Glamourising entrepreneurship

Minister Nyirasafari examines a water filter made from clay by a woman enterpreneur in Muhanga. File.

The perception of entrepreneurship has shifted in recent years. While at university, more people were inclined to work for a big corporation than start their own business, now it seems that the opposite is becoming the norm.

The older generation still prizes formal employment, but the new attitudes are emerging.

 

Many young people want to be entrepreneurs, think they’re entrepreneurs or they have decided to become entrepreneurs. With the creation of television shows that thrust start-ups and entrepreneurs in the spotlight, we’re putting entrepreneurship and start-ups on a pedestal.

 

Every time a start-up is acquired for an incredible amount of money, we are in awe of the clever and savvy entrepreneur who magically went from scratch to stardom overnight, and we aspire for the same.

 

Truth be told, being an entrepreneur is hard. It takes a lot of time, effort, energy and money. And the survival rate of most start-ups to gain traction and succeed is at 20%; a dismal statistic that we tend to forget when glamourizing entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship for many young people in Africa is also born out of necessity due to the economic volatility in which there’s no job security and unemployment remains high, often times with little support or infrastructure to be navigate the entrepreneurial sector.

Of course entrepreneurship can address unemployment problems on the continent, but it needs to evolve beyond its current state of necessity-based informality into a robust enough entrepreneurial ecosystems to promote sustained economic growth and generate long-term, viable livelihoods.

Our media’s coverage of entrepreneurship overlooks the realities of the sacrifices that entrepreneurship demands. While the life of an entrepreneur seems glamorous on the outside looking in, it is anything but that.

Setting your own schedule, creating your own rules, and building the type of company you want to work for can be incredibly alluring, but most entrepreneurs will admit that there’s a lot of grunt work, long days and frustration, keeping operations going on thin cash flows, punctuated by moments of exhilaration.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not discouraging young people to venture into entrepreneurship, but we need to understand the realities and sacrifices one has to be willing to make to become an entrepreneur. There’s been a recent over-promise of what entrepreneurship looks like, portrayed to be a low risk, high return narrative.

The informal entrepreneurial sector is pervasive in Africa, but many small medium enterprises remain underserved, preventing them from professionalizing and thus scaling their operations to become businesses that will be around for generations to come.

So, while a culture of entrepreneurship is growing in sub-Saharan Africa, the business landscape presents a number of challenges that prospective entrepreneurs must overcome.

There is a need for legislative measures that incentivize the growth of small medium enterprises, adding entrepreneurial and vocational training in the education system so that learners are exposed to entrepreneurship from a young age, and expanding business support services to rural entrepreneurs. 

All of these efforts must be made to promote entrepreneurship based on opportunity rather than necessity, fostering a culture of entrepreneurship that recognizes that every successful entrepreneur fails fast, learns fast, and fixes fast.

Failure is an inevitable, and essential, part of entrepreneurship, though realizing this rarely makes it easier to accept. The ability to recover from failure is what separates successes from the rest.

Not to take anything away from aspiring entrepreneurs, but passion needs to be coupled with the facts on the ground and the rollercoaster of building a business.

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