Kizito Okechukwu | June 28, 2023
In March 2017, the President (then deputy President) of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, was the keynote speaker at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg at the first ever Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) to be held in Africa.
With over 6000 delegates from 180 countries, it was dubbed one of the largest entrepreneurial events to have been held in South Africa and possibly the rest of Africa. It was really special, seeing entrepreneurs and the partners come together, forming a local organizing committee and making a deliberate decision that this was not just going to be another expensive once-off, get-together.
It was monumental and grandiose to say the least. I was in the holding room when President Ramaphosa met the GEN Global President, Jonathan Ortmans. During the meeting, Jonathan shared efforts made by the GEN to support African entrepreneurs. President Ramaphosa dared Jonathan to ensure that the GEC was not a flash-in-the-pan event in South Africa and the rest of Africa – and that we use the GEC platform to support entrepreneurs to start and scale.
The GEN President quizzed me, and I suggested that we create a congress that will specifically focus on Africa called the Global Entrepreneurship Congress Africa (GEC+Africa) every two years. He smiled and asked me to draft a concept note on that – and so the GEC+Africa was born, and next March, Cape Town will host the event for the first time and every two years will move to a different African city.
As we all left the holding room together, I knew that the entrepreneurship landscape will change in South Africa and the continent. Fast forward from 2017 to date, startups in Africa raised US$196million in 2017 vs US$5.4billion raised last year.
I am not surmising that the first Global GEC in 2017 helped make this possible, but what I am saying is that it was definitely a catalyst in positioning Africa’s ecosystem, especially its startups in the global arena. 22 On Sloane was born in 2017, post the Global GEC congress in Johannesburg. Over the past five years, we have supported hundreds of SMMEs and startups and supported entrepreneurs generate a cumulative revenue of close to R1billion with over 600 jobs. Although the impact of COVID affected certain efforts for two years, SMMEs and startups proved resilient during these times.
At a press briefing in November 2022 at the Cape Town Convention Centre, GEN President Jonathan Ortmans, Premier of the Western Cape Government, Alan Winde, and Minister of Small Business Development, Stella Ndabeni Abrahams, announced Cape Town as the host city for the first ever GEC+Africa.
Last Friday, the Minister officially launched the Local Organising Committee of GEC+Africa with over 30 private sector stakeholders in attendance. The Minister committed to use the platform to ensure more support for entrepreneurs in South Africa, especially those previously disadvantaged. She announced that registrations for the GEC+ Africa 2024 are now live and open across the continent – and emphasised the importance of this momentous event, encouraging entrepreneurs to seize the opportunity and register promptly to secure their participation. The GEC+Africa will see over 2000 entrepreneurs, investors and policymakers from across over 50 countries in Africa descend on our shores.
In her closing, she further added that the congress will also encourage cross-border partnerships amongst entrepreneurs, as well as the private and public sector on the continent.
The launch highlighted how SMMEs are the backbone of Africa’s economy, accounting for 80% of all jobs, with its high rate of entrepreneurs at 22% of the working-age population and up to 40% in places like Algeria and Nigeria. Moreover, 90% of African entrepreneurs fall within the SMME category, with frontier industries like Agro-processing, Agritech, Edtech, Fintech, Clean Energy, Manufacturing, Tourism, Creatives, Logistics and Healthtech at the heart of Africa’s new digital economy ecosystem.
Having engaged and worked with various local and regional stakeholders over the past few years in structuring the congress, I believe it will provide a vital platform for SMMEs and startups to connect with the private sector for access to markets, to raise capital with global investors and connect with their peers. To register for the GEC+Africa, please visit: www.gecafrica.co and to partner, please email: email@example.com
Kizito Okechukwu is the Executive Head of 22 On Sloane and co-Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa.
22 On Sloane is the largest startup campus in Africa. The campus offers disruptive startups and innovative SMEs a complete turnkey solution to scale, from the initial idea all the way to commercialisation, funding opportunities and access to markets. Its aim is to nurture the entrepreneurial mindset, ensure their sustainability, and explore development of new industries and contribute towards job creation in Africa.
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