April 28, 2023 in Africa, Entrepreneur Advice

Are Rural Enterprises in Africa Accessing the Necessary Support?


Enterprises are considered to be rural-impacting if they engage positively in commerce in rural areas and improve access to goods, services and/or markets. Many of these rural-impacting enterprises are micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), which, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, make up the most significant percentage of businesses in the private sector.

In recent years, there has been growing interest in rural enterprise development. This is no surprise as these organizations play a critical role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as they contribute to creating jobs and reducing poverty. 

Factors such as a lack of infrastructure, limited access to finance, and markets have made it difficult for rural businesses to access dedicated support that could cater to their unique needs and enable their progress. Many entrepreneurs in Sub-Saharan Africa that run rural enterprises are locked out of existing entrepreneur support interventions due to their limited education, skills, lack of knowledge about available resources, as well as cultural and social barriers. 

That said, there are Entrepreneurial Support Organizations (ESOs) working to provide support ranging from business planning and modeling to investment readiness. However, these support organizations are equally siloed from the ecosystem and often need as much support as the entrepreneurs they support. 

In 2022, Village Capital and Small Foundation launched an ecosystem research initiative working to identify gaps, synergies, and opportunities for exponential impact within the rural impacting enterprise (RIE) ecosystem in sub-Saharan Africa. This first-of-its-kind research aims to give stakeholders an understanding of where and how to focus their ecosystem support efforts most effectively. We received 188 applications for the initiative and used data from those applications to put together a snapshot of the RIE ecosystem landscape in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

RIE Blog Graphic_ESOs by Region

Here’s what we have learned:

Most ESOs operate with small operational budgets. 147 ESOs (80 percent) report an operating budget under USD 500,000, and only 4 (2%) of ESO applicants report an annual operating budget of over USD 2 Million.

East Africa has the leading number of ESOs supporting RIEs. 60 percent of the ESOs that applied have operations in East Africa, followed by West Africa at 42 percent. Up to 46 percent of applicants (ESOs) report that over 50 percent of their clients are rural businesses. 

ESOs are not only focusing on rural enterprises. Most ESOs support high-growth ventures that have highly innovative business models serving large addressable markets, with a rapid growth trajectory. These enterprises are more likely to have a higher likelihood of survival and return on investment. Rural enterprises are often livelihood-sustaining enterprises. They are much smaller in size, falling under the micro-enterprises category. While ESOs are working to support them to become more formalized ventures, they are not always the primary support target. 

Most rural enterprises are in the agriculture sector. This comes as no surprise. Agriculture is the leading economic activity in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, many of these enterprises are youth-led and women-led, which is consistent with the demographics in the region. According to the MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE), Sub-Saharan Africa has the world's highest rate of women involved in entrepreneurial activity at 26 percent.

ESOs are more focused on developing hard skills. Hard skills encompassing financial and business management are critical in business. We found that the majority of the ESOs (80 percent) focused on providing training on developing hard skills through acceleration and incubation. Soft skills were equally prioritized and we found that 66 percent of the ESOs provided an opportunity for networking and market linkages. Mentoring and coaching are also popular offerings. 

Most ESOs are donor funded and grant-reliant. 36 percent of the ESOs operate as non-profits while 40 percent have a hybrid structure, operating as non-profits that earn revenue or for-profits that have a very strong social mission. 

The ESO sector in Africa is heavily financed by grant funders with 36%of the ESOs operating as non-profits while 40 percent have a hybrid structure, operating as non-profits that earn revenue or for-profits that have a very strong social mission. 

RIE Blog Graphics_selected ESOsHere are the selected ESOs:

  • Agri Frontier East Africa Limited (Kenya) is an investment and business advisory firm that helps create world-class farming and integrated agribusinesses with a focus in Africa. 
  • Anza Entrepreneurs (Tanzania) runs an accelerator, network of co-working spaces, and growth fund that provides capital leases to entrepreneurs. 
  • BAYI Foundation (Nigeria) is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization established to build and support sustainable social and economic growth in underserved communities by supporting small businesses. 
  • BongoHive (Zambia) supports entrepreneurs and startups through the entrepreneurial journey, right from idea generation, to delivering new products to market through different programs, innovation consulting, and provision of office space through its co-working space. 
  • Burundi Business Incubator (Burundi) is the first incubator in Burundi. It is primarily focused on building entrepreneurship skills among youth, while enterprise support focuses on a systems-level hypothesis to build an agriculture value chain that impacts SMEs. 
  • Center for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (CIPMEN) (Niger) is the first business incubator in Niger and one of the largest in West Africa. 
  • Community Women Enterprise Network Uganda Limited (CWEN) (Uganda) is a network of women entrepreneurs that aims to reinforce the capacity of their members to become more productive, gain a larger market share and grow their businesses. 
  • DoniLab (Mali) is the first incubator and support structure for innovative entrepreneurship in Mali. Since 2015, they have supported Malians in entrepreneurship through acceleration, mentorship and a co-working space. 
  • El-Kanis and Partners (Nigeria) harness climate-smart agriculture and leverages technology to increase the production of staple food crops in Nigeria. 
  • Goldstone Enterprise Consulting and Training (Uganda) is a multi-sectoral enterprise consulting and training firm providing services to clients in the NGO, impact investment, and private sectors since 2012. 
  • Imagine Her (IH) (Uganda) works with communities to accelerate the power and potential of women, girls, and youth as active leaders and social entrepreneurs who create sustainable solutions within their communities. 
  • Innohub Limited (Ghana) is a business accelerator, management consulting, and impact investment platform that supports small and growing businesses to become investment ready and matches them to the capital needed for growth. 
  • Innovation SL (Sierra Leone) was established in 2017, runs the Freetown Pitch Night, Innovations Axis Ltd (an incubator/accelerator and co-working space), and is the Global Entrepreneurship Network affiliate in Sierra Leone. 
  • Intelli-Wealth Limited (Kenya) is an Agribusiness Consultancy Company established in 2016 to provide advisory services to the agricultural sector in Africa. 
  • PearlMutual Consulting Ltd (Nigeria) offers services in financial advisory, capital raising, and corporate training. It started operations in 2012 in Lekki, Lagos State, Nigeria. 
  • Smart Regional Consultants Ltd (SRC) (Kenya) is a private sector company working with local and international organizations that are affiliated with SMEs. 
  • Tradeline Consult (Ghana) created Finance Factory (FIFACT), a flagship program to ensure micro and small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in different sectors have access to accounting and development services at their own convenience. 
  • Pepea Capital (Kenya)  is a regional consulting firm that supports businesses and organizations to solve their most pressing challenges by offering advisory and organizational development services. 
  • WYLDE International (Kenya) is a strategy and entrepreneurship firm that equips and empowers entrepreneurs and their support institutions to succeed. 
  • Yeesal Agri Hub (Senegal) is the first Agritech hub in West Africa and was created by a group of young experts in agriculture with different profiles and skills. 

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