In May, Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs is launching a new call in Senegal to participate in SusTech4Africa, short for Sustainable Technology for Africa. This is a selection procedure for local start-ups and growing companies. Those who pass the selection will receive intensive guidance from a team of experienced entrepreneurs who, as volunteers for OVO, help make projects more sustainable. If the business model is up to scratch, the projects can also get a loan of up to € 50 000.
OVO also organizes an annual SusTech4Africa in Uganda, Rwanda and with the African Diaspora in Belgium. This will be the second one in Senegal. "Of the 12 projects last year, 9 have now been financed," says Bruno Van der Wielen, the leader of the team of volunteers who supervised and prepared the investment dossiers. "I am very proud that we have achieved this."
From the many applications that OVO always receives for SusTech4Africa, ten to fifteen projects are ultimately selected. They receive an invitation to a multi-day boost camp, where volunteers are on hand to work with the entrepreneurs on their businessmodel, financial planning, sales and presentation skills. At the end of the event, each participant gives a final pitch to convince an external jury of the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the project.
It should come as no surprise that bringing dozens of entrepreneurs from Senegal and Belgium together in coronation times is hardly the obvious thing to do. "Nevertheless, we definitely want to organize a boost camp. If we can't do it in September, then let's do it in January," Bruno makes the case. "Most of the coaching afterwards will be online, of course. But I'm an engineer myself. Like many of our volunteers, I need to be able to feel a project. I need to be able to see what these entrepreneurs are working on."
The investment team led by Bruno, which meets in Louvain-la-Neuve during normal times, is counting mainly on scale-ups, companies that, unlike start-ups, are already a bit further along in their development. "Online, it's very difficult to help develop a completely new idea, especially if you don't know the local market very well. Thus you risk spending six months discussing an idea. Scale-ups, on the other hand, already have a certain structure you can build on and are already a little further along with a businessmodel."
Senegalese entrepreneurs participating in SusTech4Africa face many challenges. A first is a manifest lack of infrastructure. Bruno: "In many places, people don't even have access to basic services. For example, there are still many villages without electricity. OVO is trying to do something about this with the Smart Villages project. Elsewhere, the entire chain of basic infrastructure has yet to be set up."
A second equally significant brake on entrepreneurship is that projects find it very difficult to find funding or usually cannot find money anywhere themselves. "We help a project get on point first. Then we give a loan. Then we follow up on the evolution until the loan from OVO is repaid. In the meantime, we help the company get ready for financing by a bank or an impact fund. This is how you develop projects sustainably. That is the power of SusTech4Africa," says Bruno.
The investment team in Louvain-la-Neuve is supported by ICHEC Brussels Management School, which, for example, has made videos that are used in the Business Model Canvas, a tool that helps the projects gain insight into their businessmodel and allows them to further fine-tune it.
The team itself consists mainly of entrepreneurs. "We try to put together teams with a healthy mix of experience and knowledge, so that cross-pollinations can occur," explains Bruno. After barely a year, 'team Louvain-la-Neuve' already consists of fifteen members. But that doesn't mean it's at full strength. Readers with a fluent command of Molière's language who would like to support entrepreneurs from Senegal - or soon other French-speaking African countries - may therefore always come forward. "We also want to expand OVO outside Flanders and thus make it a truly Belgian organization," says Bruno.
The engineer himself has had a long international career at Solvay, including in Houston, the center of the chemical industry in the US, and Thailand. "The management experience I gained there comes in handy for me now," Bruno concludes. "More importantly, through OVO I am meeting many people and making friends, both here and in Africa. We learn from each other and work towards the same goal. That creates a bond."
Are you interested in also becoming a volunteer at Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs? Do not hesitate and contact Bruno Van der Wielen: Bruno.firstname.lastname@example.org