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What is it like to set up and run an incubator as a woman? The answer, much like anywhere else in the world for working women, is that it’s complicated.
In many countries, it’s still unusual to see women working in certain sectors. Regina Mbodj, CTIC Dakar CEO, knows very few women in Senegal who studied ICT. “When I came home and told people about my studies, a lot of people responded, 'I thought only men did that!'"
Mariem Kane, an engineer by training and now president of Mauritania’s incubator Hadina RIMTIC, said that career development can be difficult for women who have been trained in hard skills. “It’s tough for women to find opportunities in these sectors and, because we’re considered more suited to softer skills, we aren’t given the opportunity to prove ourselves.”
Also available in: Français
Also available in: Français
As we saw in our second blog, . Yet, in many West-African countries, long-standing stigmas against the private sector are still big obstacles for women and young people who aspire to become entrepreneurs.
Family support, in particular, remains critical for women’s career choices, and the private sector doesn’t always enjoy a good reputation among parents. “It’s very hard for them [parents] to understand why we want to do this instead of getting a steady government job,” says Binta Ndiaye, MakeSense Africa CEO. “My mother is an entrepreneur, but she did that on top of her regular job and raising a family in France, so it’s not seen as a career in-and-of-itself.”
“Entrepreneurship is inherently risky, so if you don’t have that support and encouragement, or even your family’s blessing to go for it, I can understand that it could be extremely challenging for some women,” says Mariem Kane, founder and president of Mauritania’s incubator Hadina RIMTIC.
Ndiaye for one, though, is not deterred: “It’s up to us to educate them on this potential and to have the resolve to follow-through. If you can convince skeptical parents, you can convince any investor.”
Considering that these incubators are run by women, do they make special efforts to recruit women entrepreneurs?
Lisa Barutel founder and CEO of La Fabrique, acknowledges that even though La Fabrique received a huge response to a recent call for proposals targeting women, far fewer apply to general calls that do not have a specific focus on women entrepreneurship. “Normally we don’t go out looking for candidates, as we can be inundated with applications, but when we noticed this discrepancy, we did launch a program to identify women with potential,” she says.
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Across West Africa, it’s very difficult to find a workplace as innovative and diverse as business incubators. Known for their young, energized, and often gender-balanced staff, these organizations are an encouraging indication of what’s in store in the coming decades, as the region presents a younger, more open, and increasingly female workforce to the world.
In francophone West Africa—where there was not a single incubator at the beginning of 2011—six young women are currently leading major incubators, some of which have World Bank Group support.
With backgrounds in computer science, engineering, finance, logistics, project management, and social entrepreneurship, . Given the World Bank Group’s commitment to promoting gender equality, as laid out in the Gender Strategy, our team talked to them to learn more about their work and leadership experience.
Across francophone Africa, incubators are emerging rapidly to support a new generation of young entrepreneurs. Despite their huge potential, however, incubators are just one of many players in a typical entrepreneurial ecosystem. So it is increasingly important that incubators — in addition to allocating the necessary resources, services and funding to worthy start-ups — provide them with a platform to share and transfer knowledge across the ecosystem, not only with each other but also with the investors, research centers and industry experts upon which their businesses will ultimately depend.
As with Impact Hub Bamako, incubators can be part of broader international franchises, while others are anchored by academic, public or private bodies (or some hybrid of the three) and may already be associated with other incubators. Bond’innov, for example, is an incubator that promotes entrepreneurship cooperation between the global North and the South and that is headquartered in Paris and located on-campus with the Institute for Development Research, a large multidisciplinary research organization operating in more than 50 developing countries.
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Babah Salekna El Moustapha, co-fondateur de la Société Mauritanienne pour l'Industrie de Charbon de Typha (SMICT) avec Mohamed et Moctar Abdallahi Kattar. Photo Crédit : Moussa Traoré, HADINA.
