When I heard of the move by several African countries to adopt an official Startup Act my first thought was it’s about time. Having spent over 10 years promoting the work of and supporting African designers and the African design industry the one thing I hear a lot of in my conversations with designers and other industry professionals is a wish that local governments do more to support startups and entrepreneurs.
Now with the implementation of dedicated Startup Acts in Tunisia and Senegal, it appears the calls are finally being heard. Although just two countries there are signs that three more, Ghana, Rwanda, and Mali, are taking steps towards putting place their own Startup Acts with hopes that many others will follow suit. For those hesitant to adopt official Startup Acts the reasons for inaction could be down to a lack of or unwillingness to allocate required funds; already having their own support systems in place or plain indifference.
Across the continent, entrepreneurship is a means of earning an income when suitable opportunities are unavailable in the formal business sectors. Or if, as a conversation with a young self-employed product designer highlighted, one is unable to get past the gatekeepers in industries that are closed to those who do not have the education, credentials, contacts, and money to gain acceptance.
For entrepreneurs that succeed in getting started, other challenges soon arise such as poor logistics, exorbitant shipping costs; high tax, duties and other obstacles often set up by the very governments who should be helping them. Battling these challenges leads to disenchantment and a ‘brain drain’ as some end up leaving their home countries to seek opportunities elsewhere. And for those who can afford it or get funding to study abroad some don’t return because of the barriers, they will face. It always saddens me when I hear of yet another creative entrepreneur showing great potential who unable to survive is forced to shut up shop and return to the 9-5.
Startup Act legislation will help inspire confidence, retain talent, encourage returnees, foster innovation, and sustainable growth, attract investment and provide access to funding and education. All the things startups desperately need to realise their full potential and gain competitive advantage. And governments that actively invest in their entrepreneurs are investing in the future well-being of their countries both on a financial and social level.
I truly hope more African countries follow suit and give their local startups and creative industries the support they deserve to grow and thrive.
– Tapiwa Matsinde