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Partnering to build a self-sustainable ecosystem for SMEs and startups in Africa

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Partnerships with corporates are a key part of these ecosystems, writes Muhammad Nabil, partners and startups lead at Microsoft For Africa .

In 2018, a lot of this discussion progressed into positive action and milestone moments. Tunisia, for example, passed an official Startup Act, a legal framework encouraging entrepreneurship and improving access to funding, markets and new technologies. Entrepreneurship platform, RiseUp, launched a new Startup Manifesto of actionable solutions to shape Egypt’s entrepreneurial policy. And African startups smashed local funding records, with 210 startups securing US$334.5 million worth of investment.

One of the other calls has been for more partnerships between SME enablers. Financial institutions, Telco’s, technology companies and government entities have been encouraged to consolidate resources and provide bespoke offerings, saving entrepreneurs the headache of going to multiple suppliers for every need.

Last year, First Bank of Nigeria Limited, Vodacom Business Nigeria and MTN Nigeria all joined forces with Microsoft to make headway in this space. Through these partnerships, SME customers have access to financial services, data bundles, cloud services, educational platforms and business networks all in one place, giving them a trusted and accessible path to digital transformation.

The need for partnerships

At Microsoft, entrepreneurs have always been one of the primary audiences we have catered for, given our own origin story. However, with over 20 million SMEs in Nigeria alone, we understand that no single entity can reach them all. Partnerships are essential in impacting as many SMEs and startups as possible, offering the most appropriate support and access to what they need most, including finance, technology and skills.

Partnerships promoting access to finance

Access to finance comes in a variety of forms, from cash prizes at pitching competitions to grants and venture capital.

Startup competitions such as DEMO Africa, Seedstars Africa and the MEST Africa Challenge – which this year is offering up to US$50,000 in equity investment – engage thousands of African startups every year. Microsoft is a regular sponsor and partner of these events, offering support in getting the startups investor-ready. These events are also where we scout for high-potential startups to integrate into our own programmes, such as payment technology company SpacePointe, who we first met at DEMO Africa in 2014. Today, we continue to support them in meeting their business goals, integrating new technologies and forging strategic partnerships of their own.

But access to finance also comes in the form of digital tools that help startups better manage and increase their own funds. We recently called on our partner, Stadia Corporate Advisory, to support one of the fintech startups in our network with building a financial model, which resulted in the closing of a recent capital raise.

Partnerships promoting access to technology

For any startup or SME to scale and remain competitive, digital transformation has become essential. With intelligent cloud technology, SMEs and startups can enhance their agility, resilience and reach.

In 2017, Liquid Telecom combined their extensive reach with Microsoft’s business solutions to deliver cloud services to businesses of all sizes across Africa. For SMEs, this includes a ‘Business in a Box’ programme, which offers a cloud-based toolkit of relevant applications and connectivity.

In the same year, we also teamed up with the Tony Elumelu Foundation in Nigeria and Technopark in Morocco to provide over 3,000 startups in their acceleration programmes with access to technology-based tools, resources and mentorship.

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