Paul Lamontagne
Johannesburg - When Paul Lamontagne and his wife Mary Rolph-Lamontagne moved to South Africa in 2005, it was for a two-year-posting. More than a decade later they are still here. South Africa has become their home and they hold a firm view on the continent’s economic growth prospects. Lamontagne believes that Africa is poised for rapid economic growth, which will benefit entrepreneurs, investors, businesses and millions of Africans.

Lamontagne has been doing business in Africa and in the Middle East for the past two decades. His first foray was to head up an investment organisation jointly funded by the Canadian and South African governments.

Lamontagne is the chairperson of Enablis Financial Corporation, an impact investing organisation that specialises in filling the funding gap between micro-finance and venture capital in Africa.

Through Enablis Entrepreneurial Network, Lamontagne coaches entrepreneurs and introduces them to networks.

His career extends to the telecoms and IT industries, investing and working for the Canadian government.

He is currently the executive investment partner at Capafrica, a Canadian private equity fund with interests in renewable energy, infrastructure, agriculture and telecommunications.

He is also a director and board committee chairperson of the Young Presidents Organisation. For him it goes without saying that South Africa, Africa and the Middle East are exciting growth markets.

Between 2011 and 2016, he headed up the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce for Africa and the Middle East. The Canadian banking system is similar to South Africa’s. It is also highly regulated and well capitalised.

He is bullish about Africa and says years of investing in the technology sectors are paying off in many ways. Just like the internet and cellphones changed the lives of many, Africa is poised to once again reap the benefits of vaulting technology.

According to Internet World Stats; 31.2percent of people in Africa have access to the internet, compared to 51.7percent of the rest of the world.

In an opinion article published on Word Wide Creative, Wim van der Beek, founder and managing partner of Goodwell Investments says: “Brick-and-mortar clinics, schools and grid-powered electricity are not in place across vast swathes of the continent and will not reach every rural village or urban slum in the future. Instead, these services will be provided more and more through innovative mobile technologies, reducing the need for expensive physical infrastructure.”

Lamontagne says the internet digital access phenomenon is gathering momentum. In his view Africa continues to leapfrog technology. And access to the internet has increased the ease of doing business and reducing poverty.

He says the second technological wave is filled with opportunities, but it is not only in the digital sphere. Agriculture, infrastructure build and logistics are ripe for investing in. Young people make up the vast majority of Africans, and the continent has the youngest population in the world.

The opportunities are immense, young people can be skilled and re-skilled in line with growth sectors, where job opportunities lay. Africa’s middle class population is 300 million strong.

It is projected that 500 million Africans will be in the middle class by 2030. Spending habits change and purchases will be in line with their increased needs, and how they are made will be in line with the rest of the world.

“China leads e-commerce, about 15percent of sales are online. In Africa online sales account for 1percent of shopping. There is huge potential,” he says.

The role of technology can be a powerful one, he says and as tech breaks through it can enable many, leading to more than a leapfrog. “It could be a cheetah.”

“If you are not looking at opportunities in Africa from the consumer standpoint, then you are missing out on online retail shopping as an example. There is huge potential for e-commerce platforms.

“Technology is a big space and investors have to decide where they place their money, in infrastructure or in digital services on this continent.”

Lamontagne says entrepreneurs are driving the tech sector, they have the ability to launch a business quickly, because they are agile.

He says entrepreneurs should also be looking at downstream opportunities, with an increase of internet penetration and the growth of the middle class e-commerce needs support in areas like logistics, as goods are ordered and delivered.

-BUSINESS REPORT