Building the Entrepreneurial Eco System in Sierra Leone Part II

In July, I wrote a paper on why we need to build an entrepreneurial  ecosystem in Sierra Leone to support a new breed of entrepreneurs. In that paper I discussed rent seeking vs value creating entrepreneurship. I argued that we need to build an ecosystem in Sierra Leone that supports the value creating entrepreneurs.

In this follow up, I am going to discuss entrepreneurial ecosystem and high growth firms.  I will also look at why Government and its donor partners needs to shift policy towards supporting high growth entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone. For this policy shift to take place and be successful, we have to move away from top-down interventions towards bottom-up interventions. Research has shown that in many cases, the top-down approach is focused on framework conditions.

In Sierra Leone, it is clear that increasing the number of new business is the policy objective.  My experience is that just focusing efforts on increasing the number of new firms is not a good policy, because very few will achieve significant growth.

If we look at other parts of the world and in some parts of Africa-Kenya and Ghana- many start-up programmes are now concentrating their support efforts on high-growth start-ups. This reflects the growing acceptance that not all start-ups are of equal ‘economic value’.

First, let me borrow from an OECD report, a comparison between Traditional Enterprise policies and Growth-oriented enterprise policies. This will give the reader a clearer picture of what I mean by High Growth Firms.

Traditional Enterprise Policies Growth-Oriented Enterprise Policies
Main unit of focus is on specific actors, such as individuals, entrepreneurs, geographic clusters of firms Main unit of focus is on specific types of entrepreneurs, networks of entrepreneurs or ‘temporary’ clusters
Policy objectives is to generate more entrepreneurs and grow more new ventures Policy objective is to focus on the high potential or ‘blockbuster entrepreneurs’ with the largest economic potential
Policy actors are targeted by specific focused interventions aimed at parts of entrepreneurial systems (i.e. non-systemic) Policy is targeted at connecting components within ecosystems to enable the system to better function (i.e. systemic)
Main forms of assistance are ‘transactional’ forms of support such as grants, tax incentives, subsidies etc. Main forms of assistance are ‘relational’ forms of support such as network building, developing connections between entrepreneurial actors, institutional alignment of priorities, fostering peer-based interactions
Main push by policy makers is to generate and promote entrepreneurial sources of finance aimed at start-ups, particularly in the form of venture capital and business angel funding Recognition that different businesses have different funding requirements such as debt finance, peer to peer, crowdfunding etc. As businesses grow and upscale different firms require access to a ‘funding escalator’ and ‘cocktails’ of different funding sources
The generation of new firm-based intellectual property and innovation was seen as vitally important. The focus was very much on R&D and the protection of intellectual property rights. Focus on developing innovation systems and fostering connections with customers, end users, suppliers, universities etc. Increasing recognition of unprotected and ‘open’ sources of innovation. Innovation is porous transcending many sectors and industries – both new and traditional
The level of policy making is mostly ‘top down’. The implementation of policy is mostly undertaken at national level but some initiatives are devolved. The bulk of systemic policies are enacted at the regional or local level. Multi-scalar policy frameworks are emerging.

* Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and Growth Oriented Entrepreneurship. OECD. Prof Colin Mason and Dr. Ross Brown

From the above, it becomes clear that the focus of the donors and Government has to shift from companies, start-ups to support the ecosystem. In other words, we move to a more system based- holistic- forms of support rather than the current company specific. This calls for supporting networks that work with entrepreneurs, fostering synergies between the different players and building new institutional capabilities. For example, to support incubators, accelerators, tech hubs and science parks. For the record, we have only one tech hub/co working space -Sensi Tech Hub –  in the entire country!

Presently  donor organisations working in the entrepreneurship/SME space use their time and resources “searching” for start-ups, SMEs to provide training and other forms of support to. This may not only be misguided, but in the long run, will bear no result. Indeed, the fact is, there are very few start-ups in Sierra Leone that have the potential to scale. And this may be due to the lack of an entrepreneurial ecosystem that they can tap into.

We face unprecedented opportunities for value creating entrepreneurs and innovators to transform this country. These opportunities come under- Demographic dividend, Digital disruptions, Agtech, The Circular Economy, and Social Entrepreneurship.

The demographic dividend means we have 50% of population have the potential to be productive and contribute to our economy. Demographic dividend, as defined by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) means, “the economic growth potential that can result from shifts in a population’s age structure, mainly when the share of the working-age population (15 to 64) is larger than the non-working-age share of the population (14 and younger, and 65 and older).”

In Sierra Leone we have 50% (3,5million) of the population between the ages of 15-54 years. We have another 40% between the age of 0-14 years. This will be a boost in economic productivity if we can turn them into active economic agents.

Sierra Leone, through high growth, value creating entrepreneurship has the potential to reap this demographic dividend.

Digital disruption is the change that occurs when new digital technologies and business models affect the value proposition of existing goods and services. We see fintech disrupting the provision of financial services, creating opportunities for start-ups.

