Najwa El Iraki is an entrepreneur, business development and financial services expert. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, She talks about some of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make in today’s market, the African business ecosystem and advice for entrepreneurs and investors. Excerpts.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about AfricaDev Consulting and the gap its filling?
Najwa: AfricaDev Consulting Ltd is a business development and advisory firm dedicated to the African continent. We work with an ecosystem of partners in Morocco and the rest of Africa in various areas to provide one stop shop for investors and we are supported by senior advisors worldwide.
Our services include: representation and business development for international companies ; investment and financial advisory services; structuring and establishment services in Morocco; strategy consulting in Africa.
As such we support international businesses in their African expansion success. We play a key role in helping them to grow in the continent by leveraging on a deep understanding of local markets in particular in North Africa, as well as using our network of partners in SubSaharan Africa. We work mainly with the private sector, which is a driving force of Africa’s growth, providing business development for financial institutions, professional services firms and digital services companies.
We also help African entrepreneurs carrying out financial advisory assignments notably mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activities and fundraising for private equity and venture capital as well as helping local SMEs with their international strategy and finding the right international partner.
Alaba: As a financial expert with experience in Africa, what’s the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make when they start or run a business?
Najwa: Being an entrepreneur is really hard but also really rewarding. Below are some of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs tend to make in today’s market.
- Going for the money only: One of the biggest mistakes that any entrepreneur can make is ignoring their true passion and just opening a company to make money.
- Expecting success right away: Patience is key as well as being realistic about how much money you can actually make at first.
- Not being adaptable: You’d need to go with what is working now then always be ready to make changes in the future.
- Trying to do everything yourself:You’d need to know how to outsource and delegate to others and focus on the tasks that actually need your expertise and attention.
- Overestimating initial sales: This problem often leads to a shortfall in working and permanent capital. It’s no wonder that nearly 50 percent of businesses attribute their failure to a shortage of working capital.
- Ignoring social media: There is a tech revolutionary and entrepreneurs need to use it!
Alaba: What’s your view on small businesses experiencing cash flow problems, and forecast isn’t good. And want to tap into their personal wealth to shore up their emerging businesses?
Najwa: As an entrepreneur, you are thinking about cash flow all of the time. An entrepreneur should not just think about his personal funds but about different sources of funding being it debt or equity when available including from friends and family as business angels tend to be rare in Africa given the cultural context and aversion to entrepreneurship.
Banks are also cautious because they believe that asymmetric information is too important to get a good visibility on the credit quality of SMEs and startups. Investment funds can have too high entry barriers for SMEs and startups, and microfinance institutions offer low funding resources and prohibitive interest rates.
As such, every business needs to consider its financing needs as part of a business plan. The entrepreneur needs to evaluate his personal tolerance for risk. Most businesses have times where business is more robust than others and temporary cash flow problems may need to be addressed with personal funds if financing is not available.
At the same time, the owner should be looking to see if any changes could be made to help increase the cash position as well as profits. While the growth rate is slow, the focus of the entrepreneur remains on making his business successful through delivering value to customers, and that is the most healthy approach an entrepreneur can have.
Alaba: For a small business who have not made as much profit as expected. How can it bridge the gap until it start to make profit? Is profit a key component of a successful business?
Najwa: A profit typically means your business is financially well off. It’s important to identify quickly why your business is not making money. The faster you can discover where the losses are coming from, the faster you can reduce or stop the leak as you can then identify where you need to make changes in your business. There are some common reasons for a small business losing money (e.g. bad or inaccurate accounting, poorly priced products or services, nonexistent investing, etc).
Generally speaking it comes to a strategic use of your cash and investment strategies to potentially provide backup if you find yourself not making a profit. Additionally, there are a variety of available resources one can turn to for lending advice, guidance and support; family members, friends, professional network, financial solutions advisors, small business advocates, online content and more.
Alaba: What is your view about Africa’s business ecosystem?
