur par excellence, once envisioned.
It is this bankable generation that TEEP has selected one thousand people from, believing that not only are they the life-blood of the continent but also because the biggest opportunities in the coming decade “will be created by these individual entrepreneurs who have truly brilliant ideas, and exhibit a passion to create innovative and often disruptive solutions to complex challenges across Africa”.
This successful first set of one thousand emerging entrepreneurs are the ones now benefitting from a comprehensive programme designed to equip them with the skills needed to build a successful business. They have already had a training and mentorship via a customized 12-week online platform that included weekly tasks, webinar sessions, a source library and forums. They are now going into the booth camp for a weekend of plenary sessions with speakers and trainers with proven track record in business and leadership.
To launch them into the desired world of enterprise, thereafter, is $5000 seed capital funding that each of them will get as well as continued monitoring and support to refine and execute their business plan. Additional $5000 low interest loans and access to the foundation’s investor network is said to be available for select businesses among them. The over 19,000 others who missed selection this year need not despair, however, since they can always reapply each year and at the same time benefit from joining the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Network.
This is an initiative that clearly draws commendation in a continent where many state institutions and private organizations have little support base for capacity building and take-off grants for small businesses. It is even more remarkable that 30 per cent of the applications for the TEEP initiative will focus on agriculture. This simply underscores the realization among the aspiring entrepreneurs that this is a continent that must be able to feed itself and profit from agricultural exports.
TEEP’s belief in the concept of ‘Africapitalism’ is well documented. And if this is adequately espoused among these lucky entrepreneurs, then this initiative would have succeeded in reminding us that a vibrant African-led private sector is indeed the key to unlocking the continent’s socio-economic potential. Agriculture, like manufacturing and Information Technology, without a doubt, must form the nucleus of the entrepreneurial reawakening that should by now be raging all over Africa.
If the generality of our youths and fresh graduates are made to see farming, in its multi-faceted form, as a modern, non-derogatory and profitable venture that can easily source funding and encouragement, a good chunk of the unemployed youths can be conveniently engaged. With this in mind, perhaps, many state governors who are now faced with the reality that they can no longer accommodate half of those under-utilized people in the civil service may now politely show them the way to the farms where they can emerge in no time as their own chief executives and wealth creators.
By Monday when the reports from the boot camp would have saturated the media, it might well turn out that Elumelu has truly earned his appellation as a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist.
This article was first published in the back page of the July 9, 2015 edition of BusinessDay and is available here.