Written by: Andy Galdi
Today was the second day of the A2S Entrepreneur Incubator Pitch Competition. The Entrepreneur Incubator is in its second year at A2S. The Incubator provides Nigerian youth with the support needed to create community-changing businesses, by offering the mentorship and the resources needed to turn ideas into viable enterprises. Winners of the pitch competition get entry into the year-long A2S Entrepreneur Incubator program, where they will get business guidance and up to $5,000 of financial investment.
Hanging out with the kids at the after-school academy and watching them go through all the stations at VBS the previous couple of days was fun, but the incubator has been the activity I’ve been anticipating the most since this trip began. Before arriving in Nigeria, I got to review many of the business ideas that would be presented at the incubator and was really impressed the boldness displayed by several of the Nigerian entrepreneurs.
In the US, an overwhelming majority of new businesses fail within the first few years due to factors mostly within their control (lack of funding, poor cash flow, growing too fast, etc.). In Nigeria, all those same pitfalls exist plus Nigerian entrepreneurs must battle the lack of institutional infrastructure we enjoy in the US to support new businesses (weaker intellectual property laws, corruption of government leaders and policy makers, etc.). I was really looking forward to the incubator so that I could interact with the people behind these ideas who cared so much about making their communities better that they were willing to tackle all of these challenges.
Today began with a presentation by Erica and Georgia on how to effectively pitch your business idea to a variety of different audiences. The talk was awesome. It was interactive and engaging, and it was easy to tell the entrepreneurs came away with practical advice on how to communicate the story behind their businesses effectively.
Afterwards, the pitches began! I’m not sure if it was because of Erica and Georgia’s talk or not, but the pitches were really impressive. I’ve judged pitch and case competitions at UPenn before and the teams here easily surpassed the teams I’ve judged in the past in terms of the quality and creativity of their ideas. We saw businesses ranging from farmers developing insect resistant corn to cookware manufacturers completely changing the technology used for baking in Nigeria to a medical payment company that would introduce emergency funds and electronic medical records to a nation that has never seen that before.
Today, our eight judges (including me) were split into two groups of four. The judges teams were made up of both US and Nigerian business people and professors. Each of the nine finalists had 15 minutes to pitch their business to one team of judges, followed by 20 minutes of feedback and Q&A. I was teamed up with Erica, Holly, and Habiibah Oyeghe Oyarkhue, a Nigerian broadcast journalist and business development manager. It was really great being able to judge alongside another Nigerian businessperson to get their perspective on what is practical in the country and to just observe Nigerian business culture. After each presentation, we shared our feedback to each team on how to improve their business’s attractiveness to potential investors and on how to make their pitch more effective.
Tomorrow is the last day of the incubator, and all the teams will get to make a shortened pitch to all of the judges at the same time. I’m sure pitching today and getting judged by strangers from another country was a harrowing experience for the teams, but I think those that can incorporate some of the advice we gave to them will be the strongest businesses in the end. I can’t wait to see which teams will come out on top tomorrow and find out what revolutionary business idea A2S will get to help launch!