Najwa: I think that there is still a lot to do based on what I have seen being done elsewhere (in the US for example following the Women Entrepreneurship Program I attended this month as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program –IVLP-). In particular building entrepreneurship ecosystems has become an imperative for African governments and business communities.
To create efficient and innovative African Business Ecosystem, there are a number of needed solutions.
First a better government is required. Kenya for instance is the most innovative African country in ICT by far, because they have good regulation and support from the government.
Also there is a financing need. A lot of people talk about venture capital in Africa but but not many do much about it. The levels of private equity investment have been increasing in the continent over last decade but most of the investments are in mature companies; only a tiny fraction of them are seed or first-round investments. The problem for African startups is that there are only a handful of true venture funds based in Africa and most U.S. and European VCs don’t have the local knowledge and connections, or the right business models, to make a real go of it in Africa.
As for SMEs, on one hand, we have businesses that complain that there are no financiers interested in partnering with them to grow. And on the other hand, financiers complain about a lack of a deal pipeline, namely viable businesses that can be credibly financed. This has led to the perception that Africa can not absorb the scale of capital theoretically available to the continent. But actually the real issue here is linkages and aggregation. What is required are more platforms and entities that link viable SMEs with interested financiers and aggregate business deals. Which is what our company AfricaDev Consulting helps with.
Then there is the issue of support structures for SME development. So while there is a financing need, an ecosystem that provides niche expertise, long-term partnership and technological support are also key. Here, large multinationals can have an impact as an ecosystem enabler.
Finally, one of the most important changes that could improve the climate for entrepreneurship is culture. There is a hope that the startup path will be more respected by African families and more compelling to youngsters. If that happens, there will be more entrepreneurs, more success stories and more people willing to take risks. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle.
Alaba: What’s your advice for entrepreneurs who want to start a business in Africa?
Najwa: I would just say that despite many challenges, the African continent, which has a population of over 1.2 billion people and some of the world’s fastest growing economies, provides entrepreneurs with a very rich ground on which the foundations of a successful venture can be laid down.
As such, the good thing about developing countries is that they are a lot of things that have not been done yet and a lot of problems that need innovative solutions. And this fact alone presents key opportunities for a lot of entrepreneurs to take advantage of.
I would add that there is no one single advice but the following points are worth taking into consideration for a starting business to succeed in the continent :
- Have a clear and adequate vision for your company that you focus on and learn how to communicate it.
- Choose your founding team wisely, which is what many investors are looking for.
Find a way to fund your startup and be aware of those sources of capital that are around us and within our reach. You should remember that if you have no proven track record, only people who know, like and trust you will be willing to take a chance on you in the early days of your business.
Another source of finance worth looking into is crowdfunding.
There are also hundreds of international and local organisations which support businesses that tackle issues such as environmental pollution, illiteracy, disease and other social problems. They usually provide grants, donations, loans, equity or even training and advice.
As previously mentioned, avoid some of the common financial mistakes entrepreneurs make when starting a new business (e.g. cash flow management is key; focus on customer acquisition; establish financial goals which are reachable and measurable).
Finally, achieving your desired success will take time and you have to be patient for it to happen. They are a lot of exciting success stories in Africa. So if they can do it, so can you.
Alaba: You are also the Managing Director in the North Africa for Opportunity Network. Tell us about this platform and benefits for Africa businesses.
Najwa: Opportunity Network is an exclusive business match making platform for vetted companies to share and connect to global trade opportunities, as well as strike reliable investment deals.
Opportunity Network partners with financial institutions to allow their corporate and SME clients to find their next business partner in over 120 countries in the world. Members can only be invited to join the platform by a leading financial institution, which does a pre-screening of each member of the network.
Current partners include UBS (global), ABN AMRO (The Netherlands), Intesa San Paolo (Italy), Caixabank (Spain), BCI (Chile), Citizens (USA), Alfa Bank, (Russia), Vietinbank (Vietnam), Eurobank (Greece), Sterling Bank (Nigeria), FCMB (Nigeria), YPO (global), GLG (Global), Entrepreneurs organization (Global)… and many more.
