Start-ups, entrepreneurship and Ghana beyond COVID-19

The entrepreneurship and energy of start-ups will take a leading role in fighting COVID-19 as the disease challenges our very existence

Data made available by the International Monetary Fund shows that COVID-19 will lead to a decline in global economic growth of 3 percentage points. Other bodies such as the US-based CB Insights also project that global financing for start-ups will take a hit, with private market funding in the first quarter of 2020 hovering around US$77 billion.

This figure is down by more than 16% on the last quarter of 2019 and nearly 12% compared to the first quarter of 2019.

Such changes could strongly affect financial support for start-up ventures across the world.

Can’t hear you

With the arrival of COVID-19, businesses, and especially start-ups, were hoping for support and interventions from the government in the form of stimulus packages. Although such support schemes have been rolled out, one key economic group that has been sidelined is start-ups.

Those countries which stood out as clearly defining a support structure for their start-ups had one thing in common – a recognised national representative body for the sector. France, one of the leading world economies, set itself apart in this regard.

French start-ups have been allocated €4 billion out of an overall package of €300 billion that the government is mobilising to cushion the French economy. The support covers a refinancing scheme, payment of tax credits and the payment of already planned investments in the ecosystem. 

This decision has been applauded across the global start-up community as the best any government has taken so far in the interest of start-ups. The gesture also clearly falls within the scope of the government’s agenda to make France the leading start-up nation in the world.

This is made possible by the work of organisations such as France Digitale and La French Tech, representing the French start-up ecosystem, in all its diversity, and giving it a voice in policy and decision-making. It is exactly what is missing in Ghana: the voice of start-ups.

Umbrella organisation

This crisis offers us the opportunity to rethink the environment we want Ghanaian start-ups to thrive in and a chance to restructure the environment in which our start-ups work.

With an ecosystem younger than that of our counterparts in Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa or Kenya, the way forward for us is simple – unity, bringing together all start-ups in Ghana and Ghanaian-founded start-ups abroad under one umbrella. This would be in the form of an organisation that rallies start-ups, helps shape policy and enables decision-makers to understand and support the ecosystem.

It will create a more structured collaborative platform for stakeholders and channel all these efforts into positioning Ghana as the leading start-up ecosystem in Africa.

Start-up hub, Tartu
A start-up hub in Tartu, Estonia, offers workspace and the chance to hothouse business ideas

Having such an organisation is not only for times of such crises as COVID-19, but more importantly for times of growth, when there is a need for a catalysing force that can lead the charge to make Ghana the Black Star of the African start-up ecosystem.

Read also: Stepping stone to the business of a revived African economy

A well-thought-through national representative body would be able to create a holistic ecosystem, build much-needed partnerships with government agencies and development partners, influence policy, lead on attracting foreign direct venture capital investments and empower our start-ups to conquer the world.

We shall then have an organisation mandated to address some of the challenges we are faced with, ranging from misrepresentation of start-ups and lack of data on the ecosystem to policy mismatch and absence of a unifying identity.

It is in the government’s, partners’ and start-ups’ interest to have an organisation representative of our ecosystem which will speak on its behalf. This will make it easier for government to be fed with accurate data and allow it to know how and where to take the pulse of our ecosystem, receive input and feedback on policies, enhance implementation and have a direct conversation with stakeholders.

Growing the industry

Start-ups through a national representative body can help the government rebrand Ghana from a tourist destination whose attraction is its history/culture to the prime investment and business destination hub in Africa.

For an economy which (according to the government) will suffer a decline in growth from a projected 6.8% down to 2.6% of GDP, this is the right time to strengthen an ecosystem which can offer a viable alternative to the informal sector that has been the backbone of the Ghanaian economy for decades.

An empowered start-up ecosystem will lead the digital and innovation drive and propel our economy into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

We can all agree that an organisation which can go beyond a simple representative role and marshal the entire ecosystem hand in hand with the hubs, training and educational organisations, venture capital, the angel investment community and other support organisations is what we need right now.

From Berlin to Beijing, the relevance of organisations with similar objectives has proven that it is crucial for us to give a voice and an identity to our ecosystem which goes beyond start-up meet-ups and entrepreneurship competitions.

Many countries boast such organisations: Start-up Canada (Canada), France Digitale (France), (Belgium), Engine (USA), Bridge Budapest (Hungary), BESCO (Bulgaria), Upgraded (Finland), Start-up Brazil (Brazil) and Coadec (United Kingdom) are among the most notable examples.

These organisations have made a tremendous contribution to branding their local ecosystem, supporting with research-backed policy advocacy, advising decision-makers, fostering groundbreaking partnerships, bridging the gap between the (big) corporate and start-up communities and providing insight into new global trends.

Those are clear ways to grow industry, fast-track knowledge-sharing, create an ecosystem identity and propel an entire economy into the future.

Start-up hub, Dubai
A Dubai start-up hub. The needs can be as simple as a desk; the energy comes from collaboration


We must define our role

It is one thing for government agencies and development partners to randomly support individual start-ups and hubs and another to have at the table an organisation which aims not only to empower the same start-ups but also to support all stakeholders to develop a better understanding of the ecosystem, have a clearer view of the role those start-ups can play in positioning our local economy for what is coming, and ready our country for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Start-up founders in Ghana have one thing in common: we don’t know how to get our voices heard. Not only because we do not have someone to speak for us but also because our needs are as many as they are diverse.

For this reason, we need a melting pot, one in which we “cook” it all and serve right.

Having the opportunity to be part of a national start-up network will not only give us a voice, but it will also make it sound right and louder and complement the government’s industrialisation agenda. It will furnish us with the opportunity to let our countrymen and the world see that our interest is beyond “making money”, but rather in changing our story, creating change and strengthening the lifelines of our economy.

A Ghana Start-up Network will empower us to create more, change more and grow morem because it will give us an identity and put a name to the thousands of faces, logos and digital addresses that we have across the nation and beyond.

We know this is the right time for us to come together. Even if it is quite unfortunate that decisions taken by the government following the COVID-19 crisis have not specifically been tailored to meet our needs, it is not too late for us to prevent our lack of unity from swallowing up our voice. 

What is coming beyond this crisis is way beyond individualism, it is beyond “me-ism”, and the best way to ready ourselves for it is to come together.

Our ecosystem needs a melting pot.

Ghana needs its start-up network.

Let’s make that happen.

Giles Ametepe

Gilles Ametepe is a PR and institutional growth strategist, ecosystem builder and entrepreneur. He is the co-founder of the Ghana Start-up Network, where he leads the policy and institutional relations team.

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