Have you ever considered starting a business in Africa? If so, you may want to head over to “She Leads Africa.comâ€ to apply for the SLA 2015 pitch competition. Last year, finalist who participated was named by Forbes as 10 emerging entrepreneurs to watch. And 2014 pitch competition winner Cherae Robinson usedÂ her $10,000 winnings to hire her first employee–a full time developer, and she is releasing the first round of beta invites for Tastemakers Africa at the end of May.
She Leads Africa, founded in 2014 by trailblazers,Yasmin Belo-Osagie and Afua Osei has experienced an incredible year. “We initially thought the competition would be the one off event for the organization but after receiving nearly 400 applications from 27 countries in less than 6 weeks we realized that we had tapped into something big,” says Osei.
Here’s a summary of how the business pitch competition works: Applications are open from May 1 – June 30, 2015 and close on June 30. Although you do not need to be African to apply, you must be doing business on the continent. Ten finalists will be invited to pitch their business ideas in front of a panel of notable business personalities in Lagos, Nigeria for a shot at cash and prizes valued at up to $50,000. Winners will also gain access to prominent venture capitalists, angel investors and other leading professionals to act as mentors and sponsors.
Black Enterprise caught up with the founders of SLA to learn more past winners and lessons learned from their first year.
Tell us more about the 2014 winners.
We continue to support our winners as they grow and scale across the continent. And we are consistently inspired and motivated by the entrepreneurs we work with and their hustle and drive. Due to Cherea Robinson’s exposure through the competition and recognition by the United Nations Foundation as one Top 10 Women to Watch, she is now closing her seed round with investments from angels in both the US and Africa.
And our 3rd place winner Thando’s Shoes launched their inaugural Behind The Scenes Collection in Lagos and the US. Since the launch they’ve developed brand partnerships and are now stocking their shoes at 7 retailers in Nigeria, including e-tailers and brick and mortar stores. They’ve recently added worldwide distribution through a partnership with fellow SLA entrepreneur Zuvaa.com. The Thando’s team has grown their social media followership by over 200% within the quarter and they were recently selected by the Tony Elumelu Foundation as one of the top 1000 entrepreneurs in Africa.
How has the organization has evolved since 2014?
We’ve refined our service offerings to help young African women along their entrepreneurial journey. We’re transforming our website into the go-to platform for young African women interested in business, sharing inspiring interviews of women 18-35, providing localized online courses that address key issues of building a business in Africa and a community of like minded women to connect with. We are hosting training and development workshops in cities across the continent to help young women start and sustain their businesses with the right foundation.
We’ve also identified and crafted unique partnerships with global brands who understand the importance of connecting with young, ambitious African women. Last month we co-hosted a dinner with Facebook for women influencers in the technology, media and creative industries to discuss how Facebook, What’s App and Instagram are bringing communities together and how these tools could be improved for Nigerian users.
In August, through a partnership with Huawei, aÂ global telecommunications company,Â Â we will be taking 5 female tech entrepreneurs to China for an innovation exchange. This will give them an opportunity to connect directly with innovators who are changing the world.
This past year we’ve learned just how important early stage capital is to high growth startups and how the lack of this funding is really slowing down young African entrepreneurs. It doesn’t matter if entrepreneurs are doing all the right things, seed capital is critical to give them the ability to innovate and expand. Seeing this firsthand with our entrepreneurs has pushed us to move even faster with developing a funding mechanism that will enable us to rapidly deploy funding to our startups.
What do you expect from this year’s pitch competition?
We are anxious to connect with a brand new crop of exceptional young entrepreneurs. Over the past year we’ve heard from nearly 1,000 entrepreneurs and it just serves as further validation that young women are building and creating innovative companies that are going to change African markets.
Key to our success last year was our heavy focus on access to advisors and mentors. Once again every participant will have an individual advisor with consulting and private equity experience to support them as they prepare for the competition and we will also provide access to a pool of angel investors they can pitch to for feedback. We are also refining our prize package to ensure that in addition to cash prizes we craft a prize package that fills critical gaps at this early stage.
This year we are adding the She Hive, a pop-up co-working space for female entrepreneurs in Lagos. We were able to create a community for our finalists when we brought them together for training and networking and we want to expand that to other young entrepreneurs in Lagos. The She Hive will host open hours for investors to come and meet entrepreneurs, practical workshops such as preparing a pitch deck and building brand and an open space for women to just connect and share ideas. If this concept works well, we will take it to other African cities to help spur community building among local entrepreneurs.