Digital globalization has opened the door to developing countries, to small companies and start-ups, and to billions of individuals. Tens of millions of small and midsize enterprises worldwide have turned themselves into exporters by joining e-commerce marketplaces such as Alibaba and Amazon. The main factors preventing Sierra Leone enterprise to take advantage of digital globalization, is the poor  and expensive internet service, and an entrepreneurial ecosystem that would provide the kind of services to such enterprises.

Agriculture accounts for 58% of our GDP, employing 80% of our population. Yet agriculture productivity is low and the dollar contribution to GDP is disproportionate. In other countries, due to the use of technology productivity in agriculture is increasing.

Agtech is agricultural software, services, farming techniques, aimed at bringing more data and efficiency to the sector. This sector has attracted interest from tech investors and account for 30% of the 129million dollars that was invested in African startups in 2016. Sierra Leone is ripe for agtech to transform the sector. We already have the likes of Melvin Foday Kamara designing machines to increase agriculture productivity.

A circular economy addresses mounting resource-related challenges for business and economies, and could generate growth, create jobs, and reduce environmental impacts, including carbon emissions.

The circular economy’s potential for innovation, job creation and economic development is huge: estimates indicate a trillion-dollar opportunity.

In Sierra Leone, we have an opportunity to create new businesses and jobs through recycling, waste management and collaborative consumption.

Imagine the collection and processing of plastic waste to finish products or energy can create thousands of jobs. We have a start-up already collecting plastic waste and transforming them into pavement tiles.

Social entrepreneurship offers an altruistic form of entrepreneurship that focuses on the benefits that society may reap. Simply put, entrepreneurship becomes a social endeavor when it transforms social capital in a way that affects society positively. With so many challenges in this country, social entrepreneurs can develop innovative solutions and mobilize available resources to affect the greater society.

There are several advantages of social entrepreneurship. Of particular relevance to Sierra Leone is that it provides employment opportunities and job training to segments of society at an employment disadvantage (long-term unemployed, disabled, homeless, at-risk youth and gender-discriminated women). The example of Grameen and the economic situation of six million disadvantaged women micro-entrepreneurs were improved.

HOWEVER, without an Entrepreneurship Ecosystem that supports value creating and high growth entrepreneurs, we will miss these opportunities.

The term ecosystem was originally coined by James Moore writing in the Harvard Business Review in the 1990s. He asserted that businesses don’t evolve in a ‘vacuum’ and noted the relationally embedded nature of how firms interact with suppliers, customers and financiers.

Since them academics and experts have argued convincedly that  in dynamic ecosystems new firms have better opportunities to grow, and create employment, compared with firms created in other locations.

This also echoes the argument of Bathelt et al (2004) that wider global linkages – beyond those connecting firms to product markets – play an important role in the development of entrepreneurial ecosystems. They argue that as well as engaging in localised learning, firms also seek to build channels of communication with selected external partners to access more specialized knowledge and assets not available locally. These so-called global pipelines are seen as being particularly important in the early stages of ecosystem formation, providing access to markets, resources and knowledge before a critical mass is available locally.

This is part of the work the organisation I lead is focusing on. I am responsible for expanding collaboration among Sierra Leone’s entrepreneurship ecosystem leaders and connecting them to their counterparts in more than 170 countries.

There is also another compelling reason why we should direct efforts to building an ecosystem. Foreign tech investors are attractive to African countries with a very strong entrepreneurial ecosystem. The likes of Zukkerberg, Bill Gates, Serge Brine, all are active investors in the tech space in Africa.

In 2016, more than 129 million dollars went into African start-ups. 146 start-ups raised investment, an increase of 17 percent from 2017.Those start-ups that attractive investments have strong entrepreneurial ecosystem to support them.

Further, SeedStars World’s index revealed the correlation between the strength of countries’ entrepreneurial ecosystem and national GDP: The three countries with the highest scoring entrepreneurial ecosystems – South Africa, Kenya, and Rwanda – all exhibit higher than average GDP per capita.

In conclusion, it is my professional opinion that until we direct our efforts to supporting networks that work with entrepreneurs, fostering synergies between the different players and building new institutional capabilities, we will fail to capitalise on the potential of entrepreneurs and innovators to transform our economy, our society and people.

Towards building an Entrepreneurship Ecosystem- Global Entrepreneurship Week and Freetown Pitch Night-The Role and Significance of the Freetown Pitch Night

From November 13th to the November 17th the world, including Sierra Leone, will celebrate the Global Entrepreneurship Week. Global Entrepreneurship Week is the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job creators who launch start-ups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and expand human welfare.

During one week of every November, GEW inspires people everywhere through local, national and global activities designed to help them take the next step in their entrepreneurial journey. These activities, from large-scale competitions and events to intimate networking gatherings, connect participants to potential collaborators, mentors and even investors – introducing them to new possibilities and exciting opportunities.

In Sierra Leone, GEN SL and Innovation SL as National Hosts have organised several activities to inform and inspire.  The highlight of the week is the GEW 2017 Freetown Pitch Competition. The finals will see a winner – GEW Sierra Leone Entrepreneur attend the Global Entrepreneurship Congress.

As much as this prize is important, it is the role of the Freetown Pitch and its significance in building an entrepreneurship ecosystem in Sierra Leone that is the subject of this paper. Click the link below to read or download the paper.



