To be successful, entrepreneurs’ innovative solutions must meet market demands —SEA

In the build up to the upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Congress 2017 in South Africa, RUTH OLUROUNBI engages Alesimo Mwanga, an economist and a Research Development Executive at SEA Africa, on the roles of the SEA in limiting the barriers in the South African entrepreneurship, as well as Africa in general. 


According to a Gordons Institute for Business Science (GIBS) report on Entrepreneurship in South Africa, although entrepreneurial activity in the country is improving, it lags behind in comparison with other parts of the world. As an institute that links businesses to African markets, what do you make of this?

Through our work, we have noted that there has been an increase in discussions around intra-continental trade to expand market access opportunities for small businesses in countries considered ‘economically competitive’.

Despite the immense potential to realise the benefits attainable for trading continentally, entrepreneurs are faced with challenges such as: trade regulations between countries, limited knowledge on African markets, policies and diverse culture that play a critical role within cross border trade.

Further to this there are limited platforms available to address such barriers which potentially limit opportunities for small business cross trading on the continent. This is not to say there aren’t any activities happening but amidst the activities, there are further hurdles here and there.  Areas we can continue to improve are: further platforms that encourage market exposure for African entrepreneurs’ within the continent and global markets, increased dialogue between role-players and seeking solutions from entrepreneurs within various African markets and using this dialogue to further guide or amend trade regulations, structure functional ecosystems, empower local state institutions that support entrepreneurship on a local level,  explore non-financial support required, expose entrepreneurs to alternative financing options, increasing access to information regarding entrepreneurship on the continent and ensuring this information is penetrated within rural and urban areas.


What do you suppose are the real barriers in South African entrepreneurship?

There are many factors that create barriers in South Africa, as demonstrated by the 2015 GEM Report, such as the education system, access to finance at various stages of entrepreneurship despite the availability of subsidies/grants/development funding as well as limited access to markets.  In South Africa there’s often a culture of risk aversion particularly for start-ups because of stigma of failure around entrepreneurship, policy and regulation contributes to the added frustration faced by entrepreneurs and doesn’t enable an environment for growing and new market entries. With all these limitations and a volatile economy, entrepreneurs will continue to face barriers. However this is the right time to enter the entrepreneurship market, because as problems continue to arise and the global market continues to face constraints, innovative solutions borne through products and services that meet market demands are bound to be successful. The market demands and needs of consumers are changing and it seems small businesses are more inclined to serve this gap.


How specifically has SEA Africa helped grow African entrepreneurship space?

Through our key pillars of research and development, we are able to provide services that assist businesses to grow from one step to another and provide a platform for intra-continental trade. We provide services such as market and industry research, which enables the entrepreneur to gain insight about local and continental markets; impact assessments and feasibility studies, which enable the entrepreneur to determine the viability of their decisions, and we also assist with product development, amongst other services. Furthermore, through our NGO called Centre for African Youth Entrepreneurship (CAYE), we are able to share and encourage an entrepreneurial mind-set amongst high school students across South Africa.


Congratulations to SA for hosting the GEC 2017. Going forward, what do you expect in terms of development, after the conference?

Thank you. We are hoping to create a platform for entrepreneurs and funders/ policy makers to engage and tackle issues post GEC. We also want this platform to foster an entrepreneurial mind-set particularly amongst the youth.SEA Africa is in the process of developing an ED Challenge with partners as a flagship programme to be showcased at the congress. We are encouraged by the measurable and tangible legacy that the GEC ED Challenge will leave behind not only in South Africa but on the continent after the conference.


I was in Milan for GEC 2015 when it was first announced that SA would be hosting the GEC 2017. How ready do you think SA is in hosting this event next year?

We are pleased to share that South Africa is ready to host the GEC 2017. We look forward to interacting with our fellow brothers and sisters from the continent and abroad. Preparations are underway and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) has made many strides in the various committees in Content, PR and Marketing, Logistics and Partnerships. We are preparing to showcase a taste of next year’s GEC event at the Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) in November 2016 in three host cities – Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

The GEC taking place from 13 – 16 March 2017 will be a spectacle and we urge everyone to attend and engage thousands of entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, policymakers and other start up champions from more than 160 countries.


This is the first time an African country will be hosting this event. I’m told that SEA Africa played an important part in securing the bid. If I may ask, what went into the successful bid to host this event?

The bid was a product of a partnership between the SEA Africa, the City of Johannesburg, Department of Small Business Development and ABSA Business Banking. The collective effort entailed private sector and public sector collaborating to ensure we do our best to secure the bid.


Tell me more about SEA Africa

Sustainable Entrepreneur Accelerator (SEA) Africa (Pty) Ltd is a research and development firm that supports businesses in various African markets. Our business model is built not only in offering clients the basic primary research but through the conceptual design research seek to perceive, substantiate and collate critical business knowledge for our clients.

Our company values (Innovation, Accountability, Diversity) was built on the principle that Africa is an OVUCA world (Opportunity, Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) hence acknowledging that our clients are great assets to us, we strive daily to ensure they are sustainably positioned in various strategic projects. The projects from clients are managed internally by our team of experts. We collaborate with key individuals who assist our team of experts on the ground. With over 20 years of combined industry experience; we are an energetic, talented, flexible and open-minded young team with various Masters qualifications, possessing credible track records and ready to ensure your sustainability in strategic business projects.