Business-in-a-Box competition Côte d’Ivoire

Starting a business is never easy. It requires a good idea which must translate into a viable business plan; then you need an investor who believes in the plan; before finally transforming all the meticulous planning into a real business (which is also the toughest part). The reality is often harsh, with many businesses failing to navigate through the vulnerable early development stages. Operating from a post-conflict environment creates additional complications for entrepreneurs, with underdeveloped value chains, deficits in business skills and anxious investors, all too often the efforts of aspiring entrepreneurs are thwarted.

In an effort to overcome such difficulties, SPARK has teamed up with business experts, Single Spark, to provide a proven high-potential business model startup programme; Business-in-a-Box. The Business-in-a-Box business plan competition supports entrepreneurs in generating concrete business opportunities, guidance in how to start such a business, training, investment, coaching and business incubations services during the first 12 months of operation. All participants of the competition will then receive the Business-in-a-Box: a business starter kit containing business-specific tools such as technical drawings, floor plans, marketing materials and other administrative necessities, which provide an overview of the production process and supporting business financials and other practical guidelines required to shorten the startup period and reduce the startup cost.

So far, SPARK has run this programme in Rwanda, Liberia and most recently in Côte d’Ivoire, where we collaborated with PRADD II to help artisanal diamond mining communities recover from the economic depression inflicted by conflict. The project’s overall objective was to contribute to economic development and (youth) employment in Tortiya and Séguéla in Côte d’Ivoire by introducing new proven business concepts as an opportunity for growth of SMEs.

Business ideas from Côte d’Ivoire were diverse and reflected the agro-centrist economies of the target regions. Ideas included agouti (local popular rabbit like rodent) breeding, equipment rental companies, cheese production, tropical juice drinks and animal feed production. The SPARK team sifted through hundreds of submissions searching for promising candidates with a certain entrepreneurial “je ne sais quoi”. After a thorough selection process, 15 finalists pitched to an all Ivorian panel of jurists including an entrepreneur, a director, an investment banker and a business development specialist. The judges debated ardently and announced the winners during the competition’s closing ceremony, which was attended by local media.

Diaby Drissa won first place for Agouti breeding, Mireille Dago came second for her solar fruit drying and Elisée Koné in third place for his innovative organic compost business. Each winner was awarded in-kind financing from the project donor PRADD II in the nature of equipment essential to their business activities, as well as the opportunity to start their training at the Business Support Centre (BSC) Abidjan. The three laureates also won the coveted opportunity to negotiate financing for their businesses with Afriland First Bank, represented by jury member Mr. Chaudel Koffi.

However, no participant left empty-handed as everyone received a tailor-made Business-in-a-Box kit for their business ideas. One entrepreneur who won the animal feed production business kit also gained access to Single Spark’s newly launched and innovative feed calculator application. Essential equipment costs of up to $2,500 per business were assured by the project and SPARK continues to broker access to finance with local investment and financing institutions to ensure each entrepreneur can realise their dream of starting their own business.

The Business-in-a-Box project has been SPARK’s first programme in Côte d’Ivoire, and has yielded some fantastic results: 30 entrepreneurs received business skills training; new business opportunities have been identified, 10 new startups are being created, producing new employment opportunities in the process and creating growth in the SME sector. All such factors contribute to providing resilience in Côte d’Ivoire’s artisanal diamond mining communities through economic growth, inclusion and diversification. By increasing entrepreneurial spirit SPARK seeks to contribute to the socio-economic and political stability amongst unemployed youth.

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