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We were invited to work with the UN’s World Food program and the Elon Musk funded XPRIZE Foundation on their efforts to democratise access to the resources they have available to agritech founders across the world. The context of our invitation was this, how do we get more African tech founders engaging with our resources?” As program organisers working directly within the African tech ecosystem, we are providing the organisations with our insight. Our secret sauce or primary methodology is co-creation. With that in mind, ahead of the visit to meet the teams of both organisations in Munich, we asked some of our founders to give their views on the topic as well. A couple of the Afritech XYZ founders and our team are heading to Munich to discuss these insights in detail.
The UN’s World Food Programme has been tasked with delivering the Global Learning XPRIZE; a $15 million competition sponsored by Elon Musk which challenges teams from around the world to develop technology created to support children’s education in the world’s poorest and most remote places.
For those of you that don’t know, XPRIZE uses large-scale global incentive competitions to crowdsource solutions to global social challenges and strives to inspire and guide innovators to create breakthroughs for a world “where every man, woman and child can access all the energy, clean drinking water, shelter, education and healthcare they require”.
The AfriTech XYZ team asked some of our founders what barriers they faced within the African agriculture ecosystem, particularly when applying to large-scale, international startup competitions. While our founders strive to solve a range of problems in different parts of the continent within the agriculture space, their struggles as African entrepreneurs are very much shared across contexts.
The challenges of having a solid “proof of concept” and proving sustainability
This is a very real issue for many entrepreneurs worldwide - but fundamentally more challenging for African startups who tend to not be gifted with easy access to capital.
According to Luna Bawa, CEO of EveryFarmer, “a real challenge for us in the African agriculture founder community is being able to demonstrate return on investment. I find the level of data that international large-scale competitions require in order to prove viability can hinder our ability to progress through to final rounds. This is often through no real fault of our own as the data for elements such as governing laws, regulations, land ownership, insurance, agronomics, and price volatility are just not available. Our inability to evidence profitability because of these gaps in our documentation can inevitably lead to rejection.”
While not being able to obtain data to prove business sustainability hinders progress in applications, some founders express an added challenge of not having the capacity to pull the needed data together to a standard that would be suitable for large scale competitions.
Apprehensions around intellectual property and business readiness
Joash Bwambale, CEO of IRRISOL tells us:
“One of the key challenges I’ve come across is startups’ lack of understanding of Intellectual Property. A lot of African agricultural founders haven’t patented their solutions and also don’t really know the legal steps to take in order to protect their ideas. The fear of their idea being stolen or copied by other people often puts them off applying for international startup competitions. Those that do apply sometimes worry about disclosing too much information about their business for this very reason”.
Not giving enough information about the startup’s true capabilities immediately puts it at a disadvantage and in some cases can cause its elimination from the process. This highlights a real need for startups on the continent to be part of a support network that not only provides information on every area of business growth but also access to people that can help them understand the complex entrepreneur landscape.
With so little funding available to pay professionals to effectively protect the startup’s rights during the process, vague language about the way information submitted will be used during and after the competition is a hindrance. The burden should be on the side of the international organisations running the competitions. Providing a webinar or two about the way their information will be used, the rights of the startups and the expectations on both sides of the table would help ease apprehensiveness and encourage more African startups to trust that they are not ultimately being taken advantage of.
One of the things we did in building the AfriTech XYZ application and recruitment process was to recruit a selection committee of figures the startups were already familiar with and could trust. We effectively traded on the trust the startups already had with our brand and borrowed the trust they have in the members of our selection committee (as approachable experts within a small but thriving ecosystem).
Competitions need a more inclusive measure of financial success
Cynthia Aveh, Founder of Trusteefarm, thinks that the requirements to advance through these competitions are almost insurmountable:
“A typical example of the requirements in a competition states that the startup must have $100,000 in annual sales or revenue, must have raised about $500,000 or more in investments and must have a team with some professional backgrounds and so on. A lot of African startups have yet to have this level of capital in their business so it becomes a real barrier for founders to feel confident in applying.”
