Global Entrepreneurship Week- GEW 2020

Join GEN- Sierra Leone and Innovation SL in celebrating this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week (16th – 22 November)

Share the link below and follow the discussion on the GEN- Sierra Leone facebook page.

About GEW:

Every year in November, Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) inspires, connects mentors, and engages aspiring and established entrepreneurs through tens of thousands of activities. Powered globally by the Kauffman Foundation, GEW is made up of host organizations running national campaigns in 170 countries along with partner organizations who hold events & activities during the Week
Introduce the notion of entrepreneurial behavior to as many people who otherwise might not have considered it as a path in their life.
Network people across national boundaries in a global effort to find new ideas at the intersection of cultures & disciplines.
Enlist active and inspirational innovators around the world to coach and mentor the next generation as they pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.
Demonstrate to opinion leaders and policymakers that entrepreneurship is central to a nation’s economic health and culture and to provide different nations with the opportunity to learn from each other on entrepreneurial policy and practice.

A Proud Day

Today is a very proud day for Innovation SL and Innovations Axis.

When we started this journey, it was about one thing-creating systemic change in SL by supporting high growth and value creating entrepreneurs. We believed the best way to do this is by enabling an entrepreneurial ecosystem which is crucial to supporting growth entrepreneurs. Since 2017, we have been doing just that.

In July 2019, Isatu Harrison- Izelia came to see me. After 10 mins into the conversation, I asked one simple question- What do you need to realize your dream? She said a space.

In our incubator and accelerator, we have a space. We walked up stairs and she says,”this is exactly what I am looking for”.

We knew in our hearts that with such a space, Izelia would make a transformation. And true to our vision and strategy, we did not hesitate to say to Isatu, we offer you the sapce as part of our incubation and acceleration support.

Today May 11th 2020, she has opened the space with 50 jobs! 50 tailors employed creating garments.

At Innovation SL and Innovations Axis, we are proud. We are proud of Izelia. We believe in her vision, her commitment and her innovative capacity.

We are also proud of all the start-ups under our incubation program- our tech start-ups, our Agri business, our circular economy and fashion and fashion accessories. One that deserves mention is Yembeads, fashion accessories. Yembeads will start to train women with polio in Freetown. Often these women, on their wheelchairs, could be seen begging along the streets of Freetown.

With support from the US Ambassador, we will train 30 of these women in bead-making. They will form part of the supply chain for this start up- Yembeads. I have a personal story that bears on this.

Last November, I was on an Ethiopian Airlines flight and wanted to buy some gifts for my wife and daughter. In the in-flight magazine were lovely beads made by South African grandmothers that were taking care of their grandchildren. Why? The mothers had died of HIV Aids.

Imagine, our start up selling her beads with a similar story- made by women suffering with polio that used to beg along the streets of Freetown.

And through our ecosystem development partners, we will get Yembeads into the airlines flying to and from SL!

Once again, Izelia we are proud of you.

Building the next generation of Entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone

Building the next generation of  entrepreneurs – high growth (scalable) and value creating – in Sierra Leone is not a walk in the park; it is not just about incubating start-ups and or accelerating scale ups. It is about cultivating shared values; about connecting ecosystem actors, and about taking a long view.

The current cohort of 12 start-ups, have been with us from 6 months to 12 months. We have followed the Start-ups commons framework, and all but save 2 are well into the developing an MVP. We have created our own customised MVP development template that focuses on validation—validating the product/service, the target segment/customer. Building the framework for validation, our cohorts are developing User Personas and Empathy maps. These user personas are realistic as possible…with names such as Aminata and Sorie…or Mr. Davies. Our cohorts have developed group personas and single user personas so that the MVP captures the basic needs and goals of a single user or a defined group. Much of the “needs and goals” were already developed by our cohorts through their value proposition canvass (as part of defining the value proposition for the BMC). In the value proposition canvass they looked at the customer jobs, pain, gains etc…

Next stage is they take the user personas developed and test them with our ecosystem partners…these could be potential customers or a partner-for example- UNDP Accelerator Lab.

All of this we are doing in a nascent entrepreneurial ecosystem. Obviously, this  is challenging to say the least. For example, we developed an MVP for an innovation that will disrupt the low-cost housing market. We, however, cannot validate this because much of the ecosystem for this innovation is not in place. We have to halt iterating until we have created the ecosystem (at least the key components) that will support the growth of this new sector.

And this is pretty much the same with some of the other cohort members. While we are developing from concept to idea to MVP, we must also develop the ecosystem- not an easy task!

When one considers that some elements of the ecosystem are public good/ service, you begin to understand why taking a long view is important…the only way we can justify the time and investment in putting the ecosystem in place.

We do not have a formula or a model. We have frameworks, tools and templates. Recognising commonalities and accommodating for what is unique in our ecosystem, we contextualize our approach and customise our incubation and acceleration frameworks, tools and templates.

This is important; we are not training entrepreneurs! We are working with the entrepreneur to develop their idea. While going through the process from Ideation, Concepting, Committing, Validating, Growth, the entrepreneur will be learning essential entrepreneurial, technical and management skills…and this is key…they are learning…. we are not teaching them.

One of the primary motivations in establishing Innovation SL (Innosl) was to deviate from the standard approach to nurturing innovators in Sierra Leone. This has largely been based around the running of competitions, focusing on the top three out of 50 submissions, with these three frequently receiving monetary prizes, with little or no follow up or support.

This approach has not delivered systemic entrepreneurship and certainly not delivered entrepreneurial success compared to, for example, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Senegal.

Since Innosl’s establishment our focus has been on developing value-creating and high-growth (as opposed to rent-seeking) entrepreneurs. We believe that, for entrepreneurship and innovation to play their crucial role in creating jobs and diversifying and growing Sierra Leone’s economy, such entrepreneurs must be encouraged. For this to take effect, the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem must be in place and enabled.

Developing key components of the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem and enabling other parts suited to nurturing value-creating and high-growth potential start-ups and scale-ups, is central to our work.

Our cohorts are focused on solving a problem- a tier one problem; they see developmental challenges as processes, systemic failures rather than simply a lack of resources.

To all our cohorts… amazing members of our cohorts; the young women and men that visit us weekly to go through their BMC and LMC(Business Model Canvass and Lean Model Canvass respectively) . You are one bunch of amazing people. You have a shared value of having a mission of something bigger, much bigger than you! We are here to serve you.