The Founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, has announced US$10 million in funding to African digital entrepreneurs. Jack Ma, the Alibaba Group founder and UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) special envoy, challenged African entrepreneurs to seize the opportunities presented to them. Ma described African entrepreneurs as being “first class” and is calling on innovators to look at challenges like lack of infrastructure and poor logistics as opportunities.
For the next 10 years, African start-ups will have the opportunity to compete for US$1 million funding each year given by The Jack Ma Foundation Netpreneur Prize. Set to open in 2019, the contest is set as a pitch competition, and the 10 internet-led small businesses which make it to the final will receive investment for their businesses. It doesn’t just stop there, the finalists will also get mentorship from a dedicated community of African business leaders.
“As a fellow entrepreneur, I understand the importance of getting support during the early days,” said Ma. “This prize demonstrates our support of a next generation of young entrepreneurs across Africa that is paving the way for a better future and impart positive change in their communities.”
Jack Ma visited Africa for the first time in 2017 and says he regrets that it took him this long to visit Africa, but he’s making up for it by supporting young African entrepreneurs. He says that the prize is meant to “further [Africa’s] digital economy through local entrepreneurship.”
Even Ma admits, that compared to similar programs, $10 million doesn’t seem like much, but the significance of the Netpreneurs program is that it highlights the parallels between Africa and China.
Sharing his story of how he became an entrepreneur in China 19 years ago, he inspired young entrepreneurs to take advantage of their environment. “This is where I see Africa, full of problems, but full of opportunities,” Ma said in an auditorium at the University of the Witwatersrand, where he was the keynote speaker.
“The same questions people are asking you now, how can Africa have internet companies, how can you do ecommerce, you don’t have credit cards, you don’t have government support, you don’t have anything, that’s the opportunity,” he said, adding that entrepreneurs “never complain, but make other people complain”.
“So, today Africa you don’t have bank accounts — a lot of people don’t have bank accounts. You don’t have logistics, you don’t have the credit card system. This is opportunity, go build up (on) this”
He predicted that in 10 to 20 years Africa will have “10 or 20 Alibaba companies” and called on African governments to create tax policies that favour small businesses and startups. “Its the entrepreneurs that will drive African economies,” he said.
“This prize demonstrates our support of the next generation of young entrepreneurs across Africa who are paving the way for a better future and imparting positive change in their communities.
“I am inspired and encouraged by these entrepreneurs who, together, will help build a sustainable, inclusive economy for Africa and for the world,” he added.
Applications for 2019’s contest open in January and the pitch competition will be broadcast on television in the second half of the year. Applicants must be African nationals and the finalists will be selected by a team of judges across five regions.
Watch this space for further updates on the Netpreneurs prize.