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.
Ideally, a smooth-functioning and enabling environment for private sector development offers a chain of supporting services as shown in the diagram below:
Setting up a new enterprise or scaling up a business can bring very different challenges. Understanding the specific needs of the entrepreneurs, and facilitating their access to the knowledge and resources at each stage of the journey, is vital in building successful private sector development programs. Without the links to the entrepreneurial support chain and encouragement from policymakers and investors, a bootcamp can only get entrepreneurs so far.
The seven winners of the Green Innovators Bootcamp demonstrate that Ghanaian entrepreneurs are ready to seize the opportunities of the fast-growing clean-tech market. Each winner will receive a package of $10,000 worth of support services from the soon-to-be-launched Ghana Climate Innovation Center (GCIC).
The center will support up to 90 local companies -- with a targeted suite of services that includes early-stage financing, technology commercialization, business development, and capacity-building support after its official inauguration in mid-2015. The Green Innovators Bootcamp was the first of a series of activities that the GCIC is planning to support the country’s growing network of green entrepreneurs.