Davies Okeowo is the CEO of Enterprise Hill, a business solutions provider for MSMEs in Nigeria and Africa. He believes that Africa is “at the dawn of a new era of opportunities and it is a favourable season for entrepreneurs.”
In this exclusive interview he shares his thoughts on the continent’s entrepreneurship landscape, and how entrepreneurship can be leveraged to drive economic growth and diversity.
As an entrepreneur whose core business is providing accounting and business solutions to other entrepreneurs and businesses, what are your thoughts about the entrepreneurship landscape in Africa?
The entrepreneurship landscape in Africa is one filled with lots of promise and potential. The continent, thanks to its global positioning and standing as the next frontier for development, has a unique opportunity to strategically drive global economic growth for the next two decades at least.
This however can only be achieved if Africa channels its own resources effectively towards fulfilling this promise as the outside world can only play a supportive role.
We are at the dawn of a new era of opportunities and it is a favourable season for entrepreneurs. If we are to maximize these opportunities however, we need to ensure that our focus is on inclusive growth, increased access to markets and growth capital, and a massive drive to develop our human capital.
Having worked with several businesses in different sectors and regions, what have you observed to be common amongst entrepreneurs, especially in line with the work that your company, Enterprise Hill, does?
There are quite a number of trends that I have seen to be consistent across hundreds of entrepreneurs that I have directly engaged with through my work at Enterprise Hill and as a Business Development Trainer. One of the most prominent trends however is the overdependence on external factors for growth.
Often times, I have encountered entrepreneurs who pin their ability to grow on whether or not the government changes a policy, investors finance their business, or whether or not market dynamics change. While all of these factors are important for business growth, they are not the critical things. Structure, strategy, leadership, and a relentless drive have been repeatedly proven to be the key drivers of growth and the more we pay attention to these things, the faster our businesses grow.
Other trends include; an over-celebration of investor funding (an investment into a business is not a victory, it’s a responsibility), the lack of consistent upskilling by entrepreneurs, the micro nature of our vision, the lack of proper business structure and processes, among others.
Having said all these, it will be hypocritical of me if I do not highlight the amazing entrepreneurial spirit and relentless nature of the African entrepreneur. This alongside our unmatched focus on social good makes me really proud to be an African entrepreneur.
In your capacity as Chief Executive Officer at Enterprise Hill, what are the key goals for the Nigerian and African continent that you hope to achieve?
Our goal is to help strengthen the Micro, Small and Medium (MSME) sized businesses in Africa to a point where they can effectively support all their stakeholders; shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, community, and most importantly, their nations (Nigeria in my case) and the African continent.
If Africa’s economic dreams will be achieved, it has to be done using its wealth of entrepreneurial talent. For these entrepreneur-led businesses to support the continent’s economic development however, they need to be able to support themselves first. And the best way to do this is to build sound business structures.
This is why we work to help strengthen these businesses by helping them build proper accounting and finance structures, which in turn generates accurate business data that we then convert to strategic recommendations that fuel the growth of the business. While our entry point is accounting structure and related services, our objective with every business is to help drive growth, profitability, and sustainability, through the use of data-driven business strategies
How do these goals tie into the services that you offer your clients?
As I mentioned earlier, our focus is for the Nigerian economy and Africa as a whole to become MSME-driven. Our services focus on making the MSMEs strong enough to support all stakeholders including the continent through; accounting structure management, business and finance strategy, regulatory compliance services, tax management, accounting software integration, business development training, and a bit of business process engineering
Amongst several other achievements, you won the Season 2 of ‘The Next Titan’, a Nigerian reality TV Show on Entrepreneurship and you are an alumnus of the British Council Business Accelerator Programme (a programme you went on to become a Facilitator for); how would you say these achievements have shaped your journey so far?
These achievements you have referenced and many others have all played a part in helping me grow and develop as an entrepreneur in more ways than I can count. For the sake of specificity though, I’ll attempt to reference a few things.
Participating in and winning ‘The Next Titan’ gave me a unique opportunity to work with entrepreneurs from all across Nigeria on different projects. The show also taught me how to collaborate with my competition while also giving me an opportunity to be mentored by some of the most highly revered entrepreneurs in the African business landscape.
Being an Alumnus of the British Council Business Acceleration Bootcamp exposed me to unique strategies for business growth which we are still leveraging on as a business today. Becoming a facilitator of that program also gave me a unique opportunity to pay forward the knowledge of global entrepreneurial best practices to other entrepreneurs across multiple cities in Nigeria.