When developing criteria for the application process, are the competitions that seek to engage founders worldwide actually inclusive of those founders experiences? A simple example is currency exchange rates. A highflying early-stage startup in an African country could be making very impressive revenue, but when put in context of the criteria of some competitions and that revenue is converted to USD or GBP, it pales in comparison to the revenue being accumulated by startups already in those regions working primarily in that currency. It forms a bias immediately. It sacrifices high potential African early-stage startups for late-stage startups and puts them in competition with early-stage startups from wealthy countries with more favourable currency conversion rates.
The way we sought to tackle this in AfriTech XYZ was to create an “up to” barrier rather than an “over and above” barrier. That means our language clearly expresses the criteria we apply doesn’t discourage startups that have not yet made that level of finance from trying to become part of the cohort. What tends to happen is that if a startup is not yet making $100,000 in annual revenue but does fit the majority of the other clearly laid out criteria, they are not discouraged from applying. In most cases, the revenue barrier is used as a proxy for an assumption that program designers are making. However, it is rare for assumptions to work in a global context. Instead, fill the application with yes or no and multiple-choice questions that can be used internally to develop a rich scoring system that will put all the applicants on a level playing field.
Issues with infrastructure, bias and network
The need for a better infrastructure across Africa continues to be a topic of discussion - and for very good reason. Poorly built roads, frequent power surges, and underdeveloped transportation can challenge a company’s ability to produce and deliver services on time, to the point of inhibiting growth and incurring losses, our founders tell us. Founders also feel that international investors hesitate to fund companies in the agricultural space in Africa because the risks can be deemed too high.
“Apart from underdeveloped infrastructure, the wide range of confusing political, regulatory, and trading laws and trading in multiple currencies can limit the expansion of an agricultural business within the continent,” explained Cynthia Aveh. Founders’ awareness of these issues puts them off applying for growth funds because they are acutely aware of the environmental shortcomings such as infrastructure and existing working capital.
High-tech isn’t always the best tech
While more and more startups are adopting technology to help solve problems within the agricultural space, some of our founders feel that high-tech solutions aren’t necessarily always the best solutions. Angie Madara, founder of Growd Global, who previously ran a startup in the AgriTech sector explains:
“While high-tech solutions are highly sought, smallholder farmers in most of the developing markets are low-tech or even non-tech users. Lack of the necessary infrastructure in these areas can mean that high-tech solutions are impossible to adopt by farmers. The solutions can be impractical and unworkable due to lack of required understanding and resources to implement the technology.
“What chances do we have when most competitions these days only pick solutions that are extremely high-tech? I also think that most investors in these competitions don’t understand the end-users and therefore what help or solutions can they offer for problems they don't understand themselves?”
This sentiment is one we have heard a lot as we speak to investors across Europe and the UK about barriers they face when it comes to investing in African tech startups. The solution that most seem to agree on is the need to identify strong partners in individual countries who understand the local landscape and have them choose the best of the best on behalf of the competition, fund or grant body. Rather than imposing assumptions on the African tech landscape of shirking it off altogether, identifying partners who understand the landscape, know how to run competitions and scout startups ought to be the most effective way to create a more inclusive system for including the world in a global competition such as the Global Learning XPRIZE. While the competition has done made a commendable effort so far we are encouraged by their effort to double down on their learning to find ways to become even more inclusive in their outreach.
Founders in the African agricultural tech space truly face an uphill task in progressing in large-scale, international startup competitions. Listening to what our founders have to say, it is clear that they all face similar challenges. Barriers to taking their ideas to the next stage include having mentors, business know-how, issues with infrastructure and regulatory conditions and adequate data. There remains so much more to be done in order to support the continent’s innovators in finding solutions to Africa’s development, progress and growth.
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In the first weeks of 2020, I met both Afua Hirsch and Fuse ODG. I bumped into Cephas of 56 Black Men and met 15 African female founders in London on a British government-sponsored trip, in collaboration with our friends at OneTech. Including one founder I mentored who is now part of our AfriTech XYZ cohort.