The partnerships we have in Africa form part of an effort by banks to put their African customers on a global platform and enhance their ability to do business in a collaborative manner with other investors across the globe. For instance, there are existing opportunities for African companies looking for an opportunity to export commodities, or looking for investment to grow. There are also deals for African companies in tech, healthcare, education, oil and gas looking for buyers, suppliers, distributors or clients of any sort.
B I O G R A P H Y
Najwa El Iraki is the Founder & Managing Partner of AfricaDev Consulting Ltd, a business development and advisory firm dedicated to the African continent. She is the Managing Director in North West Africa for Opportunity Network, a global business matchmaking platform headquartered in London that connects CEOs worldwide. She is also currently the General Representative of Lloyd’s of London in Francophone Africa.
Prior to this, she was the Head of Business Development at Casablanca Finance City Authority (CFCA), a public-private held organization dedicated to positioning Morocco as a regional financial center and a premier gateway into Africa. Najwa structured the project from its inception, contributing to the overall strategy for building a regional business and finance center.
Previously, she was Senior Manager within Mazars’ Financial Services Group in London. A role she took on after working within both large international investment banks (Lehman Brothers/Nomura) within their EMEA equity derivative business and a big four firm (KPMG London) advising financial institutions and corporates in various consulting areas including tax, corporate/project finance and restructuring.
Najwa has accumulated 15 years’ experience and holds a Master’s degree in Business Management and Finance from leading French and British business schools (Kedge Business School & Aston Business School). She is a qualified Chartered Accountant, member of both international accountancy and UK tax leading professional institutes (ICAS & ATT). She holds a certificate in leadership management from Harvard Business School and she is an Alumni of the IVLP, Women Entrepreneurs – 2019 (International Visitor Leadership Program by the US Government).
She is also actively involved either as a co-founder or a member in a number of business associations and networks in Africa (e.g. Africa Expert Network, CasaExpats, Women in Business Network of Africa CEO Forum…)
Najwa was named among the 60 most influential women in Africa in 2016 by “New African Woman Magazine”.
Najwa speaks fluently English, French, Arabic and intermediate Spanish.
Biography: Remi Duyile- RemiSpeaks, Career and Impact
Remi Duyile: Author | International Speaker | Empowerment Coach | Strategic Consultant
About Remi Duyile
Dr. Remi Duyile is a Nigerian-born and accomplished author, founder of Legacy premier foundation, a business leader with expertise and extensive experience in the financial sector, government and corporate strategy and communication , an eloquent International Keynote speaker who is intentionally in the Diaspora and abroad impacting the next generation and being a business bridge to Global Investors. She is an insightful legislative advocate and trusted community leader. Remi Duyile wears many hats, the one that she wears very proudly is being a devoted wife, and mother to three awesome children.
Dr. Duyile is an example of how faith, hard work and diligence can lead to numerous exposure and growth, she is passionate about seeing others succeed, it’s no doubt she was honored by the Governor of Maryland in the United States of America for her matchless efforts to better humanity. She has made it her life’s purpose to empower others to recognize their own strength, skills and abilities.
Early Life and Education
Dr. Remi Duyile was born and raised in Ondo City and Lagos State, Nigeria. where she learned the thesis of discipline, hard work, commitment and staying true to oneself. With this strong foundation, she relocated from Nigeria to the United States over 30 years ago with just one purpose: to shatter the glass ceilings which she fulfilled, is still fulfilling and will continue to fulfill.
As a fervid believer in the power of education as the key to unlocking opportunities, Dr. Duyile enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia between 1982 and 1987 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a Masters’ of Business Administration in Finance and Business Economy.
Dr. Duyile started her corporate career at one of the nation’s most revered banking institutions, Bank of America(one of the largest financial institutions in the United States). It was here that she shattered glass ceilings when she was promoted to Vice President of Retail, Premier, and Mortgage Banking. Dr. Duyile served in these roles managing over 600 financial portfolios of high net-worth clients for several years, until she decided that it was time to step into her true calling as a serial entrepreneur and empowering others in her community.
