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The many opportunities Angolan entrepreneurs have and the help they need to seize them

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José Carlos Santos, Global Entrepreneurship Week Angola host, and CEO and founding partner of Touch & Talk S.A.

At the recent US-Africa Business Forum, Strive Masiyiwa, founder of telecommunications company Econet Wireless, said: “When young people have ideas, the first and most important thing is to listen to them and to take them seriously.

“What they need is support. They need support from their governments, their regulators – they need investment so they can grow.”

The Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) initiative is a big step towards accomplishing that. Every November, for one week, it celebrates the individuals – not just young people – who have embraced the entrepreneurial spirit, who have launched start-ups, who are helping drive economic growth, and who wish to create a positive impact in their countries.

Since its creation, hundreds of countries have taken steps to nurture their own entrepreneurial ecosystem through activities, global competitions, and networking – helping to connect participants to mentors, collaborators and investors.

How we made it in Africa spoke to Jose Carlos Santos, the organiser of GEW Angola, about the current state of entrepreneurship in the country, where opportunities lie, and where improvements can be made.

What sectors do see young entrepreneurs venturing into in Angola?

We are starting to see a lot of social impact projects and technology-focused companies. This is really great, because Angola has a dependency – going from big corporates, to SMEs, to micro businesses – on external technology, and that is a significant challenge.

Other than that, I think that the healthcare sector presents a big opportunity for entrepreneurs. At GEW Angola we are going to have a panel dedicated to healthcare. We believe that you cannot have a stable entrepreneurial ecosystem if you have health issues like HIV and AIDS – issues that have a huge impact on families, on productivity, on everything.

We’re not really speaking about biotechnology, or robotics, or stem cell research – I think we need to tackle the simple issues that can be huge for Africa as a whole, as well as for Angola specifically.

Another opportunity is data analysis and statistical platforms. I think we lack a lot of data here, and even if it means building up a social network or something in telecommunications, we really need to start looking at data. There are also opportunities on the infrastructure side, mostly in the industries that need highly qualified employees. So I think there is a lot of opportunity.

Describe some of the major challenges facing entrepreneurship in Angola today?

I would risk saying that 80% of our market is not managed by Angolans, and that puts a lot of pressure on the currency, when it comes to trade.

Other than that, we have five big challenges. The first is infrastructure, although there has been a lot of investment. Another challenge is policy – it needs to change. Things like taxes, incentives for entrepreneurs and visa issues need to be improved. The third challenge is an investment incentive for unexplored areas, like technology and innovation. The fourth issue is that capital and funding need to be directed. Investments need to be made more precisely. And as for the fifth one, I would say we have a lot of bureaucratic processes. Things do work, but they are bureaucratic.

What needs to be done to support local SMEs?

What needs to be done really is to raise awareness of the projects and the ideas that we have in a competitive atmosphere. We need organisational support so that we can gain recognition and start to showcase products and compete worldwide. Our government has backed SMEs with its own venture capital funds, but it is still not enough.

We need a more aggressive approach to our SME direction and also a change in policies for the future. But this must happen while enhancing the leadership profile of the entrepreneurship ecosystem with training, mentoring, and academics. When it comes to this last one, we need universities doing research, on economical and health issues, on everything.

In the long term we are moving towards a broader reach worldwide. We need to be able to choose new markets to explore. We also need to be able to leave the traditional markets that we normally trade with, or make them bigger by using different offerings. This means adding to the offerings we have now – so not just exporting raw materials, but also challenging ourselves to create other opportunities, in terms of trades and markets.

In your opinion, what is the most important thing a business needs in order to succeed in Angola?

I would say perseverance, but also exploring the right niche of the market. It doesn’t matter if the idea seems bizarre, but choosing the correct niche is important. Choosing the correct partners or the right investment model is also really important, but I think we need to think big and focus on organisational patterns in a strategic vision for the long term.

How is GEW Angola helping the entrepreneurs who attend?

Mainly, it will support the established ecosystem that we have. But it will also motivate individuals interested in exploring their entrepreneurship potential. There will be broad array of activities, from the local event – with huge global competitions – to events where they can find like-minded entrepreneurs, investors, mentors and government programmes that can help them succeed.

Attendees can share their ideas, experiences and capabilities. Other than that, I really think it will be a great platform for us to be in the same place, discussing the same matters – that is strategic for the future of this country.

We also have a partnership with Global Entrepreneurship Week Botswana, and we’re going to be hosting people coming from Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, and Nigeria to really showcase what they have done locally. We are reaching out for new ideas.

In terms of financing, most entrepreneurs go to banks – you don’t have any other models cutting through and making riskier approaches into investments, and we are going to showcase ideas about this as well.

So GEW will give entrepreneurs a great opportunity to put themselves on a global platform, where they will be able to interchange their ideas, interchange what they have done – but also discuss local issues.

We decided to focus on five panels for five days, starting with youth on day one. The second day is education, the third day is health, the fourth day is productive sectors and the fifth day is technology and innovation.

And we are going to cross the panels – youth with healthcare, education with innovation, innovation with the productive sectors, technology with healthcare, healthcare with education. If we make entrepreneurs collaborate on different things, we are going to have some great ideas and initiatives coming together when the week closes out.

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?

I would say take risks, start investing real early in life, and challenge yourself to do better every day.

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