Africa Investment Forum: Connecting young MSMEs with potential investors

An Ivorian youth was among a select group who took centre stage on the final day of the Africa Investment Forum – to demonstrate their business acumen and to secure investment in their businesses.

Ange-Frederick Balma, a young technology entrepreneur from Cote d’Ivoire, delivered one of the standout pitches for investment into LIFILED, winning the People’s Choice Award. LIFILED is a company specialised in the integration of LIFI solutions, smart lighting with dynamic contents and digital communication medium.

The Forum, which took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, 7-9 November, saw three days of boardroom sessions, panel discussions and bilateral meetings dedicated to advancing projects to bankable stages, raising capital, and accelerating the financial closure of deals.

During the course of the Forum, the African Development Bank’s Jobs for Youth in Africa team and the Presidential Youth Advisory Group, in partnership with Private Financing Advisory Network, trained eleven young entrepreneurs who were screened and considered capital expansion ready. Of these, six were selected to present their projects to potential investors, including Balma, the crowd favourite.

The pitches from the enthusiastic and innovative entrepreneurs represented young businesses from Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia. The businesses spanned the agricultural, ICT, and energy sectors.

Access to energy, internet connectivity, and content for education purposes remains a challenge for most Africans – more than 800 million Africans do not have access to energy and more than 1.5 billion do not have access to internet connectivity. The LIFI (Light Fidelity) is a wireless communication technology based on the use of LED lighting network to transmit data at the speed of light and produce a very fast internet connection.

After studying in France as a technology engineer, Balma returned to his native country to apply his knowledge and bring solutions for every day Africans. It was during a visit in 2011 on a family plantation and after spending two weeks there with no electricity, no internet and no access to information, that Balma decided to fix what he deems is an unacceptable situation.

Now, LIFILED on a daily basis provides connectivity to at least 2,500 people across the five countries where LIFILED has a presence. The company currently employs 22-full time staff, 15- part-time staff, and will be expanding its team.

LIFILED is an example of the power of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in Africa, where MSMEs accounts for more than 80% of all jobs created every year, primarily by and for the youth. However, inadequate infrastructure, lack of access to finance and an enabling environment, remain genuine challenges. This impedes job creation, sustainable growth and the fight against poverty, which in turn undermines several Sustainable Development Goals – no poverty, zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, gender equality, decent work and economic growth, and reduced inequalities.

Traditional financial service providers often consider young MSMEs very risky, leaving them struggling to secure capital. The Africa Investment Forum provided an attractive platform to connect young MSMES with potential investors as they pitched their businesses.

Balma said: ‘The Africa Investment Forum has allowed me to gain visibility and given me confidence in conquering the Africa territory. It was a unique opportunity to benefit from mentorship opportunities and high quality training on how to pitch to investors’.

During the closing ceremony of the Africa Investment Forum, the 2018 Africa Investment Forum Young SMEs in energy, technology and agriculture were crowned: LIFILED from Cote d’Ivoire won for technology, Vitalite from Zambia, for energy, and YYTZ from Tanzania, for agriculture.

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