We are excited to share our first FMS Partner Feature. Our partner organizations are extremely important to us because their work is at the core of what drives our program and our fellows. In a recent conversation with Sara Leedom, co-founder and COO of African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC), she tells us about AEC, how the Frontier Market Scout fellows have impacted their organization and what we can look forward to in the future (including an open job position!).
Tell us about African Entrepreneur Collective
“We whole-heartedly believe in local entrepreneurs, local staff and local leadership!”
African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC) is a network of incubators and accelerators with the goal to create jobs across Africa. Young people across the Continent are more educated and connected than ever before, and yet as countries are seeing double-digit economic growth, young people are often left out of that economic prosperity. We believe that entrepreneurship is a strong solution to the challenge of job creation.
AEC works with young entrepreneurs who already have an idea and a tested model but who can benefit from technical assistance to overcome barriers to their growth. Our ideal client is someone who has worked at least six months on the business and is starting to understand the challenges. At that stage, we want to help support them through those challenges, keeping them in the driver’s seat, and on a healthy path towards success which in turns fosters job creation.
AEC launched in Rwanda, our pilot location, with several offerings: Inkomoko is our core accelerator program, then we launched Tigo’s THINK as the Tech Hub in Kigali to stimulate digital innovation. We also have a student business plan competition, the African Innovation Prize, which allows us to work with entrepreneurs who are still at the idea stage and give them the opportunity to build a business from the ground up. And finally, we’re the Rwanda implementer of SPRING, an incubator for companies serving women and girls.
Through these programs, AEC can really help African entrepreneurs because we have been exactly where they are: we’ve had to find investors, hire local staff, advertise here, etc. There is a lot that we have learned by going through the same exact steps that these business owners are experiencing.
Each of our accelerators have four program elements that we believe must exist simultaneously:
- Access to Capacity Building Services: practical trainings and workshops, classes on HR and Quickbooks, marketing and human centered design.
- Mentorship: each entrepreneur is paired with a mentor from across the globe.
- Technical Assistance: for the items that an entrepreneur doesn’t need to master themselves — lawyers on retainer, logo and website designer, tax accountants
- Access to Finance: through our Kiva-backed loan fund, we provide affordable and flexible in-house loans as well as transparent repayment plans.
This program model is our foundation as we expand to Tanzania in January 2016.
What drives AEC?
Spending time across the Continent, we have met hundreds of amazing young people who have great ideas and visions for their communities, but who didn’t have access to opportunities present in developed economies. We look to support what these youth have identified as needs in their own communities, rather than AEC bringing our own ideas to the community.
One of our main beliefs is that every problem on the continent already has a solution on the continent. Young people in Africa can create their own future and own businesses, creating their own income and adding to the wealth of their communities. Our job is to help weaken any barriers that may stand in their way.
What does impact mean to AEC?
On a practical level, our impact is equipping people to have the skills to create jobs for themselves and others. Our target is that within 18 months of working with us, the entrepreneur will have created on average 10 jobs. When you add the multiplier effect, we are looking at long-term, large-scale impact for job creation across the Continent.
On a philosophical level, our impact is holding up our unwavering belief in young African entrepreneurs, so that investors and policy makers around the world see that African entrepreneurs can create the change that is needed on the continent. It’s about helping shift the dialogue so that it’s not only western investors investing in expats in social enterprise but that the young people who have the most to gain in their communities are the ones to direct the impact. We’re there to tell the stories, raise the profiles, and of course invest in young Africans ourselves.
Why did you choose to partner with FMS?
This is our first year as a partner with FMS. It’s been such a fantastic experience. We’ve also had the chance to meet with other people in the program and continue to be impressed with the skills and impact FMS fellows achieve. We had two scouts this year, one of which we hired full time, and one of whom we were able to bring back for a second contract with us.
Alberto Rodriguez, AEC Portfolio Manager, has a background with Deutschebank in Madrid and had done some work starting a school in Kenya. He is our portfolio manager for both funds and we have been incredibly impressed with his professionalism and ability to help strengthen our efforts.
Aysha Rajput. AEC Communications Fellow, produced our first annual report, facilitated client testimonials and published our newsletters. She’s now continuing on a consulting project with us to help us fundraise. We loved our fellows and are excited to continue working with them.
What’s on the horizon for AEC?
We’re expanding! We will be launching in Western Tanzania in January 2016.
Rwanda was a great pilot program and we are so proud of the work we have been able to achieve. With a small population of 12 million, even if we reached everyone, we would still only access a small slice of what is happening on the continent. We are committed to continuing our efforts in Rwanda and as such, are currently hiring a new Managing Director for our Rwanda location. Applications are open now and we hope to find a great fit soon.
Now that we have tested our model in various formats, we want to be able to bring what we are doing to other communities as well. The relative ease of doing business in Rwanda (low corruption, stable electricity, efficient government systems, etc), also encourages us to stress test our model and see if we can help as much in countries experiencing different complexities. We want to test the model early enough in our development to see what works and what doesn’t and then advance confidently. Our goal is 7 countries by 2022.
We’ve had such a beneficial partnership with FMS and we are excited to bring on more fellows in the future. FMS fellows have been incredibly useful in strengthening and supporting our work which is why we’ve been encouraging other organizations to look to FMS for talent. What’s fantastic is that FMS fellows come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and it’s possible to find a fellow to help with anything from photography to financial modeling to due diligence to fundraising.
There is still time to apply for FMS Monterey! Apply now: FMS Application Winter 2016