On the topic of AfriTech XYZ, our startups have begun to take part in their 1-2-1 virtual mentoring sessions with the experts in our network. They have worked with the fantastic Rashida Abdulahi, and have already received warm introductions to the teams at Google Launchpad Africa, Baobab Network and Founders Factory Africa, all of whom we’re extremely glad to have the support of as we roll out our program.
Things haven’t slowed down on the UK front either. We re-launched our My Moon Landing initiative with support from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. We re-vamped our Black and Good initiative, and we’re about to run our first private event with PwC’s Design Thinking team in a few days. This is an exciting year for us as an organisation as we build on the wins and lessons of last year so that we can continue to improve the level and impact of support we offer our beneficiaries.
As for clients, we’re still working with our major ones like the British Council, for whom we’re currently running a virtual mentoring programme as part of a larger piece of work we began last year. You can read up on the project here.
We’re also working on a few projects that I hope we’ll be able to announce next month. Until then, here is a blog post I wrote about my thoughts on Meghan and Harry’s decision to “step back” from their roles as senior royals.
Our Favourite Articles This Month
What We're Reading This Month:
As we continue to grow in capacity as an organisation, we are in need of people that are passionate about the work we do to join us on the journey. Our fifth hire this year will be a Digital Assistant.
Where we'll be in February:
Thanks for reading!
Bayo Adelaja | Chief Do-er at Do it Now Now | This is how I got here
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Join Do it Now Now’s Team
About Do it Now Now
We are creating a world in which every person of Afro-Caribbean descent can gain the skills, tools and resources they need to build a business that improves lives and makes a profit.
We do this through a number of initiatives that seek to identify, engage and significantly support individuals as they seek to solve problems they have experienced in their own communities. Our belief is that by supporting underserved individuals we are championing the needs of underserved communities, bring more equity to the systems that exist.
Geographically we are present in 7 African countries and in the UK. In Africa, we support individuals through entrepreneurship training programs that focus on their adoption of technology and creativity. Through our on the ground programs and virtual mentorship scheme, we are building up our ability to support African entrepreneurs at scale through an easily accessible platform. In the UK we support entrepreneurs through a mixture of online and offline activities, giving black entrepreneurs access to experts, tools and resources they would find difficult to access elsewhere. Through our activities, we are repurposing existing government, charity and corporation resources for the benefit of underserved communities in the UK and in Africa.
Do it Now Now in 2020
We are seeking to ramp up the scalability of our activities. In 2019 we tested a number of methods and have settled on a few that we are going to focus on in 2020.
- Black and Good: Online training community for Afro-Caribbean UK entrepreneurs through which we provide a series of online events and activities to support entrepreneurial development
- Moon Landing: Outreach to black women in underserved communities to help them ideate and build community-focused social enterprises
- AfriTech XYZ: Virtual UK-Africa mentorship platform aiming to support ease of knowledge transfer between tech and non-tech professionals in the UK and startups teams across Africa.
- Common Call: Setting up a social investment fund for African entrepreneurs and UK based social enterprises run by members of our community
Proposed Role: Digital Assistant
We’re looking for someone who
...is passionate about our core values and wishes to pursue work in this space.
...has a desire to understand social media strategy and social media growth.
...has an analytical mind.
…can create graphics on Canva
…is familiar with databases like unsplash
...has an understanding of Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook for business/brand identity.
...wants to learn how to strategise and create powerful content for social media.
8 hours a week
Current university student or recent graduate
3x Instagram posts
3x FB posts
3x Linkedin posts
Growth across all platforms [liking, RTing, commenting on relevant posts]
Round-up report on our interactions on social media
You will be working closely with Ana Bradley, Executive Director of Sentient Media and content strategy specialist. In this role, you will get the chance to learn how to create effective content, how to speak to different audiences and the value of strategy and analytics.
To apply for the role, please register your interest by emailing email@example.com. You will receive an email stating the next steps after that.
