Last week the Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce held a business breakfast and networking event at the Prestigious InterContinental Hotel in Lagos, Nigeria and the central theme was centred on technology, the new age entrepreneur and the solution that The Marketsquare Africa represents in building business partnerships in today’s world.
At the meeting which had the theme: “The New Age Entrepreneur: Using Technology to Break the Barriers to SME Financing”, Footprint to Africa was recognised as an innovative technology driven platform for business reports and enterprise development.
The Marketsquare Africa is one of Footprint to Africa’s investment promotion services launched in April this year to help businesses find each other and form viable partnerships.
In his opening remarks President of the chamber, Chief Olabitan Famutimi highlighted the melting pot of The Marketsquare Africa initiative and the major focus of the Nigerian-American chamber of commerce.
“What Footprint to Africa is doing dovetails into our major focus; we being the oldest bilateral chamber in Nigeria had been promoting business relationships between Nigeria and the United States of America since our inception in 1960.
Famutimi pointed out that America has been the biggest investor in Nigeria and Nigeria has also been a major exporter to the US.
However he noted that America now becoming self-sufficient in the production of crude oil, Nigeria has no choice than to look at other areas.
“And Nigeria having no other thing to export hitherto, we are now forced to go back to our roots whereby we can export things to earn foreign exchange.
“The chamber has therefore decided to wake up both the government and the Nigerian populace to the potential that has always been there to export to the United States of America, especially through the (African Growth and Opportunity Act) AGOA programme.
“We are doing everything to promote AGOA and so Footprint to Africa being an online platform that is majorly dedicated to inviting and enlightening investors about opportunities in Nigeria, seems to be a natural partner platform for us to relate with and do business with,” he said.
In his remarks the Chief Economic Officer of the United States Consulate in Nigeria, James Plasman representing the Consul General John Bray, noted that financing is a major issue that must be addressed to move small and medium businesses to big businesses and “that is why we must continue to think of new ways to address old problems.”
He said that it is important to be full of optimism and believe that one can succeed in any venture. According to Plasman, “This is therefore an opportunity to address the challenges and constraints head-on and generate new ideas.
“The US stands shoulder to shoulder with Nigeria; we have programmes for all levels, from USAID working with micro businesses to OPIC which supports big businesses and helps conduct feasibility studies.”
A New World of Business
The message of the day became amplified when the stage was mounted by the next speaker, Board member Ambassador Olufemi Ani, who in his thirties became Nigeria’s economic minister to the US in the early 70’s.
Ani started out by urging everyone in the room to be an advocate of doing business on the internet with a point-blank quote from Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft Foundation – “If your business is not on the internet, then your business will be out of business.”
“The accomplishments of people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg in today’s world at relatively young ages is a challenge to Nigerian youths, using this new area of technology to move us into the new world.
“In Nigeria today, we have the likes of Aliko Dangote, Jim Ovia and others who have created a niche for themselves in the economic space, but in the area of e-commerce I find that we are yet to take full advantage of it,” he said.
Ani noted that E-commerce is the future and the role of technology in grooming a new generation of entrepreneurs in Africa is an easily verifiable truism.
“I find that in Nigeria we tend to underestimate our natural advantages, take India for example which is hoping to create 12million jobs in 10 years through e-commerce; that is possible here too.
“We could also follow China’s footsteps by engaging village merchants in the economic sector, as many as five million village merchants could benefit from that in Nigeria going by the number of them that we have in the country.
Ani stated that in any city in Nigeria one will find traders on the streets and that there is no trader who doesn’t have a smart phone.
“For those of us who are in this business including Footprint to Africa we can if we would, spread the word and facilitate actions in the villages.
He noted that Nigeria has a growing e-commerce market powered by its population of 176 million people and expanding base of smart phone users.
He urged Nigerian small businesses in the informal sector to become formalised in order to take advantage of online transactions for making and receiving payments on business transactions as this was one factor limiting their active participation in the burgeoning global online market opportunities.
Breaking Down Barriers to Financing
Setting the stage for the presentation of The Marketsquare to Africa application was one of Nigeria’s iconic entrepreneurs and founder of the Zenith Group comprising banking, telecommunication and other diverse business interests with global presence, Mr Jim Ovia.
He fired his first salvo by saying that with technology new age entrepreneurs are gradually breaking down barriers to financing for SMEs.
“Most successful companies around the world started as SMEs, most of them are those who embraced technology or are technology companies themselves.
