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Africa: female startup founders step into the spotlight

Traditional role models and male networks hinder success

From Finnbar Toesland, Africa Renewal * | 11/13/2018

New York (AR / afr). On the surface, Africa is a continent of women entrepreneurs. In the "MasterCard Index of Female Entrepreneurship 2018", Ghana ranks at the top worldwide: 46.4% of all companies in the West African country are owned by women. Uganda follows Russia in third place with 33.8%.

African startup entrepreneurs want to break traditional role models and network more closely. (Image: Shutterstock)

But if you scratch the surface a little, you will inevitably realize that most of these firms are one-person companies with little potential for growth. In the booming technology sector in particular, there are only a few female founders: As a study by the Dutch organization "Venture Capital for Africa" ​​found in 2016, only nine percent of all African startups have a woman at the top.

Eunice Baguma Ball, founder of the "Africa Technology Business Network" in London and author of the book "Founding Women", sees enormous opportunities for women entrepreneurs in Africa's growing innovation ecosystems. The prerequisite for this, however, are customized funding instruments. "African women entrepreneurs who are confronted with financial challenges when starting up need support," says Ball.

Traditional role models

There are many reasons for the low proportion of women, but one of the main reasons is certainly traditional reservations. Odunayo Eweniyi, co-founder of the online savings platform in Lagos, Nigeria, knows the widespread skepticism towards women entrepreneurs from personal experience.

"Startups often take the plunge into a business that is considered unsafe, risky and difficult," says Eweniyi. "From an early age, women are encouraged that activities with these conditions are bad for them. Very often women are simply prohibited from striving for something higher. The result is that they tend to try their hand at low-risk undertakings. "

The journalist and entrepreneur Rosemary Egbo adds that the prejudices extend to the banking sector. "Financial institutions are not as quick to lend to women entrepreneurs as they are to entrepreneurs. Men are perceived as better risk managers and are given a higher chance of success."

A study by the venture capital firm "Illuminate Ventures" in Oakland, California shows that exactly the opposite is the case. Tech companies run by women have a 35% higher return on investment than those run by men.

For Eunice Baguma Ball, too, women are better entrepreneurs: "Society as a whole benefits from economic support from women, as they invest 90% of their earnings in their families and in the community. For men, this is only the case for 30 to 40% . "

Networks as the key

Another reason for the low proportion of women startup entrepreneurs is that the powerful networks are dominated by men. Odunayo Eweniyi recommends the creation of women's networks in which women entrepreneurs can benefit from the knowledge and experience of others. For Eweniyi, many business contacts are made between men on an informal level, e. B. in bars and clubs. Pure women's networks could form a counterpart here.

In order to make women equal partners in the business world, it takes a lot of lobbying on their own behalf. Ball and her company ATBN launched the #HerFutureAfrica initiative, which aims to network startups led by women in Africa. She also supports young female entrepreneurs with the proceeds from the sale of her book "Founding Women".

Booming startup scene

For years, international investors have been focusing on the rapidly growing startup ecosystems in Africa. Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa are currently the most popular markets.

In some countries in North Africa startups are given targeted support by women. There are already dozens of women-run tech startups in Morocco. A model company is z. B. the cross-border trading platform WaystoCap from Casablanca, which was launched by Niama El Bassunie.

The Brussels-based start-up initiative Womenpreneur has set itself the task of identifying and supporting women startups in the Middle East and North Africa. One measure for this is the establishment of start-up centers in which women entrepreneurs are supported with financial and technical services.

Eunice Baguma Ball would like a kind of "pipeline" for female talents who have the skills and the ambition to build successful tech startups: "And that primarily requires a change in the old attitude that technology or 'big business' is only for men are. " (End)

* Finnbar Toesland is an employee of our partner magazine "Africa Renewal" of the United Nations. The English-language original article was published for the first time in the August-November 2018 issue (* .pdf). The first paragraph has been supplemented by the editors with the latest figures from the "MasterCard Index of Female Entrepreneurship 2018".

| Tags: Africa, Nigeria, Morocco, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Uganda, Startup, Economy, Technology, Innovation, Finnbar Toesland