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Unlocking Success in the ABH Competition: Essential Entrepreneurial Tips from Carine Vavasseur Plus Availability of a $1.5 Million Grant Fund



In an exclusive interview with Opera News, Carine Vavasseur, CEO Ignite.E and Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) Partner, Francophone Africa, reflected on ABH’s commitment to showcasing Africa’s transformative entrepreneurial power, the 2024 ABH prize competition and also shared the fundamental entrepreneurial advice for African entrepreneurs interested in participating in the competition.

The Africa’s Business Heroes Prize Competition is a philanthropic initiative sponsored by the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Philanthropy. It aims to support, inspire and enable the next generation of African entrepreneurs across all sectors who are building a brighter future for the continent, by offering grant funding, training programs and support for the development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Over 10 years, each year the ABH Prize Competition features 10 entrepreneur finalists as they pitch their business to win a share of US$1.5 million in free grant money.

African entrepreneurs of all age groups, gender and nationality interested in applying for this grant can get more details on how to apply are advised to visit this website:

In the Q&A interview below, Ms. Vavasseur, explains shares more details:

  1. What specific impact has Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) had on the African entrepreneurial ecosystem?

Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH)’s mission is to inspire a movement of African entrepreneurship by supporting, showcasing, and developing local entrepreneurial talent who are creating positive change in their communities and beyond.

The specific impact of ABH on the African entrepreneurial ecosystem is significant. Firstly, the competition offers visibility and recognition to talented entrepreneurs across the continent, highlighting their achievements and contributions to their communities. Secondly, ABH provides high-level mentoring and financial support to the winners, helping them to develop and scale their businesses in a sustainable way. In addition, by bringing together entrepreneurs, business experts and thought leaders, ABH fosters networking and collaboration, strengthening the entrepreneurial ecosystem as a whole.

In figures the impact of ABH since its inception in 2019 and its entrepreneurs community is as follows:

–              The ABH top 10 finalists (Heroes) over the last five years have created 123,000 direct and indirect jobs in Africa

–              They are serving over 37.5 million customers in Africa and beyond

–              They have raised over US$153 million in investment (not counting debt raises)

–              They have operations in 52 African countries

–              Received US$7M in prize money

–              Reported over US$252M in revenue

2. What is your take on Africa’s entrepreneurship landscape and how could competitions like ABH support the ecosystem?

I’ve worked in a variety of contexts at the CTIC Dakar incubator, at the edtech start-up EDACY, which I helped to build, and then in the Senegalese government, where I headed the Innovation and Ecosystem Animation division at the Délégation Générale à l’Entrepreneuriat Rapide des Femmes et des Jeunes (DER/FJ), the Senegalese government body dedicated to entrepreneurship.

It was there that I saw the enormous potential of entrepreneurship to stimulate economic and social development in Africa. This convinced me of the need for continent-wide action, hence my appointment as Director of Ignite.E, the ecosystem building arm of the Haskè group.

My interest in the entrepreneurial ecosystem was reinforced by a strong conviction: innovation and co-creation are essential drivers of economic growth, and certain entrepreneurs have the ability to create unique value with mass impact in our markets, where many challenges at the bottom and in the middle of the pyramid of needs remain to be addressed. Particularly on our continent, we need entrepreneurship that has both a socio-economic impact and high potential in terms of business and financial viability. I have therefore chosen to dedicate myself to encouraging the emergence of this type of business, with a particular focus on those with the capacity to make a difference on a large scale.

The main challenges facing entrepreneurs with this profile are as follows:

– The fragmentation of African markets and the difficulty of scaling up, which means that most of the time we have to think in terms of localised approaches and sometimes face regulatory challenges.

– The highly informal nature of our economies, which has an impact on the corporate tax system (often a deterrent), as well as access to data and, more broadly, access to markets (particularly for B2C companies, which have to contend with the low purchasing power of their targets, and B2B companies, which can sometimes struggle to build up a critical mass of customers).

– Access to finance, often linked to a lack of preparation for fund-raising or a lack of access to information or information gathering.

– Access to the market and the need to network

– The challenge of accessing talent, particularly in relation to developing interpersonal skills

– The challenge of innovation and, more broadly, access to patient capital to develop R&D approaches. But there are other forms of innovation besides disruptive innovation, which are highly relevant and found in our markets, such as innovation in the business model or in the market addressed, as well as incremental innovation.

We have carried out a study of entrepreneurs in Senegal and are also working with a partner who has carried out a study of 5 African markets. It emerged that what entrepreneurs value most in their support is networking, peer support and problem solving, as well as mentoring. ABH’s approach precisely integrates each of these pillars, providing the best possible response to the challenges faced by our entrepreneurs by offering them added value in line with their needs.

