Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) are important drivers of growth in economies across Sub Saharan Africa, accounting for up to 90% of all businesses in these markets.
As SMEs are critical to Africa’s development, so is the support needed to ensure the success of the entrepreneurs behind them. Entrepreneur Support Organisations (ESO) are critical to the success of the entrepreneurship sector, providing entrepreneurs with business training, access to markets, networks and mentors, financial and social capital, and in-kind support. They are key to unlocking the pipeline of early-stage innovation in Africa, and driving investment and job creation across the continent.
Innovation SL Ltd (Inno SL) is an ESO established in Sierra Leone in March 2017. The founder is a Sierra-Leonean born Norwegian with 20 years in Entrepreneurship Ecosystem development. One of the primary motivations in establishing Inno SL was to deviate from the standard approach to nurturing innovators in Sierra Leone.
As an ESO, Inno SL engages in the following:
- Innovations Axis – a co-working space with office rentals;
- Freetown Pitch Night – a monthly pitch event;
- GEN Sierra Leone[i] – the GEN Global affiliate in Sierra Leone;
- Inno Incubator and Accelerator;
- Inno Ecosytems – our Ecosystem building and development focussed activities; and
- Inno Project Management – dialoguing and engaging for and on entrepreneurship development with interested stakeholders including government (national and local), development partners and academia.
[i] The Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) is an internationally known entrepreneurship support coalition. GEN Global seeks to enhance its ability to foster and support entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone. Dedicated to advancing human welfare by propelling entrepreneurs, GEN Global’s identifying marks are recognized and respected across the globe.
GEN Sierra Leone’s mission is to galvanize, organize, support and energize a vibrant ecosystem that will support the growth of entrepreneurship in Sierra Leone. GEN aims to give every potential entrepreneur in Sierra Leone the opportunity to start a business, and to help established entrepreneurs realize their dreams.
GEN Sierra Leone is an independent, run by Innovation SL Ltd, that is recognized by GEN Global as its affiliate in Sierra Leone and is organized for the purposes of impacting Sierra Leone’s entrepreneurship ecosystem by identifying and implementing effective programs, initiatives, and policies that foster and support Sierra Leone’s entrepreneurs. These include, but are not limited to:
- Expanding the number of Sierra Leoneans who start new growth-oriented firms or work for start-ups by fully legitimizing entrepreneurs in the culture;
- Increasing understanding between the new and traditional elements of Sierra Leone’s economy through the constructive engagement of broad-based coalitions of public and private sector leaders in supporting smart, evidence-based programs and public policies that strengthen the ecosystem;
- Supporting the emergence of Sierra Leone’s entrepreneurs by translating state-of-the-art research findings into viable policy action, implementing world-class programs, and curating connections to international networks; and
- Providing and facilitating, inter alia, education, information exchange, and collaboration on GEN Global and other advanced programs and initiatives at the local level.
GEN Global grants to Innovation SL Ltd the charter to be an Affiliate of GEN Global. In accordance therewith, Innovation SL Ltd is authorized to use the name “Global Entrepreneurship Network,” the Global Entrepreneurship Network, acronym “GEN,” and logo of Global Entrepreneurship Network in or in connection with GEN Sierra Leone and Innovation SL Ltd’s name, acronym and logo, with the authority to use such marks in connection with GEN Sierra Leone and Innovation SL Ltd activities.
GEN Global specifically authorizes Innovation SL Ltd /GEN Sierra Leone and to conduct the following activities within Sierra Leone under the GEN brand:
- Fostering and rendering assistance to entrepreneurs, providing an accessible source of information pertaining to entrepreneurship;
- Advocating for the development programs and policies that foster and support entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone;
- Form and enter into partnerships and agreements with companies/organisations/donors/city government/authorities, representatives of Foreign Governments in Sierra Leone and such other activities as may be consistent with the mission and purposes of GEN Sierra Leone.
We believe entrepreneur support organisations (ESOs) are the key to unlocking pipeline and catalyzing early stage investment across the continent.; the entrepreneur support sector is critical to the future of sustainable economies in Africa “ Village Capital Unlocking Pipeline
From our establishment in 2017 our focus has been on developing value creating and high growth entrepreneurs as opposed to rent seeking entrepreneurs. Further, we have sought to deviate from the standard approach to nurturing innovators- through innovation competitions that focus on the top 3 winners out of 50 submissions. These top three will get cash prizes with little and sometimes no follow up.
The evidence is clear; this approach has not delivered on systemic entrepreneurship and certainly not delivered on enough entrepreneurship success compared to Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Senegal for example.
We believe that for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to play the crucial role in creating jobs and growing the Sierra Leonean economy, we need to develop value creating and high growth entrepreneurs. For this to happen, the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem must be in place and enabled.
This is why our approach has been based on developing components of the ecosystem; and enabling other parts of the ecosystem that is suited to nurturing value creating and high growth potential startups and scale ups.
In 2019 we began our incubation and acceleration program. The program is located at Kingtom which is a space we have under a separate company- Innovations Axis. One of the shareholders and a Director is Walid Bahsson. Walid is a leader in the building the circular economy ecosystem.
At the end of 2019, we have 12 start ups under incubation in various stages of the development. Already one of our start-ups under incubation, has generated revenues of 90 million leones. In 2020, this same start-up will generate a further 350million leones.
Five of our start ups are at the validation start phase and this process will continue for another six months in 2020. Validation remains one of the most part of our incubation program, where the focus is on an MVP that is going to address a tier 1 problem for a particular customer segment.
In 2019 our start-ups were made up as follows:
- 50% students (each of these start-ups had at least two women as co-founders)
- 40% women founders
- 20 % non-students
- The age group range from 22 years to 35 years old.
The Sustainable development Goals (SDGs) are the “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”. InnoSL is committed to the SDGs in general and these in particular:
- Goal 2: Zero Hunger
- Goal 4: Quality Education
- Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
- Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
We believe that the private sector has a role to play in meeting these goals. As an Entrepreneur Support Organisation, we will focus our incubation and acceleration programs on entrepreneurs that are developing solutions to meet these goals
An entrepreneurial ecosystem where Sierra Leone’s largest companies, academic institutions, MDAs & international partners interact with entrepreneurs, individuals, graduates & alumni of entrepreneurial organisations, providing a strong source of ‘cultural & intellectual capital’ – fueled by highly-networked & experienced mentoring & capital, supported by our incubator & accelerator.
Our Strategic Focus & Goals