“East Africa has already been cited by Harvard University as having surpassed the tipping point from primarily exporting raw materials to creating and exporting value-added goods and services. The continued shift from a labour-based economy to a knowledge economy will require increased online presence, particularly by SMEs who contribute about 45% of Kenya’s GDP.”
Kunle Awosika, Country Manager Microsoft Kenya
The importance of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to the African economies cannot be understated. It is a major driver of social development, youth employability and an avenue that fosters innovation and creativity. Though our continent is teeming with the entrepreneurial spirit, many SMEs close their doors within the first year as a result of the myriad of challenges facing them.
Kunle Awosika, Country manager for Microsoft Kenya, used his keynote address at the opening of the regional Connected East Africa (Connected EA) 2015 conference to launch the “Biz4Afrika” online portal that aims to mitigate some of the challenges faced by SMEs.
“The Biz4Afrika.co.ke online hub aims to meet the needs of every Start-up, Small Business and Medium-sized enterprise at three entry points; the start, growth and acceleration phase by aggregating freemium offers and relevant online services, complimented by valuable information, resources and learnings in one place”
The Biz4Afrika hub will offer services based on a freemium format, where the basic services will be free and more advanced services will be paid for. This allows SMEs to tailor their uses of services based on their needs to improve productivity while reducing cost. These services include best business practices and a resources knowledge base will help SME’s to start, grow and accelerate their businesses. The portal will also act as a network allowing SMEs to leverage collaboration into building capability.
Biz4Afrika will play a major role in achieving one Microsoft’s key goals in its 4Afrika initiative: Bringing 1,000,000 African SME’s online by 2016. In 2014, 150,000 SME’s have already made the leap into the digital space. First offered in South Africa in 2013, the Biz4Afrika hub proved a success by creating a vibrant online business community and helping entrepreneurs turn their ideas into sustainable business solutions.
Currently, intra-Africa trade is only at 12% compared to 61% within the European Union, according to the African Development Bank. But the International Data Corporation predicts that 2015 will see closer intra-Africa trade facilitated by ICT initiatives such as payment systems, financial inclusion initiatives, and cross-border payments.
By partnering with the Kenya Institute of Management’s SME Solution Center, the Biz4Afrika hub will bring “together East Africa’s public and private sector to play an important role in creating a conducive environment and harmonize policies that encourages the growth of the SME sector and provide healthy competitiveness to ensure quality and affordable access to markets, technologies, financial services among others, hence promoting and enabling smooth cross-border trade amongst the traders.” Dairus Waithaka, Head of SME Solution Center.
The Biz4Africa launch builds on the success of prior SME solutions in the 4Afrika initiative. These include:
- IP Hub – Africa’s first intellectual property hub
- Tukoworks – An employment and entrepreneurship portal (available in Kenya and Nigeria)
- BizSpark – Supports promising start-ups by providing access to technology, support, visibility and community access.
- DreamSpark – Supports students by providing access to microsoft’s professional grade developer software at zero cost. It also provides additional training to develop technical skills.
- Imagine Cup – An annual global competition that fosters and showcases technical innovation and ingenuity among university students. The Imagine Cup has been the springboard for a number of sucessfule African starts-ups.
- Microsoft Developer Camps