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A truly First African Start-Up

Start-up2The swollen waves of the Senegalese sea land forcefully on the shore as the camera focuses on the subject of this week’s edition of ‘African Start-Up’, a programme that focuses on small businesses across Africa, which airs every Wednesday  on CNN’s ‘Connect the World’ at 1500 GMT.

Stephen Senghor has started a sustainable development company in Petit Mbao, a coastal community just outside Dakar, Senegal. He has found a functional use for unwanted plastic water bottles and used pet drinks cans as he turns trash into building materials. Senghor and his men pick these old bottles and turn them into mini pillars that hold mixed cement and sand in place while building walls for a home. These bottles not only become functional tools but they have become aesthetics pieces leaving colourful shilloulette in their wake.

Every week, ‘African Start-Up’ highlights entrepreneurs in various countries across Africa to see how they are working to make their entrepreneurial dreams become reality. Sponsored by First Bank of Nigeria Plc, ‘African Start-Up’ is one of the numerous ways the bank has shown its support for the growth and development of small businesses not only in Nigeria but Africa.

The show has also featured 25-year-old Gossy Ukanwoke who started an online university in Nigeria at a very young age of 23. He is the founder of Beni American University (BAU), Nigeria’s first private online university. Launched in late 2012, the school enables students to access their classes at any time of the day with any internet-enabled device. “We are providing executive programs for graduates,” Ukanwoke tells ‘African Start-Up’, “who are looking for employment and want to build up their resumes, or managers who want to climb up the hierarchy of their companies.”  He also has courses targeted at people who want to start their own business.

Ukanwoke’s got the idea to start BAU from his previous online venture called Students Circle, an educational social networking site he started while in university that allows learners to interact and access free resources from leading schools. “When I created Students Circle in 2010,” explains Ukanwoke on African Start-Up, “I found out that … many were looking for certificates, hoping that they could get something they could use to maybe find employment or get a promotion in the workplace. There was a need for a new institution to be created in Nigeria.”

More than 18 months into his new business, Ukanwoke has hired 10 instructors and has about 200 students, with an average age of 26. This shows how African entrepreneurs have been creating jobs in spite of a harsh business environment prevalent on the continent. This also reinforces FirstBank’s belief in the development of SMEs for job creation.

From Senegal to Nigeria, ‘African Start-Up’ has also featured Buken Makokha who grew up in Gatina, a slum on the western outskirts of Nairobi. As a 23-year-old, his daily tasks include running a delivery service company, owning a barbershop and selling energy efficient stoves while still studying at the university.

Makokha’s typical day starts when everyone else is still deep in their sleep. By 3am, he’s already up, studying and preparing his school assignments for later in the evening; by 7am, he enters the green doors of “Clean Touch,” the barbershop he set up three years ago at the heart of his local community.

On weekends, he spends most of his time with children in Gatina, putting his community development skills into practice by mentoring young people and helping them put on theater performances. “After my studies I want to start a project to help people where I am living,” says the spirited entrepreneur. “To identify their needs, to realise their potential and help them achieve their goals,” he continues. “My biggest dream in this world is to have a social business enterprise to help fight the poverty level — I want to inspire young people like me.”

No doubt, ‘African Start-Up’ has brought the growth of SMEs on the continent to global attention. This also shows how ready Africa is for foreign investment regardless of its economic challenges. This also reinforces Firstbank support for SMEs development in Nigeria. Beyond access to finance, FirstBank offers support to SMEs by providing timely and relevant information critical to their growth, organizing seminars, financial advisory services and business networking platforms. In addition, the bank also offer cash management services, business advisory, investment and finance products, forex and export products and flexible banking services.

To this end, ‘Africa Start-Up’ is a good way to reposition Nigeria’s nay Africa’s budding small businesses to the world and an interesting way to let the world know Africa is the next frontier for robust economic growth.