LIMKOKWING co-host of the Global Entrepreneurship Week Sierra Leone 2017

Global Entrepreneurship Week


Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) is the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job creators who launch start-ups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and expand human welfare.

During one week each November, GEW inspires people everywhere through local, national and global activities designed to help them take the next step in their entrepreneurial journey. These activities, from large-scale competitions and events to intimate networking gatherings, connect participants to potential collaborators, mentors and even investors—introducing them to new possibilities and exciting opportunities.

This year is particularly special for Global Entrepreneurship Week – marking the 10th year for the global movement and weeklong celebration. It is also the first year it will be held in Sierra Leone.

GEN Sierra Leone and Innovation Sierra Leone are the National hosts for the Global Entrepreneurship Week, Sierra Leone 2017.

Our co-host is the Sierra Leone chapter of the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology. Limkokwing University of Creative Technology is an international University with a global presence across Asia, Africa and Europe. Founded in 1991, the University has established worldwide recognition through its innovative brand of creative education merging the best of East and West learning.

Limkokwing Institute of Creative Technology (as it was then known) was established in 1991 by founder and namesake Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Dr Lim Kok Wing.  Its first campus consisted of a few bungalows in Jalan Tun Razak, Kuala Lumpur.

Limkokwing University has a presence across three continents with over 30,000 students coming from more than 165 countries, studying in its 12 campuses.

Limkokwing Sierra Leone campus is located at Hill Station on the Western part of Freetown, the capital city. The campus was established in April, 2014, but it opened its doors to students in July 2016.

Limkokwing University officially launched its new campus in Sierra Leone on 18th March 2017.

At the launch, Tan Sri Lim said the University’s branch campus’ main role in the country is to use education as a means to help in the social and economic transformation of Sierra Leone.

“In establishing ourselves here, we have given ourselves the role of a global connector in promoting Sierra Leone, making use of the resources of our campuses  across the world and the collegial network we have built, we shall work to bring the world to Sierra Leone and take Sierra Leone to the world.”

Tan Sri Lim also added that Limkokwing University has begun the process of transformation by creating the most high-tech learning environment to empower students with the latest in digital technology. This is in line with the University’s vision to create graduates that will go on to become technology-savvy movers and shakers of the country.

“Here at this University, a student from even the most remote part of Sierra Leone will become a technology competent individual who is creative and innovative.”

The values of Limkokwing Sierra Leone resonates with the objectives of GEW, which are;

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.

As Co-host, Limkokwing Sierra Leone will host the finals of the GEW 2017 Freetown Pitch Competition. This is the main event of the GEW Sierra Leone 2017 celebrations.

The finals will see a winner emerge as the GEW Sierra Leone 2017 Entrepreneur.

The winner will get a paid trip to the Global Entrepreneurship Congress. Every year, the Global Entrepreneurship Congress gathers together thousands of entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, policymakers and other startup champions from more than 170 countries to identify new ways of helping founders start and scale new ventures around the world. At the weeklong GEC, delegates make connections, gain insights, learn about new research, and leave ready to renew their programs, policy ideas or firm founder skills.

GEC 2018 takes place in Istanbul, Turkey — a thriving startup hub that is both an economic and cultural cornerstone of Europe and Asia.

The two Runners up will win a place at Sensi Tech Hub. This prize is donated by Sierra Leone Brewery Limited.

What is Pitch Night?

Pitch Night is a night, which provides budding entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone the opportunity to pitch their post revenue business. At pitch night entrepreneurs provide a holistic view of their business to a vibrant Sierra Leonean entrepreneur community allowing them to market their business, solicit feedback, advice and potential partnerships.

Pitch Night Purpose

    • Increase desirability and confidence in pursuing entrepreneurship.
    • Provide pitch practice to entrepreneur.
    • Role-model pitching and entrepreneurship to others.
    • Provides stability to entrepreneurship activities.
    • Provides linkages to markets, investors, partners, customers, suppliers, business support services, and capacity developers.



The Significance of Freetown Pitch Night

The Freetown Pitch Night is part of efforts to build an ecosystem in Sierra Leone that will support a new breed of entrepreneurs-value creating entrepreneurs.

Value creating entrepreneurs need an ecosystem that would allow them to flourish. We are beginning to now see the slow emergence of a significant number of such entrepreneurs.

Freetown Pitch Night provides opportunities to enhance the development of a new breed of value creating entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone; entrepreneurs that will create world class products and services while addressing local needs.

Limkokwing University is known for its unique programmes focused on design, creativity and innovation, and acts as an incubator to harness talent and skill development. The University pioneered the ‘indusity’ programme (industry and university), which sees students work on projects commissioned by its partners and work side-by- side with industry veterans to create original work—all within the University’s multicultural environment. By offering the latest programmes in fashion, architecture, business, media, design, IT, music, games and animation, and exposing students to its industry partners, the University seeks to form the next global generation of achievers who go on to dominate their respective industries.

The Freetown Pitch Night provides a unique platform for students of Limkokwing Sierra Leone to showcase their innovations, and entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas. It is a platform for them to connect, build their network and crucially demonstrate their innovative abilities.