Magazine article International Trade Forum

Start-Up Success in Senegal: Lessons Learned the Hard Way Inspired CONCREE's Drive to Create a Relationship Management Software for Entrepreneurs

Magazine article International Trade Forum

Start-Up Success in Senegal: Lessons Learned the Hard Way Inspired CONCREE's Drive to Create a Relationship Management Software for Entrepreneurs

Article excerpt

I decided to start up an e-commerce business in Senegal back in 2011. At the time I was still a student at the University of Grenoble in France. However, I initially abandoned my entrepreneurship dream because I lacked critical elements, including co-founders with complementary skills,access to experienced people for advice, and a lack of access to information.

Still, a year later together with six friends I formed a working group to design a solution to help young entrepreneurs find the resources they need to start their own businesses. We ended up building a digital platform to connect co-founders with mentors, which would also provide vital information to entrepreneurs. We called it CONCREE.

Three of us, now co-founders of CONCREE, left our jobs in France at the end of 2013 to go back to Senegal.

To be able start our activities we decided to run two crowdfunding campaigns, which led us to raise 10,000 ($11,800) in startup capital. We also learned a lot from our target beneficiaries: they were looking for better ways of connecting co-founders and mentors to be connected, and better access to start-up information. They also wanted help in transforming their ideas into successful start-ups.

PILOT PHASE

As we didn't have enough experience to run a business incubation service, we set up a prototype and tested it through a pilot phase. The prototype included business models, value propositions, information on how to set up a lean startup and customer development methodologies. The service was run both virtually and physically.

We started with a cohort of 15 diverse start-ups with different levels of progress and in several sectors. These included agriculture; digital; fishing; fashion design; logistics; e-commerce; electronics; and education. This helped us test our incubation model in different situations.

At the end of the pilot phase we introduced minor changes and refined our business incubation service to help entrepreneurs make progress through three steps: idea validation; developing an operational business model; and developing a scalable business model.

The pilot phase has already had an impact: the three most successful startups participating in the pilot phase now have an annual revenue of about $3 million.

With our incubation model validated, we continued our work with both virtual and physical incubation models. However, we quickly faced difficulties when it came to generating revenue. On the one hand, entrepreneurs were not inclined to pay for virtual incubation and, for the most part, they were unable to fully pay for the service. Since we are a private enterprise, it was almost impossible to apply for grants.

We operated our first business model pivot by changing our paying customers to business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-government (B2G) models and building a strong partnership strategy. …

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