ABH plays a crucial role in providing an inclusive and accessible platform for all African entrepreneurs, whatever their industry or region. The competition encourages the participation of French-speaking entrepreneurs and embraces a diverse representation across the continent. Ignite.E is one of ABH’s partners, whose mission focuses particularly on attracting entrepreneurs from French-speaking West Africa.

Taking part in the competition provides a valuable opportunity for Beninese entrepreneurs to gain international exposure, benefit from high-level mentoring and develop their network. In addition, the visibility offered by the competition can attract the attention of potential investors and partners, which can be crucial for the growth and development of Beninese start-ups.

We believe in the entrepreneurial potential of French-speaking West Africa and the continent as a whole. The competition remains open to all entrepreneurs on the continent, and I strongly encourage Burkina Faso’s innovators to seize this opportunity to showcase their ideas and projects.

3. What’s new on ABH prize competition this year?

This year ABH has introduced two new aspects to better support entrepreneurs during the competition preparation phase.

Firstly, we have extended the duration of our “Office Hours” sessions, held every Monday at 2:00 PM GMT. These sessions provide individual attention and a platform for applicants who need assistance in completing the application. Through video calls, our team members address their queries and provide guidance on completing their applications effectively.  Secondly, ABH has recently launched a series of online webinars aimed at enhancing applicant preparation. These webinars cover essential critical aspects of the application process and provide expert guidance on presenting their businesses. The goal is to not only to help entrepreneurs excel during the competition but also to equip them with skills to effectively present their ventures stakeholders in real-world scenarios. 

4. How do you select entrepreneurs who participate in the competition?

To ensure the selection of qualified entrepreneurs for the competition, ABH employs a stringent pre-screening process based on several criteria:

1. Legal Registration: Candidates must have a company of business legally registered in Africa and operating in Africa with a valid government-issued business license.

2. Revenue History: The business must demonstrate a revenue history spanning at least three distinct years. Proof of revenue generation during due diligence is required.

3. Founder or Co-founder Status: Applicants must be either the founder or co-founder of the business and must be of African nationality or descent. Non-African nationals or those not of African descent are ineligible.

4. Complete Application: All mandatory questions on the application form must be answered. Incomplete applications will result in disqualification.

5. Independent Reference: Applicants must provide an independent reference from a mentor, friend, supplier, or colleague. Self-provided references will lead to disqualification.

6. Video Content Appropriateness: Submissions must adhere to the requested topic, which includes a self-introduction and testimonial from a customer. Inappropriate content will result in disqualification.

The selection process consists of four key stages:

Stage 1: Online submission and selection of the top 50 Heroes.

Stage 2: Online interviews with the top 50 and selection of the 20 semi-finalists.

Stage 3: Semi-final pitch with the 20 Heroes, followed by the selection of 10 finalists for the final round.

Stage 4: Face-to-face final presentation by the top 10 finalists, culminating in the selection of the three winners.

This rigorous process ensures that only the most deserving entrepreneurs progress through the competition, representing Africa’s finest talent and innovation.

5. Any advice that you would you like to give to entrepreneurs who are interested in participating?

For entrepreneurs interested in participating in the Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) competition, here are some valuable tips to guide you through the process:

• Start Early: The application process is extensive, so it’s advisable to begin early. Work on the easy questions first, skip the harder ones, and return to them later. Some of the strongest applications have come from those who started early and submitted ahead of time.

• Be Prepared: Familiarize yourself with the eligibility criteria and the application itself. Ensure that you complete all six sections and answer all mandatory questions, including the video testimonial. Failure to complete any mandatory questions may result in disqualification.

• Be Concise: ABH has strict word limits, so stick to them. Going over the indicated word limits may result in your responses not being recorded. Keep your answers clear, concise, and within the specified limits.

• Be Memorable and Bold: Make your application stand out by being compelling and bold in your responses. Judges review numerous applications, so articulate the key factors that set your business apart. Showcase what makes your business unique and compelling.

• Be Persuasive with Examples and Data: Back up your points with data and examples to add credibility to your application. Cite sources where possible to demonstrate the legitimacy of your claims. Persuasive storytelling coupled with solid evidence can significantly enhance your application.

• Leverage ABH Resources: Take advantage of all the resources provided by ABH to support applicants. Download the application to work offline, utilize the guidance available throughout the application, attend workshops, and seek assistance from ABH support heroes if needed. These resources are designed to help you succeed in the competition.

Additionally, in your day-to-day life as an entrepreneur, remember to incorporate fundamental entrepreneurial advice into your business strategy. Understand your market and target audience, constantly innovate, create a solid network, remain flexible and adaptable, invest in personal and professional development, and maintain a long-term perspective. By integrating these principles into your approach, you can maximize your chances of success not only in the ABH competition but also in your entrepreneurial journey beyond.

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