The number of business incubators is growing in Africa. One example is CTIC Dakar, the first to be dedicated to information and communication technologies (ICTs) in French-speaking Africa. This association was launched in April 2011 and is the result of a public-private partnership. An interview with Eva Sow Ebion, its Business Development Manager.
What are the main problems of the SMEs you support?
The main issue is conquering markets, as there are many companies and corporates in Dakar. It is difficult for start-ups to be entrusted with projects, despite the innovative solutions they offer.
The second problem is human resources. Many graduates have no professional experience and SMEs do not have the resources to invest in training.
Finally, for some of them there is the issue of financing, in a context where it is still difficult to access credit. Many SMEs cannot rely on any financial backing, as in our context, it is more difficult for families to provide support, and the banking system does not meet SME needs. There are no direct relations between banks and SMEs, and no solutions for access to credit.
This raises the issue of the ecosystem in which SMEs operate, bearing in mind that it is difficult to have seed funding due to the lack of sovereign funds set up by the State. In the life of an SME, after three or five years, it is crucial for it to have capital to allow it to develop.
What type of support do you offer SMEs?
We offer two programs. The first – the “acceleration program” – lasts six months, with coaching, training, mentoring, follow-up and business development.
The second is for three years of incubation, with access to offices, an Internet connection, coaching, mentoring, administrative, commercial, technical, accounting and fiscal follow-up, as well as active support in finding partners.
As CTIC Dakar has the status of an association, it does not have funds to directly allocate to SMEs, but it does play a vital role in their ecosystem. We work with donors, such as German cooperation, the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), and Senegal’s Development Fund for Universal Telecommunications Services (FDSUT), which was set up in 2009 by the Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ARPT). We conduct support programs for them for the allocation of financing to project initiators operating in the fields of health, agriculture, livestock raising and good governance. Between 2011 and 2015, FCFA 130m (EUR 198,000) of financing was allocated to SMEs.
How many companies have you already supported?
We have already supported 75 Senegalese companies which employ 150 qualified people and have an average growth rate in their turnover of 41%. We have also coached 1,750 young people.
What is the profile of the young people you have supported?
They are graduates or students who come from large public universities or private schools with which we have established partnerships. There are also entrepreneurs who have set up in business over the past 2 to 5 years, but who encounter various difficulties and need strategic support.
What are your sources of funding?
It mainly comes from donors, but also from agreements signed with private companies. So, we organize activities on various themes with the aim of coming up with innovative solutions for which we set up programs. We have a pragmatic approach: we start with the company’s needs in order to build an appropriate ICT offer of services developed by our young entrepreneurs. Once we have selected among the entrepreneurs, we follow them in their business development so that we can verify the funds are properly used and their action plan.
Which SMEs that have been through CTIC have been successful?
The digital agency People Input , which was set up in 2002 by Serigne Barro, today has over 45 employees, with good visibility on Internet and activities for the implementation of Web and mobile projects in Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon, with clients among telecoms operators, institutions and the media.
We have also incubated Nelam Services a digital communication agency set up in 2008 by the blogger Aisha Dème and her partner, Alassane Dème. Nelam Services created Agendakar.com, Senegal’s first website dedicated to culture and events, and launched the “No Smoke Revolution” campaign, which brought about a smoking ban in public places.
The company Seysoo, an agency specialized in software and solutions for the medical sector, has various clients in Senegal, but also in Gabon.
In addition to your support actions, do you conduct advocacy actions towards decision-makers to promote SMEs?
Yes, we regularly discuss with public institutions in order to make them aware of the impact that ICTs have on our society. We focus on the fact that part of public procurement is dedicated to SMEs, hence the need for confidence in local know-how. We contribute to raising the awareness of major groups in order to make them understand that their support to SMEs can be non-financial, by providing premises, strategic advice and mentoring.