Impact and Philanthropy
Dr. Duyile founded Premier Mortgage Solutions (a mortgage solutions business), Image Consulting Group (an international consulting firm), and Legacy Premier Foundation (a non-profit providing mentorship and financial literacy for women and girls. She’s also the founder of RemiSpeaks. RemiSpeaks is a Coaching, Speaking and Training Platform for Management, Emerging Leaders and Entrepreneurs in quest of sustainable growth with Global Relevance. Under the umbrella of her companies, she has become an empowerment mentor, community mobilizer, certified trainer, as well as an international key note speaker.
She has spoken throughout Africa, Europe, and extensively within North America (Canada and the US) teaching financial literacy, offering entrepreneurial development, and encouraging emerging leaders to engage in the Diaspora and beyond.
Professional Memberships, Affiliations and Boards
- Member Continental Who’s Who
- Member, World Trade Center Institute
- Member, National Black MBA
- Advisory Council Member, Leadership Initiatives
- Member, Wambia Capital
- Advisory Board Member, Mentoring International
- Member, National Speakers Association-DC
- Member, Les Brown Platinum Speaker Network
- Member : NCBW 100 of Prince George’s
- Member: LPGA Golf Female Executive Member
- Board Chair: Pan African Diaspora Women Association
- Board Member, Sisters 4 Sisters Network, Inc.
- Member, Jesus House, DC
- Chair, Census 2010 Complete Count Committee. 2009 – 2010
- Member, Maryland Democratic Party, Continental African Leadership Council
- Member of the National Coalition of 100 Black women
Nomination and Recognition
- Top 100 MBE award winner 2009
- 2010 Smart CEO Award
- Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, 2013
Biography: Ngozi Oyewole – Noxie, Career and Impact
Ngozi Oyewole, also known as ‘Noxie’ is the Founder of Noxie Limited, an award-winning, SONCAP (SON/LSOII/CB/2324) and MAN (MAN/GML/05047) integrated service provider and manufacturer. She is a certified health and safety professional and a big player in the medical, food, construction, oil and gas industries supplying protective equipment.
A result driven, resilient and ace ‘womentrepreneur’ with an extensive experience in leadership, business management and strategic planning. She is an experienced, certified Interior Designer and holds a degree in Business Administration; an alumnus of Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.
In 2015, she was nominated by Forbes Magazine as one of the leading women entrepreneur in Africa championing business sustainability and women inclusion in business. A WEConnect International award recipient for Woman of Excellence 2019.
Ngozi is also a 2019 award recipient of an Exceptional Leader of Excellence from the Women Economic Forum (WEF) and All Ladies League. She is a certified and active member of WeConnect International, SheTrade Commonwealth, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Nigerian American Chamber of Commerce (NACC), WIMBIZ and Nigeria Gas Association (NGA).
She is a member of the Pan-African Manufacturers Association (PAMA); a member cum Assistant Secretary of the International Women’s Society (IWS); Lioness Club of Africa Group, Thrive Women Solution, GAIA Women Club, Global Fund for Women and World Pulse Group; a member of the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) Nigeria; a member and COO of Commonwealth Business Women Network Nigeria. The CBWN sits on the main governance body on gender for the 54 commonwealth governments.
A NITAD certified trainer and holds various certifications in her industry which are Oxford Driving Disruptive Growth Program from Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, the MOODY’S Financing your Growing Business certificate, Women Leadership Institute certificate in Entrepreneurship and Leadership. She also holds more than 35 certifications from the SheTrades Commonwealth Global Entrepreneurship Program.
Ngozi Oyewole was a participant at the Road to Growth Training Program organized by Cherie Blair Foundation in conjunction with Exxon Mobil and Enterprise Development Center, Pan Atlantic University, Nigeria. She is a member of the oil and gas forum and an active player in various women oil, renewable energy, power and gas networks.
