Creating a Thriving Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
n recent years, Rwanda has invested substantially in creating policies that foster a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. “Rwanda sets the example globally in its approach to creating value and opportunities beyond the public and private sector,” says Liana Nzabampema, senior program officer at Segal Family Foundation. “We continue to see efforts aimed at creating a space for entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs to thrive. There are so many examples, but let’s focus on the process of registering a business, which is now really at the fingertips of entrepreneurs. This is certainly manifested in the visible growing market and zero tolerance corruption policies taken seriously by the government.”
Liana joined Segal Family Foundation in 2016, having spent many years working in international development across Africa and Australia. In Rwanda, she leads the foundation’s Social Impact Incubator and approaches value creation for entrepreneurs through an ecosystem lens. Segal Family Foundation is on a mission to unlock massive potential for African social entrepreneurs and Rwanda offers an ideal setup
to experiment before scaling the concept to other countries.
Rwanda has a young population with a lot of entrepreneurial potential. To harness this demographic’s creativity and aspirations, Liana says that tailored regulations, platforms, financial instruments and programs must be thoughtfully created. Segal Family Foundation has been committed to investing in this space through its Social Impact Incubator since 2019.
The incubator’s focus is on investing in entrepreneurs and the socio-economic environment they live in. According to Liana, this is the only way to build businesses and entrepreneurs that will in five to ten years’ time sustainably serve and support their communities. “The youth are putting their focus and energy into non-traditional ways of doing business – creating wealth but also addressing social issues that had previously affected the process of doing business,” she says. “These are hybrid ways of responding to the challenges around them, with agile and flexible business models that provide them with control and a sense of sustainability.”
Businesses must not invest in technology for technology’s sake. Use it because it’s going to provide the impact you need for your business to grow and become scalable.
The Social Impact Incubator is an intensive seven-month program, during which participants take part in Think Pods, workshops covering everything from service and product development, financial models, design, communication, fundraising, impact measurement and business development. “It’s a platform that nurtures leadership and innovation,” says Liana. “We build human capital and create bonds amongst entrepreneurs as well as to the right sector experts through coaching and mentorship. In the background, we continue developing in-roads to funders, investors and policy makers.”
“Our goal is to create an environment where entrepreneurs, regardless of their registration, can find skills, build networks and access agile and blended capital that propels them to succeed,” she continues. “We are also historically known for our ultimate networking experiences. We see these diverse efforts paying off and are slowly bringing together a community, network and burgeoning ecosystem of entrepreneurs, working closely with the public and private sector, fulfilling the government priorities and SDGs.”
Powered by Segal Family Foundation and Robert Bosch Stiftung, the Social Impact Incubator’s ultimate goal is to advocate for increased funding options for early-stage entrepreneurs across Africa. “While the capacity gap has always been used as a proxy to not fund or take risks, it’s going to be hard addressing the slow growth of African entrepreneurs unless we see it as a predicament funders and investors need to solve, particularly looking at how they structure their financing schemes,” Liana says. She also notes that ecosystem-builders need to do more to support entrepreneurs. “Continuing to offer the same programs and small grants over and over without underpinning the causes of the volatility in the sector might be disingenuous,” she says. “This is the only guarantee to not have the same story over and over. Am I asking for fresh perspectives and new narratives? Absolutely!” She suggests creating a value chain for entrepreneurs where they are supported through each step of their business, from ideation to expansion, in the ways that are most appropriate and sustainable for their particular circumstances.
Most important tips for startups:
- Don’t start a business because you can’t get a job. Some of the best businesses have been built out of frustration, but what makes them sustainable is the entrepreneurial drive of the founders.
- Learn from your failures. It’s okay to fail when building your startup, just keep failing forward, learning and growing.
- Do your research. Don’t rely on stories. Do the research to understand the problem you’re solving, who it’s for and where it fits in the future.
- Be patient. It takes time for any business to gain momentum, and it’s the perseverance to innovate,
hard work and hope that will keep you going.
- Cultivate a community: Find peers you can lean on and who always push you to the next level on your entrepreneurial journey.
Main Photo by Alex Niragira
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