He likened businesses to humans who according to Darwin’s theory of species needed to adapt to the changing environment to survive or risk extinction.
“Businesses like humans and nations they are subject to change and adaptability or extinction. One of the areas that can be easily adapted to is the area of technology; hence you now have technology enabled companies.
“Nigerians are very good at innovation and they can do extremely very well. We know that SMEs are engine drivers to many world economies; statistics show that 90 per cent of businesses globally are all SMEs; however they need to be encouraged to take advantage of technology.
Ovia gave two simple reasons why SMEs should embrace technology “because it fosters inclusiveness and reveals more channels of funding.”
“It has become difficult to fund SMEs because first and foremost they don’t keep proper records, two you cannot trust their records and three they cannot audit their books, they don’t have a track record of their behavioural pattern, but if they are online it becomes easier to deal with them,” he said.
He noted that the beauty of being online can guarantee funding from the Diaspora such as angel investors, without needing to go to any bank to seek loans for business expansion, because most times SMEs are not really seeking huge amounts of money to finance their ideas.
In conclusion he informed the audience that innovators and internet entrepreneurs were today breaking the barrier of funding and were being chased and courted by big banks to accept facilities.
Bridging Inter-African Business Opportunities
It was finally time for the presentation of the novel solution called The Marketsquare Africa by its developer and Managing Director, CEO of Footprint to Africa, Barr Osita Oparaugo to the audience of business people, exporters and investors and he stated unequivocally that “in today’s business, technology is revolutionising markets across the world by providing interconnectivity, more than any time in human history.”
On the problem of funding for businesses he had a new perspective, a result of studies carried out by Footprint to Africa on the continent.
“Most people will argue that the problem of the SMEs is unavailability of funds, but I will say no, funds are accessible but SMEs are not accessing these funds, as our study have shown that African SMEs are 75 per cent family-owned in structure and that poses its own kind of problem.
“And when businesses cannot access funding and partnership opportunities because of the issue of family type ownerships they die.
“Footprint to Africa is a business and financial news platform as well as a financial bridge company promoting inter-African business opportunities and has designed an online platform called the market square Africa to help SMEs in Africa grow and access global opportunities.
“Everyone is talking about SMEs and the use of technology, but who is supporting the SMEs and how has technology improved the SME base in Nigeria and indeed in Africa?
And the reason he gave was that most of the information being disseminated about Africa didn’t quite paint a true picture of the continent’s positives.
“One of the things we are making right with our news platform – is telling Africa’s story the African way. In less than two years we have had 10 million hits on our platform; people are beginning to recognise that Footprint2africa.com will tell them the accurate business situation in Africa.
“Footprint to Africa designed the market square as a platform where businesses originate; it will provide opportunities for entrepreneurs to raise all kinds of capital such as land, vehicles, equipment, farmlands, factories, facilities and money to accomplish their dreams without going to the banks for loans.
“All it takes is to post what you have on the site and those who are looking to partner with you can then pick it up from there and you both grow the business.
The Power of Collabo
“Interestingly some people outside Africa have a better understanding of the power of collaboration and are excitedly buying into the concept of The Marketsquare Africa.
“The manufacturers association of Israel was the first country to register and partner with the Market Square Africa after our launch as they are seeking to partner with businesses in Africa.
Osita urged African businesses to explore the potential of collaboration as the music industry has done to reap greater gains.
In Africa it is common to see musical artistes coming together to make music fusing their styles together and uniting their fan bases to reap huge album sales and sell out concerts, these collaborations is what they have termed collabo and it hasrevolutionised the way music is done today on the continent. Some African artistes have even been featured in collaboswith leading stars from the US.
“Let us bring collaboration into businesses, let us collabo, so that our various inputs can grow together faster; let us come to the Market Square platform because that is what it is all about.
“The Marketsquare Africa is a place to expand businesses because once a business is posted on the site it becomes visible to interested parties across the globe, looking for partners to do business with in Africa,” Osita said.
The Marketsquare to Africa has two categories: the general class and the premium class with provisions for pictures and live chat features.
He concluded with cheering news to the business community, by announcing that Footprint to Africa has signed a MoU with the Federal government’s agency for small and medium enterprises SMEDAN to host the SME Connect programme for the next five years.
“What we want to achieve with that, is to focus on the non-oil sector of our economy. So we will hold four events yearly – two in February and two in October, to match competitive SMEs with foreign investors,” he said.