FILE - This Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010 file photo shows a storage tank of French Total oil refinery of Grandpuits, eastern of Paris. (AP Photo/ Francois Mori, file)
JOHANNESBURG – Last week I visited Paris to attend Total’s Start-up of the Year awards as a guest of Patrick Pouyanne, the chairperson and chief executive of Total.

The company is a French multinational integrated oil, gas, solar and renewable energies company founded in 1924, and one of the world’s seven “Supermajor” oil companies.

Start-up of the Year is an initiative to support start-ups in the countries where Total has a presence, especially in Africa. It looks at start-ups that are solving today’s social challenges in their communities and most applicants were from Nigeria, Uganda and South Africa.

Pouyanne reiterated just how important it is for Total to invest in the communities in which they operate. This includes supporting these social entrepreneurs with mentorship, coaching and seed grants to help them scale their businesses.

The grand prize winners were from Nigeria, with one winner from Uganda and one from South Africa.

It was my third visit to Paris and the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem remains inspirational to me. It might not be perfect, but it’s something to experience and absorb where the active stakeholders and the co-ordination that exists among them are strong. My visit was not without controversies as the yellow vest movement protested all over Paris seeking economic justice for the middle- and low-income classes. That’s a discussion for another day!.

Paris also boasts Station F, the world’s largest start-up campus, while organisations such as Paris & Co and Jokkolabs led by Karim Sy that provide incubation and help build start-ups are also worth noting.

Sy also sits on the French Presidential Advisory Council for African start-ups. In addition, the French Development Agency (AFD) and Proparco are always eager to look at new initiatives and high impact start-ups to fund, with the spotlight specifically on Africa.

French President Emmanuel Macron is a leader that recognises that Africa is the new frontier and he’s launched an initiative called Choose Africa to accelerate the growth of micro-, small- and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and entrepreneurship on the continent.

The initiative aims to commit more than 2.5billion (R40.88bn) to financing MSMEs and entrepreneurs by 2022. This is divided as 1.5bn in credit lines and guarantees to local financial institutions dedicated to MSME financing, or guarantees to banks to share the risk on MSME lending and 1bn in private equity, either through direct investments in companies or indirectly, via private equity MSME-focused funds.

He has frequented Africa since his presidency and has even accelerated visits to the non-francophone African countries with visits in just the last two weeks to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya where he announced an estimated 3bn worth of deals to the East African powerhouse.

Choose Africa is evidence of France’s strong commitment to support the African entrepreneurial impetus.

With Choose Africa, the AFD Group aims to assist MSMEs and entrepreneurs at all stages of their development via a wide range of financing and support solutions, tailored to meet local needs and contexts, across the entire value chain. Its goal is to strengthen the performance of these small businesses so that they continue to play their fundamental role in creating jobs, boosting economic growth and innovation.

It also provides venture capital equity investment into innovative high-potential start-ups, ranging from seed capital to Series C funding. Examples include Lynk Job, a Kenyan start-up that is transforming the informal sector, which received an indirect equity investment via the Novastar fund of $5.5million (R79.6m).

Launched in 2016, the start-up has developed an online services platform that connects skilled workers in the informal sector with individuals or companies.

The initiative also supports the capacity development of incubators, accelerators, and investment readiness programmes.

France is now really flexing its strategic muscle as a prominent partner to Africa’s development, with the focus on high-impact start-ups.

All I can say is Vive la France!

Kizito Okechukwu is the co-chairperson of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest start-up campus.

BUSINESS REPORT