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Today, tech giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Meta have grown to become internationally recognised institutions that support many facets of our everyday lives. But sometimes it’s easy to forget that such organisations were born from a simple idea concocted in the founder’s garage. 

Often, truly successful businesses are run by people with the skills, vision and desire to solve a specific problem in their community. This is an area where I believe African start-up founders thrive — when they have the right foundation, purpose and resources in place. 

As a member of the adjudication panel for the 2023 MultiChoice Africa Accelerator programme — an initiative that offers rigorous pitch-readiness training to small business founders across the continent, in partnership with C3 and EOH — I’ve had the privilege of engaging with 29 driven small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) founders.  

I am blown away by the phenomenal level of talent, passion and innovation that we’ve seen throughout the programme. Rooted within the healthtech, agritech, fintech, edutech, circular economy and creative industries, these are agile start-up founders who act quickly to uncover potential and work to leave the world better than they found it — truly living a life of profit for purpose.  

This is the second year the programme has worked to multiply the impact of SMEs on the continent, with the first cohort of founder-led start-ups attracting transformative business funding of more than $16m from international investors in 2022. 

Africa’s pipeline of innovation  

With the world’s youngest population and growing internet accessibility, Africa’s future is ripe with possibilities. Yet there’s still much work to be done to ensure the continent is recognised as an attractive investment destination, filled with entrepreneurial potential.   

Today, African start-ups attract only a fraction of global venture capital: just 1% of the total global venture capital funding is allocated to the continent. But African SME founders still have a huge effect on the growth and sustainability of their communities, their region and even their continent.

With the right investment and infrastructure in place, African-born innovation can shape solutions that make a lasting impact worldwide. To ensure the continent can effectively support small businesses, meet its development goals and ultimately create meaningful change globally, Africa needs government, business leaders and international investment in purpose-driven, tech-focused sectors that can support long-term growth.

That’s what makes programmes such as the MultiChoice Africa Accelerator so impactful. The programme gives the world a chance to help the next generation of African entrepreneurs working to solve problems at the grassroots level. Global investors, specifically in the Middle East, are urgently looking for opportunities to invest in Africa. I believe this group of SMEs has what it takes to bring home even more investment than the previous cohort.  

Aside from investors, governments, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) leadership, are keen to boost their nation’s entrepreneurial capabilities with the innovative minds of such start-ups. For instance, the country developed its UAE Centennial Plan 2071, which includes a priority of building a diversified knowledge economy. That is, supporting and focusing on innovation, entrepreneurship, and high-skill or advanced industries. African start-ups are already way ahead in these areas. 

This proves how African start-up skills and business savviness have the potential to well and truly whet the appetite of global investors and governments alike. As we approach the final stages of the programme, the 11 founders chosen to pitch their businesses to international investors in Dubai will not just be showcasing their start-ups on the global stage, they will also be representing the quality of African innovation. 

The founder  

Investing in Africa is unique and rewarding because the fundamental goal of the African founder is not profit. It is purpose. What makes the Multichoice Africa Accelerator programme so effective is that it meets founders while they are still deeply connected to their purpose, before helping them to showcase that purpose through pitching for investment. To achieve this, the role of the founder is key.  

When it comes to early-stage investment opportunities, investors are not just looking for a market-disrupting idea, they are carefully analysing the founder. In fact, 80% of the deal comes down to the founder’s ability and credibility. Do they have the right experience? Are they able to ensure the product is fit for market? Will they have the drive and determination to keep pushing even if times get tough? What’s more, do they have what it takes to grow their business into a market-disrupting success?

Investors also understand that early-stage opportunities are often just the first round of investment. As businesses scale, the opportunity to reinvest and refinance grows too. This is why it is crucial that the right founder is at the helm of the ship — someone who will remain reliable, resilient and able to deliver long-term sustainability. 

Above all else, early-stage investors look for passion: the story behind the solution and the purpose at the heart of the profit. That spark will take founders from pitch to profit; from insight to impact.  

Investor-founder collaboration goes well beyond the balance sheet. At their deepest level, financial partnerships are about finding a personal connection around a common purpose. Start-up founders and venture capital investors need to share a passion for solving the world’s most pressing issues.  

This is the connection that founders at the MultiChoice Africa Accelerator will be looking to evoke in potential investors. A shared vision of a better Africa; a shared passion for enriching lives, and building a better world.  

• Holliday is MD of Dubai-based start-up accelerator C3.  

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