Jack Ma, the Alibaba Group Executive Chairman.
Photo: (Xinhua/Martin Zabala) (ma) (da) (axy)
Jack Ma, the Alibaba Group Executive Chairman. Photo: (Xinhua/Martin Zabala) (ma) (da) (axy)

OPINION: Jack Ma’s $10 million prize for African start-ups

By Kizito Okechukwu Time of article published Mar 19, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG – Any person remotely business-minded knows that the name Jack Ma, the executive chairperson of the Alibaba Group, is instantly synonymous with entrepreneurial royalty.

He’s living proof that starting, scaling and sustaining a business is one of, if not the, toughest jobs in the world.

The journey is often riddled with frustrations, challenges and failures.

And that’s before you’ve even cashed your first pay cheque.

Therefore, I reckon Ma created a fantastic philanthropic initiative called the Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) worth $10 million (R144m), which focuses on supporting the continent’s start-ups.

To put Ma a little more into perspective, in his book, The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, Scott Galloway, an entrepreneur and professor at New York University Stern School, provides a perceptive analysis of the four-horse race to become the first trillion-dollar company (if memory serves, I think Apple did hit it sometime last year, but then dropped off again).

With a casually incisive style, he uncovers how each of these companies has deployed iconic leadership, technology, fearless innovation and lightning execution. Galloway positions Alibaba among a few other companies as the possible fifth in the race.

The history of Ma’s perseverance and dogged, never-say-die attitude which led him to success is truly remarkable, starting with shortcomings in school to a barrage of rejected job applications, which I’m sure many of us have probably also faced, yet perhaps lacked his entrepreneurial tenacity.

Now, research into the entrepreneurial space questions the validity of necessity-driven entrepreneurs.

But the fact is that they exist and, most times - if these entrepreneurs couple a deeper understanding and a bigger picture vision of the opportunity they are pursuing - are what the world needs more of - more Ma’s. I bet the world needs both necessity and opportunity driven entrepreneurs.

I argued differently in my 2013 MBA thesis, but knowledge and experience over the past six years has advanced my current views.

Every year for the next 10 years, the ANPI will host a pitching competition across Africa, after which 10 finalists will compete for $1m in prize money.

The initiative aims to support and inspire the next generation of African entrepreneurs across all sectors, who are building a more sustainable and inclusive economy for the future.

The ANPI has banded together a strong ecosystem of players to support both technology-driven and traditional businesses.

The ANPI Structure:

* The ANPI is led by the Jack Ma Foundation in partnership with:

* Nailab - an East African accelerator in Kenya and a lead partner in the ANPI.

* NINE - a West African partner and the largest incubator network in Nigeria.

* RiseUp - a North Africa partner and a platform that connects with resources.

* 22 on Sloane - a Southern African partner and the largest start-up campus in Africa.

The advisory board of the ANPI includes Ma, Graça Machel, the chairperson of the Graça Machel Trust Board and Ban Ki-moon, the 8th secretary-general of the UN.

The Jack Ma Foundation is a charitable organisation founded in 2014.

The foundation aims to promote human development in harmony with both society and the environment, while its mission is to work towards a world of bluer skies, cleaner water, healthier communities and more open thinking. By 2030, the ANPI hopes to identify and shine a spotlight on 100 African entrepreneur heroes who will inspire the continent. From day one, its approach has been community-based and focused on inclusiveness; to be truly for Africans and by Africans.

ANPI Core Application Criteria:

* Open to entrepreneurs who are nationals from any of the 54 African countries.

* Open to all industry sectors.

* The youth and women entrepreneurs are strongly encouraged to apply.

ANPI Key Activities and Dates:

* Applications Launch: March 27, 2019.

Deadline for applications: June 30, 2019.

* Announcement of the top 50 regional finalists: August 2019.

* Announcement of the final 10 finalists: October 2019.

Grand Finale pitch event: November 2019.

* 22 on Sloane is proud to be launching the Southern African prize Initiative at its campus on Wednesday, March 27 at 12.30pm. To attend the launch, please visit: https://anpi.22onsloane.co

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


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