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Smart Ecosystem for Women

What advice would you give to foreign private investors considering investment in Senegalese women entrepreneurs and their business ideas?

I put this question to Seynabou Thiam Monnier, Founder of Smart Ecosystem for Women, when we met in Senegal earlier this month.

 “When you come to Senegal, listen to women entrepreneurs. I came back to Senegal 10 years ago as an adult and a mother. Many things have changed. The country has changed. Women are economic pillars. Many are serial entrepreneurs. Women notice things. They are on the frontline of supporting their families. They run their business in a very natural way.

 I have also witnessed the evolution of the investor ecosystem. Investors used to come and bring the Silicon Valley model to plug and play. Looking for entrepreneurs with innovative technology requiring heavy investment. This was a very sophisticated entrepreneur profile and it was complicated.  Investors struggled to find suitable companies for investment. 

 The approach has changed. Now budgets are used to invest in hubs and incubators, funding initiatives and stakeholders who provide direct support for entrepreneurs. 

 However, investors need to be prepared to go further. Because of the environment a lot of small companies are informal. There are challenges with financial education.  Investors need to help strengthen these businesses in order for them to be investment ready.  

 Investors need to accept being hands-on. To say “okay we are ready to prepare you”. To think creatively about funding.  For example; If you decide to invest 100,000 CFA, start with 20,000.  Put a small investment ticket in order to educate an entrepreneur in how to deal with funds. Then build on that.  If you can manage 20,000 CFA, invest 100,000 and aim for 1 million.

 You need to have co-ordinated action. Stay with the entrepreneur on their journey. Don’t expect impactful results in six months. Be realistic about return on investment. Many Senegalese start-ups are small. When it comes to scale they often fail. Policy does not always meet their needs with prohibitive taxation and property rents. Now we have what we call the StartUp Act. It is a new taxation policy.  Start-ups now exempt from tax for three years after launching their company, among other business incentives.

 It is not just about giving money to entrepreneurs, it is also a matter of investing in infrastructure and the environment. Transport for foodstuffs just to reach the market for example is an expensive challenge. I am not suggesting investors build roads, that is for the government, but we can think creatively about transport sharing and communal market rents.

 We are in a continuous learning process. We need to be okay with testing many ideas. The perfect investment partner is one who knows how an entrepreneur wakes up. How they feel, the anxiety, also the excitement of building something new, transforming communities. This excitement needs to be shared so that we can co-create.”

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