Anike Lawal, a pregnant mum with one boisterous toddler could not find answers to her most pressing pregnancy and parenting questions. This influenced her decision to create Mamalette.com, a social networking platform that offers women on-the-go ante-natal and post-natal information.

“From pre-pregnancy to parenthood, Mamalette.com provides mothers an opportunity to learn, chat, seek advice, solve problems, share experiences and relax through our website and social networking platforms,” the former Management Consultant at KPMG Nigeria said.

Unlike Anike who created her business out of experience, Banke Kuku nurtured her love for textile and knitting from the early age of five, leading her to create Banke Kuku Textiles. Her business fuses traditional African and Western cultures to create intricate, unique and luxurious fabrics for the interior and fashion industries.

“I would always pick the floral dresses and draw patterns on everything with a felt tip pen! So going into the textile industry was a very natural and easy decision for me,” she said.

Anike and Banke are examples of young African women who are breaking the business glass ceiling and setting the pace for other young entrepreneurs to follow.

According to World Bank statistics, about two-thirds of women are actively involved in the continent’s economic activities. The global development bank also indicates that 63 percent of women in the non-agricultural labor force are self-employed in the informal sector in Africa. This has helped them create thousands of jobs, support the enhancement of household livelihoods and offer significant contributions to economic growth.

But Co-Founder of She Leads Africa, Afua Osei cools the excitement surrounding the promising trend, bringing to fore the challenges still vividly present on the continent. “Access to education, financing, and useful networks are limited, and cultural stereotypes can curtail a woman’s ambition,” Afua quickly points out.

Earlier this month, She Leads Africa announced the top 10 young female entrepreneurs for its inaugural Entrepreneur Showcase. These talented young ladies were chosen from a list of 380 applicants from 27 countries.

“These finalists represent some of the best and the brightest entrepreneurial talent in Africa, and we look forward to seeing the outcome of the competition,” Co-Founder of She Leads Africa (SLA), Yasmin Belo-Osagie said.

Banke and Anike are two of the 10 finalists of the SLA competition who are slated to pitch their businesses in front of a panel of experienced entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and financiers who understand what it takes to build a successful business in Africa.

While the winner and runner-up will be offered financial prizes of $10,000 and $5,000, other side offerings including a furnished office as well as access to angel and private investors also make the competition an interesting proposition for contestants.

Why pitch competitions are popular in Africa?

Africa is the next economic frontier. This is a cliché familiar to many investors and multinational companies pitching their business in Africa.

However, while the world and foreign businesses are seeking to increase their trade ties with Africa, the continent is also developing its own.

The sprouting economic growth in Africa has given rise to a number of pitch competitions like the Anzisha Prize, DEMO Africa and the likes. These competitions are created to encourage and assist budding African entrepreneurs with mentors and capacity so that they can better themselves and also contribute to the economic growth of the continent.

However, one of the major challenges causing failure of most young businesses is funding. “She Leads Africa” is one of the few social enterprises that have been set up to fill the gap of funding (among other business challenges) which has been a prevalent challenge for female entrepreneur.

“There is a gap in early stage funding for enterprise in Africa. It’s everywhere on the continent but even in comparatively advanced markets like South Africa….I applied (for the competition) because I need to secure early stage funding for my business,” Jade Mann, Founder of Night Bus, a Johannesburg bus service that runs between nightlife hubs in Joburg, throughout the night.

Kega-Florence Mukwevho of South Africa’s MKP Fast foods (Pty) Ltd also confirmed that “Funding is always a challenge with any business and like any business.” Mukwevho is one of the ten finalists of She Leads Africa business pitch competition. She stumbled on the pitch announcement by accident after returning from a similar contest – the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation National Jamboree.

“After making it to the Top 10 there and not actually winning I was so motivated to seek out other opportunities that will give me greater exposure.”

“She Leads Africa came at the right time. I took the plunge and applied,” she said. 21 year old Elizabeth Kperrun of Lizzie creations on the other hand said she applied for She Leads Africa “because being passionate about a cause isn’t enough.”

“We need investors to help us not only with finance but also marketing and outreach. We also would love to benefit from the knowledge seasoned entrepreneurs will be bringing to the grand finale of the contest and the opportunity to meet other women in tech: to network, encourage and inspire one another,” she said.

She Leads Africa plan to “provide entrepreneur development, networks and funding for promising female entrepreneurs who have the ambition and drive to be the business leaders of tomorrow, building companies that will become pan-African and global leaders.”

Honey Ogundeyi, the CEO and Founder of Fashpa.com – a business that provides affordable high-street fashion that is not readily available to offline shoppers believes that being in a pitch competition like She Leads Africa will help the “very ambitious growth plan” of Fashpa.com while giving it a great opportunity to gain awareness, access to a great network of peer entrepreneurs and investors.

“It’s a great opportunity to meet mentors and investors, share my experience with other entrepreneurs and get media exposure,” Nour Drissi of Loue1voiture.com corroborated.

Will “She” Lead Africa entrepreneurship?

Starting a business is not as hard as successfully building and maintaining one, most entrepreneurs will agree.

But there are other limitations too – one of which is being a female entrepreneur, especially in Africa which is still struggling to close the gap of gender disparity. Yet, more than any other region of the world, Africa has the highest female entrepreneurs.

“It’s hard enough being an entrepreneur in Africa and even more difficult as a women entrepreneur,” Oyindamola said.

Co-Founder and CEO of Thando, Taffi Woolward, a Guyanese-American living in Lagos also agreed that “One of Africa’s main barriers to competitiveness in the global economy is its wide income disparity.” This confirms Nomsa Daniels inference at an AfDB conference says women earn only 10 percent of African incomes and own just 1 per cent of the continent’s assets.

Daniels, the Executive Director of New Faces New Voices at the conference said: “for Africa to succeed in the next decade, be competitive in the global economy, and reach the growth rates required to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, it needs to develop the SME sector and women will play a key part in achieving that goal.”

However, Rainatou Sow of Make Every Woman Count, a young women-led organisation committed to actively advocating for the empowerment and rights of women and girls and to raise awareness for the initiative says “Women are breaking the political glass ceiling in many countries and finding their way in roles traditionally occupied by men.”

19 year old CEO of Ghana-based Afrocentric Bamboo Limited, Winifred Selby one of the finalists says: “With the new wind of air blowing throughout the continent with organizations such as She Leads (SLA) committing to connecting female entrepreneurs across the continent with networks, sources of capital, operational know-how, giving them the power to do more female entrepreneurs have no excuse than to take advantage of the new windows of opportunities as female entrepreneurs have the ability to make a particularly strong contribution to the economic well-being of the family and communities, poverty reduction and women’s empowerment, thus contributing to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).”

Cherae Robinson, the founder of Rare Customs also believe that since women are natural listeners, problem solvers, and consensus builders; these strengths can help them unlocking some of the strains on Africa’s development, particularly as it relates to inclusive growth.

While women-owned businesses remain un-tapped driver of economic growth, African female entrepreneurs are pressing forward to eliminate barriers that are standing in their way and hopefully when these barriers are broken; they will be able to drive economic change throughout the African region.

Like Nour said: “If a woman dares to dream BIG, she can achieve her dreams.”

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