« Innovez pour le climat. Travaillez de manière durable. » Ce slogan a lancé l'appel à candidatures de la dernière initiative de soutien à l'entrepreneuriat du Groupe de la Banque mondiale en Mauritanie, le Marathon de l’Entrepreneur – un concours à l' échelle nationale qui permettra d'identifier et d' accompagner une nouvelle génération d'entrepreneurs. Cette compétition est une initiative du Groupe de la Banque mondiale, en partenariat avec le Ministère de l'Economie et des Finances, et avec Hadina RIMTIC qui agit comme véhicule central par lequel le soutien du bailleur et du secteur public peut être transféré aux aspirants entrepreneurs mauritaniens.
Annoncée en avril, la compétition accompagne 21 nouvelles ou jeunes entreprises, leur fournissant des services de formation, d'encadrement et d'autres services d'incubation pour les aider à élaborer un plan d'affaires final et, fondamentalement, à tester les hypothèses qui sous-tendent leurs idées d'entreprise.
Babah Salekna El Moustapha, co-founder of the project Mauritanian Society for the Typha Coal Industry (SMICT) with Mohamed and Moctar Abdallahi Kattar. Photo Credit: Moussa Traoré, HADINA.
“Innovate for the climate. Work sustainably.” This slogan launched the call for applications to World Bank Group’s latest entrepreneurship support initiative in Mauritania, the Entrepreneur’s Marathon — a country-wide competition to identify and accompany a new generation of entrepreneurs.
This competition is an initiative of the World Bank Group in partnership with the Ministry of the Economy and Finance and Mauritanian incubator Hadina RIMTIC (ICT in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania) acting as the central vehicle through which public and donor support can be channeled into Mauritania’s aspiring entrepreneurs.
The competition is accompanying 21 new or young start-ups and businesses, providing them with training, coaching and other incubation services that will help them develop a final business plan and provide evidence for the hypotheses underpinning their business idea.
Heading back from a recent mission to Ghana, I felt really proud of what we have accomplished: training 20 of the most promising local clean-tech entrepreneurs through the Green Innovators Bootcamp. The words used to inaugurate the event are still in my head: “This bootcamp is not an end in itself. It’s the beginning of your journey as entrepreneurs.”
Indeed, bootcamps for startups and SMEs – as well as close cousins like Hackathons, Start-up Weekends, and Business Plan Competitions – are an increasingly popular activity used to catalyze innovative ideas and provide entrepreneurs with the tools and resources they need to launch their ventures.
In Ghana for example, infoDev -- a global innovation and entrepreneurship program in the World Bank Group -- organized a two-day training event to help a group of 20 early-stage entrepreneurs assess the feasibility of their business concept, identify their customer base, and refine their business model.
Organizing a bootcamp can be very challenging and time-consuming, but, when done properly – read “7 things you need to do to prepare for the perfect bootcamp” – the payoff is big. "Bootcampers" find these initiatives very useful to identify new solutions to the challenges they face to launch their businesses -- mostly access to finance, product development, and marketing. Furthermore, "pitching competitions" and "business contests" offer new entrepreneurs an excellent and safe stage to refine their business pitch -- a key tool of every successful entrepreneur.
One of the goals of bootcamps and pitching competitions is to bring together different stakeholders – from entrepreneurs to investors and policymakers – to facilitate the creation of ecosystems in which entrepreneurs can grow and thrive. But is it realistic to expect that bootcamps and similar training initiatives are enough to enable promising entrepreneurs to reach their full potential? The answer is simply: No. Make no mistake: Bootcamps are an exciting tool to create buzz and interest in countries that have little entrepreneurial history and culture. In most contexts, however, there is no follow-through with effective action plans that can keep the momentum going. This not only limits the value of these initiatives, but can also cause harm to a nascent ecosystem.
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to the world’s highest female entrepreneurial activity, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Women’s Report. Approximately 27% of African women are engaged in some form of entrepreneurial venture. Among these women is Kate Mahugu, cofounder of Shopsoko.com.