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Nurturing entrepreneurs and startups
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Nurturing entrepreneurs and startups

By Sesina Hailou

Ethiopia, one of the fastest growing economies in Africa and the world has seen an increase a startup business. As unemployment is soaring, the need for start-up has been paramount. The government of Ethiopia has been encouraging people, especially youngsters, to start their own startups as a strategy to curb unemployment.

Jeff Hoffman is known to have ventured across Africa and he is in Ethiopia for the first time in his role as the chief evangelist of the global entrepreneurship network, sponsored by the US Embassy in Addis Ababa. Hoffman told The Reporter that he was motivated to come to Ethiopia because of the energy and optimism. “In the last couple of years, Ethiopia has been changing and evolving. People are a lot more optimistic. There is a lot more energy here, people want to create. From my experience, I am so surprised with the energy here, people are so positive, and they have a hunger to learn. For instance, if you look at women, in business and women entrepreneurs, Ethiopia is one of the leading countries that have women entrepreneurs. Ethiopia is making things happen and it is exciting,” he said.

Hoffman is a successful entrepreneur, proven CEO, worldwide motivational speaker, published author, Hollywood film producer, a producer of a Grammy-winning Jazz album, and executive producer of an Emmy Award-winning TV show. He has also been the founder of multiple startups and has been the CEO of both public and private companies and has served as a senior executive in many capacities. Hoffman has been part of a number of well-known companies, including Priceline.com, uBid.com, ColorJar and more.

According to literature, around the world, 80 percent of all new jobs are created by startup businesses and have a huge influence on the economy of a country. The new job growth is coming from startups, not big companies because they are laying off people instead.

The United Nations Development Find (UNDP) has also launched entrepreneurship development programs that has two phases: Phase I (2013 – 2016) and Phase II (2017 – 2020). Ethiopia’s Second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II) seeks to bring about broad-based transformative structural changes required to steer the economy on a rapid growth path towards becoming a middle-income country by 2025.

Sitting inside the conference room at Addis Ababa University’s (AAU) Business and Economies School, Hoffman told The Reporter that he came to Ethiopia to teach entrepreneurship and inspire. “What I want to tell the students at the conference is that there are two paths in life: one is to get a job and the other is to make a job. The conference is called ‘Entrepreneurship is a Career’. We are in Ethiopia to create more entrepreneurs and also teach them how to do it,” he said, adding that there is a lack of resources and network that hinder entrepreneurs from becoming successful. ‘‘They need funding, education, mentors and classes in universities. That is the eco-system, and most importantly African entrepreneurs need networking, a connection with other people and markets around the world.”

Hoffman said that they have met with many startups and had workshops. He was surprised by the attitude of the people. “I didn’t have any expectations. They were hungry for knowledge and I enjoyed that. They were engaged here, I usually ask, ‘Do you have any questions?’ after my talks all around the world and sometimes they don’t and I’m like do u just not care but here we had to stop every time because people were engaged and asking question and they care about Ethiopia.”

Hoffman advice to entrepreneurs in developing countries is to take advantage of the democracy of information, and that is the internet. “There are many places where you could educate yourself online. Educate yourself about entrepreneurship, instead of waiting for somebody and reach out to other people,” he said. And his advice on the kind of method to follow is: “First, find a problem to solve, go find out if anyone cares and will pay for it. This is called customer discovery as a marketing research, and then create an MVP (minimum viable product) in order to see if people will use it, and finally build a smart team,”

Hoffman told The Reporter that in the near future they are planning to connect Ethiopian startups to other markets like the US and Europe. “So bring Ethiopian products to the rest of the world, and then vice versa and bring more American resources, products, money and technology to Ethiopia to help the entrepreneurs in Ethiopia. Building bridges between the markets.”

“Having a necessity in a developing country people them to be more innovative and creative, because they have no choice. Some people are more positive and optimistic. In some countries it is hard to build a team because of lack of trust.”

One of the entrepreneurs that The Reporter spoke to is Feleg Tsegaye, who started a company out of necessity. When he moved out of his parents’ place and came to Ethiopia, he realized he did not know how to cook, and he was not a huge fan of having a domestic help either. So, he decided to start an online delivery service as a necessity. Feleg told The Reporter: “I didn’t see it as a business, I was doing it to feed myself.” Feleg said the journey was challenging. Anyone who starts something new has some kind of doubt as there is no benchmark. He said that some businesspeople are very skeptical and convincing them that it will work was challenging. Even though his business, Delivery Addis, has been around for five years, there are still challenges that persist.

One of the main organizations trying to help entrepreneurs in Ethiopia is IceAddis. IceAddis is one of its kind by being the first innovation hub. Selam Gutu, event coordinator at IceAddis, told The Reporter that Ice is the best place to network. The place is filled with different kind people and it has a huge talent pool. IceAddis does consultancy and mentorship. 

IceAddis is an innovation hub and co-creation space which facilities technological innovations, creative projects and start up support. IceAddis provides young entrepreneurs, local and visiting creative individuals with professional support and consultancy.

Some of the successful startups that were nourished by IceAddis are 50lomi, Addis Insight and 3BL. IceAddis incubates tech based startups and have proven to be a great place to start one’s company and create great networking opportunities.