Speaking of opportunities and programmes like The Next Titan, British Council Business Accelerator Programme and others alike, what other opportunities and support do you think can and should be provided for Nigerian and African entrepreneurs, to drive economic growth and diversity for the continent?
To begin with, I think a general improvement in the access to quality and critical infrastructure will help fast-track inclusive economic growth across Africa. Access to constant power supply, good transportation infrastructure, high speed internet facilities, and business innovation hubs will go a long way in improving our overall productivity as African entrepreneurs.
That said, I will like to advocate for qualitative entrepreneurial education above all else. Initiatives such as the British Council Business Acceleration Bootcamp need to be replicated across multiple locations in Africa and facilitated with more frequency. There are too many sub-standard programs out there which are leading more people into businesses; albeit prematurely and with half-baked information.
I am a big fan of shows such as ‘The Next Titan’, ‘The Apprentice’, ‘Shark Tank’, and the likes. Ask an entrepreneur like Vusi Thembekwayo, and you will hear first-hand how programs such as South Africa’s Dragons’ Den helped in educating South African entrepreneurs. More of these shows will undoubtedly help us become a better continent of entrepreneurs.
A lot continues to be said about the rise of Africa, the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative it is called. Do you agree that Africa is indeed rising? If so, what are the changing realities, scenarios and events that inform your conviction that Africa is indeed a continent on the rise?
I strongly believe in the Africa Rising narrative as we are seeing changing realities such as improved citizen participation in governance, tech-led innovations, and access to markets.
However, there is much more to be done if Africa will truly ‘rise’. We need to setup institutions that ensure the availability of “patient growth capital” for entrepreneurs. In addition, “Africa Rising” cannot happen if the “rising” only focuses on the cities and urban Africa. For too long, we have confused rural dwelling for poverty but this doesn’t have to be so. Our rural dwellers have to be included in this narrative too. We need to provide economic opportunities and connectedness to every corner of the continent. Not just Lagos, Nairobi, Johannesburg, and Cairo, but also Sunyani Ghana, Mbeya Tanzania, and Leribe Lesotho.
Also, do you think that a collective ‘Africa Rising’ narrative might also be responsible for expanding market opportunities across the continent, such that, an innovative business in Nairobi might become more appealing to a customer in Nigeria because the business is captured as an Africa Rising story and not only a Kenya Rising story? Essentially, I’m asking if there any benefits derived from the ‘Africa Rising’ tagline that are worth mentioning and highlighting?
Of course there are. For instance, the growing economic relations between African countries are creating new economic opportunities within the continent and this is part of the ideas embedded in the “Africa Rising” narrative.
An example is the tourism growth driven by Africans exploring Africa. Now, Nigerians are hosting weddings in Zanzibar, Kenya, and other locations. African businesses are expanding beyond their nations into neighbouring countries. I just got a garment made from a Togolese fabric a couple of days ago (this might not matter much but it illustrates my point). There is an increased acceptance of Africa by Africans and this can only help grow the continent further.
What should Africa look forward to from you soon? What is the next big thing you are working on right now?
In October 2017, I studied the World Economic Forum’s Global Human Capital Index and studying that report made me fully realize how underdeveloped our much-talked-about youth population is. A quick insight from that report is this; all African countries ranked in the bottom half of a 130 nation global ranking. This spurred me on to create a new company called Competence Africa.
Competence Africa is a social enterprise whose sole mission is to improve the quality of Africa’s human capital.
Our current approach is to train Africa’s youth population (especially undergraduates) on the use of tech-driven business and work tools and applications. We focus on tools and applications that are disrupting industries and driving efficiency in today’s business landscape and work environment; tools that the higher institutions of learning are not training on yet.
Our flagship program is called The CASA Program where we train management science students on the use of different cloud based accounting and business management software applications. These trainings are complemented by workplace readiness and value based leadership trainings. Our model, which was setup to provide a well-rounded educational experience, includes physical workshops, business case study application, and internship placements.
We just recently started operations and we have a lot more to accomplish. However, our eyes are firmly set on the goal; which is to improve the quality of Africa’s human capital such that at least 20 African nations rank in the top half of the WEF Global Human Capital Index by 2030. We hope to achieve this through our programs, social projects, partnerships, and policy advocacy. We invite you to join us.