Every year, the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) gathers together thousands of entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, policymakers and other startup champions from more than 170 countries to identify new ways of helping founders start and scale new ventures around the world. This year, delegates from 173 different countries gathered at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Johannesburg – a budding startup hub that is both an economic and cultural cornerstone of South Africa – and attended in-depth masterclasses and relevant discussions to foster entrepreneurs to start and scale new businesses.
JA South Africa Executive Director, Nelly Mofokeng, JA Swaziland Executive Director, Sboniso Madlopha and JA Kenya Executive Director, John Wali represented JA Africa at the conference. The theme for this year’s GEC was digital disruption, focusing on how technology is disrupting traditional industries such as agriculture. This is a challenge to JA to intensify its efforts in channeling students towards generating STEM business ideas that will be game changers irrespective of the industry. The catch phrase during the event was “Data is the new oil.” This emphasized the importance of investing in research and developing programs backed by research in entrepreneurship.
With the GEC taking place for the first time in Africa, there were questions on what is going to happen after the event. Resultantly, there was an official unveiling of GEN Africa to ensure that there is an African GEC to be held annually. This creates an opportunity for other JA Africa Member Nations to participate in this global movement and for Sboniso, JA Swaziland Executive Director, this was also a great platform to pick up several ideas for effectively implementing Global Entrepreneurship Week in Swaziland.
He also found it interesting to learn how big corporate entities, banks and state owned enterprises play a role in improving and enhancing start ups by giving them opportunities and preference in the supply chain. With the World bank looking for young entrepreneurs to assist as a tool to curb youth and unemployment and the existing Angel investors forum in Africa that seeks to improve start ups and fund promising ideas including that of young entrepreneurs, the Global Entrepreneurship Network is growing very fast.
JA South Africa shared a stall with Transnet, one of their top sponsors and platinum sponsor of GEC 2017. Additionally, three JA South Africa achievers who received 1st prize at the Moving Ideas Competition the past three years, had an opportunity to pitch their ideas at the pre-GEC pitching competition. One of them, Portia Hlati made it to the top 25. The Moving Ideas competition is held annually in partnership with Transnet and the South African Bureau of Standards for JA students attending the Entrepreneurship Academy Programme sponsored by Transnet.
For JA South Africa, the congress afforded insights on key stakeholder (policy makers, government, state owned entities, corporates and investors) plans and opportunities for entrepreneurs and SME development in the country. This will assist them to appropriately package their offerings. Nelly and her team also got to understand what other service providers are offering, have already identified and started networking a pipeline and creating the next level for our students. We are currently in conversation with potential mentors and business incubation providers to assist our out of school youth programme beneficiaries.
Overall, the conference was a wonderful opportunity for Nelly, Sboniso and John to make connections, learn about new research, and take home the latest information to renew the existing JA programs, facilitate policy discussions and mobilize their entrepreneurial community.