The High Growth Africa Summit started on Thursday, and although I wasn’t there physically, I was following online. The event was organised by Starta and Ingressive. It is an annual summit designed to teach entrepreneurs how to build, scale and fund high growth businesses in Africa.

It was hard deciding what things to note down; there’s was a lot to learn. But here are five important business lessons I took away from the event.

1. Oluyomi Ojo on ‘How to start a business with nothing in Nigeria’
Oluyomi Ojo, co-founder and CEO of Printivo, an online printing company in Nigeria, took the audience through Printivo’s incipient days. He explained how he started with just a N300 loan from his mother in 2001 and talked us through how to start and build a company with no money.

Here are the slides for his presentation:

2. Ebi Atawodi on the necessity of self-disruption

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“If you’re not thinking about disrupting yourself, someone else will.”

Ebi Atawodi took to the stage to talk about Uber (the company in which she works as the General Manager for West Africa) and its progress since it was founded in 2009 by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp.

Among other things, Ms Atawodi used the opportunity to stress the importance of thinking ‘disruption’ in this fast-moving technological age. What technology was ten years ago is definitely not what it is today, and what it is today is certainly not what it will be ten years from now. Atawodi used Uber’s foray into self-driving cars as an example of thinking ‘disruption’. She stated that “in order to stay at the top of your game, you must keep asking yourself ‘What’s the next disruption?’”

3. Omobola Johnson and Tomi Davies on the role of the government in the startup ecosystem

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Omobola Johnson (Nigeria’s former Minister of Communication Technology) and Tomi Davies (founder of the Lagos Angel Network) were part of the main session roundtable on the second day of the event (Friday). The panel discussion was centred around the role of the government in the startup ecosystem.

Tomi Davies said, “The role of government is to set policies for startups to run. But when the government starts to meddle in operational affairs, there will be confusion.” He explained that the government’s job was simply to act as a referee, setting policies and creating an environment for startups to operate. But when the referee (government) takes off his striped jersey and puts on the number 9 jersey, looking to take part in the action and become a striker, there will definitely be confusion.

Omobola Johnson asked, “Instead of having Aso Villa Demo days, why not set aside funds for startups instead?” She added that startups have no business their ideas pitching to President Buhari, he will most likely not be able to relate to them. The better move for the government would be to create a fund to invest in these startups.

4. Defining Pan-Africanism

During one of the breakout sessions on Friday, a panel (alongside the event attendees in that session) attempted to define what it means to be a Pan-African company and what it takes for a company to become Pan-African. In the end, we agreed that a Pan-African company is not necessarily one that operates in every country in Africa, but one that has its business locally present in the most buoyant markets across the continent that are most relevant to its business.

These are other key takeaways from the session:

  • One of the reasons companies in Africa are reluctant to expand beyond a country is the fear of the unknown and lack of linkages in other countries.
  • Some companies decide to expand to other African countries because they don’t see how they can grow anymore within their host country.
  • Don’t underestimate how big of a deal behaviour change can be when scaling from one country to another.
  • Regulations and cultural inclinations differ across African markets. What is easy in one country can be difficult in another.

5. Afam Edozie on scalability

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According to Afam Edozie, Partner at Grow Africa, “Companies that scale were designed to scale from the start.” That means they had value propositions that could interest a continuously increasing number of customers or users. He also said (to startups), “Get your design right, know your scalable metrics and understand how your business will generate cash.”

Here are two other important things he said:

  • Two ways a company can grow: either the business model is cash-generative or the entrepreneur goes out to raise money.
  • From [his] experience, it normally takes two people (or more) with desire, the right attitude and the right team to make a company grow.

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