Fayelle Ouane – managing director of SUGUBA, which is working to boost entrepreneurship in Francophone West Africa – explains why her company aims to unleash the entrepreneurial talent of youth and women.
SUGUBA, meaning ‘big marketplace’ in Mande, aims to accelerate prosperity, job creation and social progress in the region by increasing the number of investible start-ups and providing a hands-on way to transform them into sustainable businesses. The platform, which was a partner of CTA’s Pitch AgriHack 2018 competition, also enables start-ups to network with each other to fuel regional expansion and regional trade and help them develop robust integrated value chains.
What key components are needed to support a developing company?
We customise each approach because all businesses are different. Some of them have very strong teams with a range of technical, managerial and financial expertise. But someone alone with a business idea, and without any knowledge on how to draw up a financial statement or raise funds is a very different case. That is why we start by assessing the entrepreneur’s skills, and development opportunities in terms of the team, financial strategy and capacity to raise the funds needed for the company’s growth. We then customise our approach based on this initial assessment to enable the entrepreneur to progress and improve the company’s performance. The entrepreneur also benefits from the advice and connections we facilitate with mentors, coaches and experts in different fields.
How relevant are programmes like CTA’s Pitch AgriHack competition for supporting young agripreneurs?
This programme is very precious to us. Two paramount features for Africa’s socioeconomic development are combined in this competition, i.e. agriculture and agribusiness, along with new technology and digital development. These aspects are highly relevant, especially for the countries we are currently covering – Mali, Senegal and also soon Côte d’Ivoire. During the competition, we developed and provided training on business planning and investment to the start-ups. We looked at available funding sources and the key components that start-ups need, such as robust corporate financial statements, to be able to pitch to investors and raise funds.
At Pitch AgriHack 2018, SUGUBA sponsored a prize for the best women-led company which was awarded to the Beninese start-up Fenou Packaging. Why did it win?
The winning entrepreneur was highly dynamic and motivated, and their business model was in line with SUGUBA’s vision – facilitating trade between Francophone countries instead of exporting raw materials and importing expensive finished products. Fenou Packaging is the type of company that will serve as a catalyst for intra-regional trade growth in West Africa while promoting the development of agribusiness industries.
Fenou Packaging produces top quality, completely biodegradable packaging that is environmentally-friendly and improves the quality of locally produced goods. We were also impressed by the fact that Fenou Packaging has tailored an artificial intelligence tool to help customers quickly select the right packaging for different products. In the region, increasing numbers of locally processed products are sold in supermarkets, but customers are turned off by the poor-quality packaging, thus prompting them to buy imported goods.
How is SUGUBA supporting intra-regional trade in West Africa?
First, we are trying to connect entrepreneurs from different countries. For instance, we could put a Malian mango producer in contact with a jam factory in Senegal since most mangoes produced in Mali are currently exported to the EU, where over half of the produce is dumped due to fruit quality issues. We hope that value will be generated and preserved in the region by connecting entrepreneurs.
The second initiative we are working on is the Made in West Africa conference scheduled for 2019. A major exhibition will showcase the best local producers and enterprises. We aim to promote these industries by connecting them with investors. Alongside the exhibition, we plan to organise a summit with trade ministers from the sub-region and other key stakeholders (e.g. custom’s directors) to encourage our leaders to make substantive commitments to promote regional trade and implement the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement.
The next Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum in South Africa will focus on women’s technological role in agriculture. Why is SUGUBA involved in the development of agri-tech businesses spearheaded by women?
Women are under the spotlight at SUGUBA because we are truly convinced that they face much greater obstacles than male entrepreneurs in Africa. We are also aware of their huge potential, which has yet to be sufficiently tapped and developed. We are striving to identify the impediments they face and solutions we could provide, particularly through our network of coaches, experts and mentors. Everyone knows that women put in the most work in agriculture and agribusiness, but benefit the least. SUGUBA’s priority is to try to redress this imbalance and empower women in the value chain.