Deadline: applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis. This post will be deleted when we have hired the right person for the role.
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The British Council’s West Africa Creative Enterprise Support Programme has an invaluable purpose of energising the growing partnerships between the UK and Nigerian economic hubs and creative sector. With the creative industries in Nigeria growing at an ever fast pace, enabling key organisations to deliver training, mentoring and business development services to young, emerging entrepreneurs in Abuja can be life-changing.
Additionally, the economic potential in sectors such as fashion and film is increasingly being recognised as both viable and sustainable means of livelihoods for young people across Africa. Yet, with sometimes insurmountable hurdles such as weak policy support, a somewhat weak skills base and limited opportunities for networking, collaborations and skills-sharing, this rich potential is often unrealised. This is something we keenly recognise at Do it Now Now and so we were excited when given the opportunity to be involved.
How we’re supporting emerging creative talent with the British Council
The West Africa Creative Enterprise Support Programme began with a two-week intensive training for 60 selected fashion-tech entrepreneurs comprising artistic, technical and enterprise training that is tailored to the needs of each individual entrepreneur. With so much of our program design methodology built around stakeholder engagement, co-creating and co-designing, we enjoyed working with in-country partners and our clients, the British Council to develop something that met their key outcome specifications.
30 of the initial cohort of fashion-tech entrepreneurs were then chosen to participate in a 6-month incubation programme that has allowed their talent to really shine through. This element of the program provides much-needed access to workspace, equipment within the workspace (e.g. for producing new work, filming, editing etc.), training, business support and mentoring.
Once the incubation period ends in May, we’ll be back in Nigeria to support our in-country partners to choose the strongest 5 fashion-tech entrepreneurs who will be awarded grants to help them develop a business plan and help with starting or scaling up their existing businesses.
In the following video, Bayo Adelaja, Chief Do-er, speaks with one of the entrepreneurs, Sule Anthony, who asks why she does what she does at Do it Now Now. Take a look:
How we helped strengthen the economic capacity of some of Nigeria’s talented fashion entrepreneurs - Bayo takes us through the experience:
“We run one of the strongest black entrepreneurship communities in the UK with over 5000 individuals taking part in our activities each year. Of those members are fashion and creative entrepreneurs. That is one of the reasons why we were chosen by the British Council to partner with Assembly Hub, a Nigerian creative community in the design and delivery of a Fashion Incubation program. We engaged fashion entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs and fashion academics from our UK ecosystem to take part in the program we designed based on the expressed needs of the entrepreneurs taking part.
“To engage in this work effectively we researched the creative and fashion entrepreneurship ecosystem in Nigeria extensively, creating references and materials that would resonate clearly and effectively with the 60 entrepreneurs we were supporting. We enjoyed juxtaposing the experience of being a fashion entrepreneur (increasingly a very technology-led experience) in the UK to that in Nigeria (a manual and bespoke focused service) and encouraged our team and trainers to treat their time with the entrepreneurs in Nigeria as a learning experience.
“The 6-month incubation program, which entailed online and in-person mentoring, intensive workshops and peer-support, allowed us to evolve other work we have designed for charities and corporations in the UK and abroad. Crucially, this work specifically shows how important it is to empower people who don’t have access to the necessary resources they need to innovate their way out of some the problems they face. Ultimately, the economic empowerment projects like this can bring to low-middle income economies can essentially benefit not just the local entrepreneurs but, eventually, the whole world.”
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“Is it because I’m black, is it because I’m a woman or is it because I’m both?” There have been a few experiences in my life during which I found myself asking a question no one wants to find themselves asking. It is the sort of question that takes away all the power you have mustered and forces you to recognise that despite your hard work, competence and pleasant demeanour in any and all circumstances, you are still capable of being reduced to stereotypes, prejudices and misrepresentation of your character based on two things that you did not choose and cannot unlearn.
