By Anne Field *
The classic startup accelerator model has quite a few good points. But it’s not particularly feasible for parents who can’t, say, pick up and leave their families for three months. And it’s even harder in countries where there are cultural biases about young women leaving home.
That’s where She Leads Africa Accelerator comes in. The three-month-program, which is accepting applications for its first cohort, targets female entrepreneurs in Nigeria. It’s run by She Leads Africa, a three- year-old social enterprise that aims to create a community and platform for African women in business, in partnership with Guaranty Trust Bank and the Work in Progress! Alliance, a consortium of Oxfam, Butterfly Works and VC4Africa, which focuses on boosting employment and entrepreneurship among young people in Egypt, Nigeria and Somalia.
“A lot of time when people talk about women entrepreneurs in Africa, the focus is on sustainable farmers with small stalls selling agricultural products and so on,” says She Leads Africa co-founder Afua Osei. “We want to encourage more women to see entrepreneurship as a viable career and business choice, focusing on entrepreneurs across the continent who want to grow and scale.”
The program grew out of an annual entrepreneurial pitch contest for women-led businesses throughout Africa run by She Leads Africa. According to Osei, she and co-founder Yasmin Belo-Osagic received a great many questions about accelerators, but, “People would tell us they couldn’t just move to a random city, leave their business, their family,” she says. “Also, we wouldn’t want women in rural areas to feel they can’t afford to live in a city for three months. And there are cultural constraints around young women leaving home on their own that don’t exist in other markets.”
With that in mind, to make the program user-friendly, the July-to-September accelerator will include a one-week-each-month residency in Lagos. (The accelerator will cover accommodation and travel expenses). There will be classes in the morning and time to meet with mentors and do research in the afternoon. The rest of the month, entrepreneurs can remain in their home city, but will have access to an online dashboard tracking their progress and connecting them to mentors and other content. In October, there will be a pitch day. And at least one of the startups will receive around $10,000 from the accelerator.
To apply, businesses must have at least one woman as a shareholder between the ages of 18 to 35, already have launched a product, have raised no more than $50,000, and be based in Nigeria and less than three years old.
The idea is for the accelerator to fit into a continuum of entrepreneurial maturity, what Osei calls “the journey of entrepreneurship.” To that end, She Learns Africa also offers entrepreneurship classes and advice on starting a business for people who have a good idea, but nothing more substantial. Then, there are four-day, pop-up boot camps held in seven countries where mentors provide an introduction to starting a business. The accelerator is for entrepreneurs in the next phase of development.
It all started a few years ago when the co-founders were working as consultants atMcKinsey & Co. in Nigeria and discovered each wanted to do something to boost women in entrepreneurship. “We both independently had come to the same conclusion,” says Osei.
They chose Nigeria as the site of their first cohort, since it’s the largest consumer market in West Africa, with an active financial sector and many English-speaking people; that last part allows international investors to connect more easily with them. But they hope to expand to other countries in two years or so.