She belongs to a high impact entrepreneurial group (HIVE) and has been selected as one of their global speaker for their 2020 conference in Ghana. A panelist at the Nigerian International Petroleum Summit 2020 Women Forum where she spoke on how small industries can disrupt big industries. She was a participant at the LCCI Cyber Security 2020 Conference in Lagos.
Her business services cut across all spheres and major sectors in Nigeria such as the Oil and Gas, Communication, Banking, Power, Education, etc. As the Founder of Noxie Limited, she has been able to leverage her years of experience to ensuring that all her products, though produced locally, meet international specifications as certified by her vast client base, which is further supported by the company’s foreign partners such as PPE SERVICES B.V in the Netherlands; MIGE Office Furniture in Singapore, TINGLEY CORPORATION in the USA, ANOWAT PROJECTS AND RESOURCES LIMITED in Turkey and Hong Kong.
She participated at the SMEDAN supported USA-AFRICA Business Expo 2019 in New York, USA; WEConnect International and Moody’s Foundation 2019 Bootcamp; AWEP Annual Conference; WIMBIZBoard Institute Training; Africa SME Champion Conference and The Boardroom Africa Open Door Conference in South Africa.
She was at the 2019 African Union Expo and the AIW Africa Week Expo in Ethiopia. She was at the Global Business Expo 2019 in Botswana and the WEConnect International 2019 Annual Conference. She was also at the 2019 World Economic Forum in India. She was a key note speaker at the 2nd Thrive Women Conference in 2019 and at the 6th HIVE (High Impact Visionary Entrepreneur) Global Leaders Summit in Accra, Ghana.
As a social crusader and philanthropist, Ngozi Oyewole is the President of Mrs. Beatrice Chiebonam Foundation where she engages her influence to reach-out and render financial aids to over 400 widows yearly in various parts of Rivers State. She also organizes skill-based empowerment programs for women and mentors young female entrepreneur through the Cherie Blair Foundation and other platforms. She is a part of the team supporting education for the “Almajiri Child Right Initiative”; Women Impacting Nigeria and “When in Need” philanthropic group that seeks out to support the less privileged within her community.
Visit: Noxie Limited
Josephine Favre – B I O G R A P H Y
Josephine Favre, a Tanzanian grew up in Geneva, Switzerland due to the Diplomatic nature that brought her Father to Switzerland in 1975. Josephine attended the International School of Geneva from primary education to graduating with an International Baccalaureate Diploma.
She pursued higher-level studies where she obtained her Diploma in Marketing and Communication being nominated as MarCom Expert in her category. She later obtained Certification in Leadership (MBA Level) and registered for an Executive MBA with Cambridge University, UK.
Josephine worked her way up into senior management positions with global organizations, focusing on marketing and sales of consumer goods and services in foreign markets. Marketing and Communication being her strongest points, Josephine has worked within several industries such as Swiss Luxury Watches, (The SWATCH Group, Gucci Timepieces and IWC), Asset Management Systems, Banking Technology and Education.
Over time her roles and responsibilities evolved, enabling her to reach the strategic management level in various multinational companies. With more than 20 years experience in education, Josephine developed her passion for writing instructional programs and curricula for learning institutions. In Switzerland, She is still a very dedicated Language and Communication Instructor that continues:
-To foster position all earning environments for students with diverse learning difficulties.
-Maximize individual student performance.
-Develop student interest in language and communication.
Since a very young age, Josephine has been volunteering in humanitarian projects that led her to visit various communities in Africa where she actively engages herself in diverse initiatives including putting together agriculture infrastructure, programs and trainings enabling communities to sustainably secure food for their families while creating an enterprise mindset.
Josephine created The African Association for Vertical Farming (AAVF) in October 2018 where she sits as the President. An association that seeks to accelerate the practice of Vertical Farming and Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) into the continent. Through collaborations with various stakeholders in the entire Agro value chain. With its main focus on Agri Business, Education & Training, Research and Technology as well as Humanitarian Support.
She therefore has a good notion of the African continent which she dearly cherish.
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