I am a black woman and have grown to be extremely proud of that fact. As an immigrant in the UK, I was challenged in my teenage years by the juxtaposition of my experiences as a member of the racial majority in Nigeria to becoming a representative of a dire minority in the suburbs of Kent. Growing up, I had to teach myself which kind of racism mattered and which kind of racism didn’t. I had to make the distinction between my A-Level History teacher’s treatment of my “forcefulness” which other teachers deemed signs of leadership abilities and the treatment I got from strangers every few months who would yell slurs at me in the street for merely existing. Both are bad, but only one was going to affect my future opportunities.
To be clear, I built a social paradigm that gave me what everyone around me told me I should strive for - the ability to “keep calm and carry on”. In my paradigm, I defined “racism that matters” as “the negative demonstration of unearned or positional power, typically exemplified by socio-economic standing and societal influence, by a person of one race, over a person of another race who is incapable of matching that power, unable to earn that power and therefore cannot counteract the effects of the negative demonstration on their life or livelihood.” Everything else was explained away as, “racial insensitivity”; the result of ignorance, bad parenting, likely hardship that person must have been facing in their own probably terrible lives and so on. It worked for a while. I lived happily in the bubble I created, knit together by sociological theories and paradigms that kept me calm and unproblematic, declawed and unable to fight for my space, my time, or my mental health.
In 2016, when I started my social enterprise Do it Now Now, I recognised only one key problem in my life. It was that despite my qualifications, work history, educational background, articulation and pleasant demeanour in any and all circumstances, there were still many opportunities that I was incapable of accessing despite my racial counterparts enjoying the benefits of those tools and resources. As I tackled one problem, I recognised another. In the many conversations I had with our black female beneficiaries, I heard echoes of the paradigms that were helping me get by. The “racial insensitivity” we had each experienced over years as minorities in a “keep calm and carry on” culture had planted seeds in us and planted common mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. The trend amongst our black female beneficiaries was undeniable so I decided to do a little research and found that, according to the UK’s Office of National Statistics, the most likely racial demographic to experience common mental health disorders in the UK are indeed black women. We addressed this phenomenon by re-vamping our support methodology for black female business owners; for example, support groups and social activities as well as female-only events and programs during which we talked about personal development, building resilience, mental health AND how to build a successful business.
We weren’t taught to value ourselves in this way growing up. We now have language around things like “toxic behaviour”, “microaggressions”, “gaslighting” and the like that more and more black women are adopting and utilising to unlearn their old paradigms and create new ones that put a value on our lives, livelihoods and mental health. Despite this being a full-blown and very active movement in the US, it is still in its very early stages in the black community in the UK. We are still learning that our lives matter, our health matters, our hopes and dreams matter and that our voices matter.
Over the past few days, like many other black women in my sphere of influence, I have found myself incredibly interested in all commotion concerning the announcement made by Prince Harry and Meghan Markel about their decision to “step back” from their role as Senior Royals. Those two words have galvanised a much-needed movement in the black female community; one that encourages black women to value themselves and their personal happiness over the fear of playing into and confirming the stereotype of the “angry black woman” so many expect us to perform.
Step Back is about recognising that ALL racism matters and we each have to decide to defend our lives, livelihoods and mental health from big and small attacks that have previously been explained away as the actions of the ignorant. So to black women, whether you decide to #StepBack by leaving a job that forces you to engage with co-workers that de-value your personhood or you decide to tell your aggressors to #StepBack so you can reclaim your space, as long as you’re doing what you think is right for your life, livelihood and mental health, its the right decision.
In 2020, we are taking our commitment to black women to the next level and including groups that are not noticed in specificity by the data currently made public by the Office of National Statistics in the UK, but certainly in need of similar support. We are glad to have received a pot of funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to create a year-long program that identified 375 black women, black non-binary people and black LGBTQ+ people who have an idea that is going to contribute to the social mobility, resiliency, safety and economic empowerment of people of colour and people living at risk of poverty or in poverty in London. You can find out more here - www.mymoonlanding.com
We’re excited to spend the year identifying, supporting and enriching the lives of people that are typically underserved, unsupported and unrecognised in their work to make London a better place for everyone.