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Pitch AgriHack winners supported by Ernst & Young in Senegal

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The AgriHack Talent initiative rewards and guides start-ups to ease access to finance

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Four Senegalese start-ups have received coaching and help in drawing up business growth plans from Ernst & Young (EY), as part of the AgriHack Talent initiative. Here, we look back at a successful pilot project that bodes well for fruitful collaboration among CTA, a leading international consulting firm, and promising new businesses.

CTA and EY joined forces to deliver entrepreneurship and business management training and support to four Senegalese start-ups, three of which took part in the Pitch AgriHack competition in 2016 and 2017:

  • Sooretul, an online retailer of locally grown food that also provides IT support services to women’s farming cooperatives;
  • BaySeddo, a digital platform to boost investment and support agricultural production;
  • Aywajieune, a platform specialising in fish and seafood trading;
  • Mlouma, which uses digital technology to connect farmers and buyers.

Supporting business growth and entrepreneurship

The start-ups each received five days’ worth of coaching. The package included a performance assessment using SMEAT, EY’s SME assessment tool. EY consultants reviewed each company’s strengths, weaknesses and degree of maturity, looking at five indicators:

  • Team (team-member engagement, diversity, distribution of tasks);
  • Value proposition, how the start-up formulates its offering, and the extent to which it matches target-market demand;
  • Mastery of business processes (operations management);
  • Accounting and financial management, operating expenses (OpEx), capital expenditure (CapEx), pricing policy, business value, fund-raising strategies to support business growth, etc.;
  • Market/customer dynamics, including existing customer relationships, customer acquisition, marketing, and the legal environment.

The consultants helped the start-ups draw up a one-year business growth plan – including recommendations on business practices, business models, revenue growth and sustainable profit growth – along with an online plan to track progress.

All four companies received above-average scores in the assessment on account of their success to date and their potential going forward. EY rated their performance as being on a par with start-ups it had assessed in other countries, but judged that they were in urgent need of support because they were operating in difficult business conditions. The consulting firm pointed in particular to the challenges they faced in accessing funding – a problem that could hinder efforts to execute their growth plans – and proposed areas where strategy could be improved.

The collaboration is a prime example of how, in addition to one-off competitions, the AgriHack Talent initiative encompasses a wide range of capacity-building activities, including financial management and business development support.

Easing access to finance

The initiative includes several schemes to help businesses access finance, including the Pitch AgriHack, where start-ups compete for between €5,000 and €15,000 of seed capital. Direct financial awards aside, AgriHack Talent offers a range of other benefits. Start-ups – including non-pitch winners – are featured in publications, gain networking opportunities, and have a chance to attend regional, international and B2B events where they can connect with investors and other potential business partners.

Positive outcomes

Working with EY proved an incredible opportunity for the start-ups to get insights from experts specialising in the West African business environment.

The companies are already reaping the benefits of the support they received. BaySeddo’s business growth plan, drawn up with EY’s support, has helped the start-up map out its future trajectory and secure a €100,000 investment from the DER, a business growth accelerator set up by the President of Senegal. “We now have a clearer picture of our business model and the wider market,” says Mamadou Sall, founder of BaySeddo. “We’ve been able to better segment our customer base, and we know exactly what our recruitment needs are. With EY’s support, we’ve also developed a more scalable model and added some clearer timings to our next steps.” Meanwhile, Sooretul CEO Awa Caba has used the growth plan she developed with EY to apply for various funding opportunities. In 2018, she won $100,000 (around €89,000) through the African Entrepreneurship Award (AEA), organised by BMCE Bank of Africa.

EY’s methodology is particularly beneficial because it assesses performance against a set of metrics relevant to the challenges that any start-up faces when operating in a competitive market. For CTA, meanwhile, the tool gives us a clearer picture of the start-ups we work with – what their weaknesses are, where their potential lies, and what support they need. We hope to build on this successful pilot and bring the benefits of EY’s expertise to more start-ups, including the Pitch AgriHack winners in 2018 and 2019.

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