Picture: 123RF/LEON SWART
Picture: 123RF/LEON SWART

In this edition of the Business Day Spotlight, we’re looking at the state of start-up funding on the African continent during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our host Mudiwa Gavaza is joined by Okendo Lewis-Gayle, founder and chair of  the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance (HEA), a network of educated young African entrepreneurs, who shares his insights.

A graduate of Harvard University, Lewis-Gayle is also the author of Harambeans: Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things,  a book that details stories of African entrepreneurs.

Join the discussion:

Lewis-Gayle begins the discussion  by telling the story of HEA's roots and how it developed  over the years. He says the idea first came to him at university in the US.

Since then, the network of entrepreneurs — known as Harambeans — who are scaling ventures such as remote working specialist Andela and payment providers Flutterwave and Yoco. Harambeans have raised more than $300m (R4.9bn) from Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Ma and other prominent investors over the years.

The Covid-19 crisis has had a far-reaching effect on the African start-up ecosystem. Between 70% and 80% of non-venture capital backed start-ups potentially face closure due to the looming economic crisis.

Business Day Spotlight host Mudiwa Gavaza. Picture: DOROTHY KGOSI
Business Day Spotlight host Mudiwa Gavaza. Picture: DOROTHY KGOSI

Because of this, Lewis-Gayle says start-ups require collaboration and support now more than ever. To help address these issues, their team has recently launched the Harambean's Prosperity Fund that aims to provide $1m (R16.45m) in funding to African networks affected by the economic downturn. He says this funding will be made available to a diverse group African innovators that are part of HEA.

In addition, Lewis-Gayle says the fund will also allow qualifying applicants to access a network of mentors, investors and operational experts who will offer coaching. He advocates for networking, saying it’s valuable for entrepreneurs from different countries to connect and engage around ideas. The way in which one business is making use of a technology in their territory might spark an idea for a similar use in another, for example.

On the whole, Lewis-Gayle says he’s hopeful about the prospects of start-ups in their network as well as innovation in Africa. With the right support, the potential for growth is immense, he says.

The discussion also explores challenges of operating a small business during the crisis, the flow of venture funds to Africa and an outlook for the continent’s economy.

For more episodes, click here.

Engage on Twitter at #BDSpotlight or via e-mail at MullerP@arena.africa

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Business Day Spotlight is a MultimediaLIVE production.

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