On a bus en route to North Harvard, I sat eagerly preparing LDI Africa’s business pitch while identifying which entrepreneurs and panelists to reach out to at the Harvard Business School’s Annual African Business Conference.
After finding my way through Harvard’s heavily trafficked streets, I arrived at the Business School’s humble and historic campus. To my delight, I found myself in the right place; in a room full of elegantly dressed people who looked and sounded nothing like me.
Friday night’s networking event was full of young professionals – novice or seasoned in their respective professions, they all eagerly handed out business cards, spoke of their ambitions, while warming up to New England’s frosty weather with delicious h’eurdurves and cocktails. I crossed paths with many a Ghanaian and Nigerian that night. The younger of the like, those pursuing MBA’s in the United States, told me they had heard of LDI Africa. While others who listened to me speak of our services were eager to learn more about our fellowship program.
The prospect of recruiting more MBA’s to our inaugural class of Fellows fueled my conversations, but it was not until I stumbled into a conversation, discussing with older professionals social enterprise investing and competition, that I began to internalize the gravity of each introduction and motive communicated that night. I gleaned one lesson from that night – you get very few chances to impress a potential ally, so execute, and execute rapidly. Business cards in hand, occupied with self-reflective thoughts of how LDI Africa can do better than any other volunteer service enterprise, I left exhausted and better prepared for Saturday’s lecture series.
In spite of the meticulous preparation that the planning committee had put into Saturday’s keynote speeches, the sector-specific panel discussions were what fueled constructive debate and got people’s pens moving. I sat in lectures that addressed VC capital acquisition and the dos and don’ts for entrepreneurs. The most memorable panelists were: Jeremy Hondara of Rocket Internet and Jumia, Walter Lamberson of Open Capital Advisers, Gregory Rockson of M-Sika, and Ehgosa Omoigui of Echo VC. Amidst the hundreds of nuggets of useful advice, espoused in each panel, the following statements carried the most weights and significance to those involved in the start-up and early stage investment game:
· Competition in Africa is unorganized, meaning that most markets are ripe for the picking
· Execution and delivery innovation are what funders seek in potential partners
· African SME’s and social enterprises need professionals who know how to scale; they need professionals that can move fast and never tire out
· Mentorship programs and the cross-pollination of knowledge will foster an environment for skilled professionals to thrive and grow African businesses
· Management teams who know how to build up their employees and make tactful use of resource is imperative in early-stage success
All of the above – meeting with aspiring professionals and seasoned veterans, reevaluating LDI Africa’s offer and vision, and the valuable lessons from the lecture series – have further fortified my conviction that LDI Africa’s mission will create partnerships and pipelines that foster social and economic development on the Continent via talent acquisition and retention; mentorship; and scalable and profitable growth among Africa’s risk takers and lenders.