Building Businesses, Serving Society
- The Africa Business Concept Challenge, organized by the Global Business School Network, engages students and schools in Africa while introducing industry experts to the realities of growing businesses on the continent.
- Student teams must present business ideas that define and address local challenges connected to one or more of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
- The top five teams in the 2023 challenge presented ideas related to supporting women’s health, ensuring equitable access to financial services, improving sanitation, promoting sustainable coffee farming, and streamlining intra-Africa trade.
More than 500 million people worldwide have inadequate provisions to manage their menstrual hygiene. Current market prices of sanitary pads are out of reach for many women and girls living in extreme poverty, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, affecting not only their health but also their educational attainment and economic opportunities.
That’s where Faith Chuby Labija and Anne Alwala Achieng come in. Although both are from Nigeria, they first met in Berekuso, Ghana, where they are students at Ashesi University. Together, they investigated this wide-reaching issue—and then they decided to develop an enterprise to address it. Through their startup, ChuChu Softies, they already have developed a prototype that is designed to be safe, sustainable, accessible, and affordable.
Labija and Achieng were among 307 students who registered to further develop their business concepts in the third annual Africa Business Concept Challenge (ABCC), coordinated by the Global Business School Network (GBSN), headquartered in Washington, D.C. ChuChu Softies was one of 87 participating teams, which represented 58 universities in 17 countries.
To be accepted to the ABCC, student teams must submit business concepts that don’t just have the potential for market success. Their concepts also must define and address local challenges that are connected to one or more of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Moreover, the challenge engages GBSN’s global community as it invites educators and learners from outside Africa to volunteer as Investor Experts. As the volunteers listen to team presentations, they, too, can begin to understand what it is like to build businesses on the continent.
A Real-Time Market Test
Students can form teams not only within schools, but also across schools, countries, and even continents. Each team is also required to identify a mentor, who can be an academic or entrepreneur. In some cases, team members can be designated as mentors if they possess entrepreneurial experience.
In the first half of the competition, teams engage in a four-phase development process, which lasts for six weeks. Over the four phases, the teams submit the following materials:
- Phase 1: Team introduction and problem statement
- Phase 2: Industry analysis
- Phase 3: Concept illustration
- Phase 4: Go-to-market strategy and recorded pitch
Within each phase, the competing teams’ business ideas are “put up for sale” on a virtual stock market engine, supported by the blended learning educational platform Peaqs. A group of volunteers, known as Investor Experts, invest in or divest from the concepts throughout the challenge. The engine displays real-time valuation of each team’s idea, along with peer feedback.
As Investor Experts listen to team presentations, they, too, can begin to understand what it is like to build businesses on the African continent.
Each Investor Expert begins with 10 credits to trade on the market, while each team project starts with a basic valuation of 100 credits. To avoid virtual “speculation” on the ABCC market, Investors can only invest once and divest once during each project phase.
This year, GBSN welcomed 56 Investor Experts from 27 countries and 43 different universities and organizations. Representing a diverse set of backgrounds, these volunteers ranged from entrepreneurs and academics to nonprofit managers and CEOs.
Judging for Impact and Scalability
The five concepts that have the greatest virtual stock market value at the end of the fourth phase are brought into the second stage of the challenge. These teams then pitch their business concepts live, over a virtual call, to a panel of judges. The panel includes deans, directors, and entrepreneurs, among other experts. The judges determine the winning team based on how well it delivers on several criteria:
- Framing the local challenge or problem and identifying the need for a solution.
- Explaining how the team’s solution will address that problem.
- Providing examples of how the idea will be implemented in practical terms.
- Describing the idea’s impact, both qualitatively and quantitatively.
- Establishing the market size and demographic for the product or service.
- Demonstrating the idea’s sustainability and scalability.
This year, the five teams that competed in the final round presented ideas that addressed a range of problems having negative impact on local communities. The judges were especially impressed by Labija and Achieng’s presentation of the extensive problem that they aimed to solve. ChuChu Softies was named ABCC’s 2023 winner, receiving 5,000 USD.
During their presentation, Labija and Achieng cited UNICEF data showing that 44 percent of Nigeria’s 87 million people live in extreme poverty, earning less than 2 USD per day. At the same time, one package of sanitary pads costs 1.30 USD. After interviewing women and girls across west, central, and east Africa, the team realized that a reusable product could make a huge difference in their lives.
Labija and Achieng’s idea and prototype addressed SDGs related to no poverty, good health and well-being, gender equality, sanitation, decent work and economic growth, responsible consumption and production, and climate action. (Watch their video presentation to learn more about their business model.)
Faith Chuby Labija and Anne Alwala Achieng, winners of the 2023 Africa Business Concept Challenge.
However, all five finalists presented impressive visions for change (videos of all five presentations are posted to the ABCC website). The other four teams presented the following promising solutions:
Second Place: FundMate, Mediterranean School of Business in Tunisia
According to 2021 data from the World Bank, only 9.4 percent of Africans have access to formal financing services, compared to 60 percent of people in high-income countries. In addition, the 2018 MSME Finance Gap Database shows that African micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises face an annual funding gap of 330 billion USD.
Team members Anis Knani, Youssef Chebil, and Yassine Zaghouani proposed a solution called FundMate, a secure and transparent web platform that would offer crowdfunding services and investment opportunities in Africa, starting in Tunisia. FundMate would address SDGs related to decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation, and infrastructure; and reduced inequalities.
Third Place: MIASC, Makerere University Business School in Uganda and University College of Dublin in Ireland
Uganda is the world’s eighth-largest coffee producer, but only 10 percent of its coffee is processed locally; the country is responsible for 12 percent of global coffee production, but the sector contributes only about 4.6 percent to Uganda’s GDP. At the same time, the country’s coffee industry is beset by low wages for farmers, high unemployment, and low productivity. It also suffers negative effects from climate change, deforestation, and unpredictable weather patterns.
As only the second team in ABCC’s history to include students from an African and non-African university, Luca Massari, Udit Raj, Mohit Santani, Lillian Nalubega, and Dennis Asiimwe proposed Made in Africa Specialty Coffee. MIASC would fully produce and process coffee in Uganda. Moreover, the coffee would be produced via forest farming that supports tree care and planting. The team estimated that MIASC would triple earnings, create needed jobs, and promote sustainable practices. The idea would address SDGs related to no poverty, decent work and economic growth, reduced inequalities, and responsible consumption and production.
One team proposed a business that would produce and process coffee locally in Uganda via forest farming that supports tree care and planting.
Fourth Place: FEWOFERT 63-5, Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration
According to the World Bank, as of 2020, 18 percent of the total population in Ghana and 32 percent of rural dwellers practice open defecation. Sanitation costs Ghana 79 million USD, while roughly 19,000 Ghanaians die from diarrhea each year primarily due to poor water quality, sanitation, and hygiene. At the same time, rising fertilizer costs in the country have driven some farmers to use raw feces as fertilizer.
Terese Owusu, David Odametey, Jonas U. Chakpojuk, Precious Maame Gyenabu Ogbonilea, and Makafui Yaa Audrey Sedo proposed a process that would treat fecal waste with a natural decomposition process, turning it into safe, organic, and affordable fertilizer. This idea would address SDGs related to no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, clean water and sanitation, and responsible consumption and production.
Fifth Place: Africa to Africa, Montpellier Business School Dakar in Senegal
Intra-African trade represents about 12 percent of the total trade on the continent, well below the global average for intraregional trade, which stands at about 40 percent. Ibrahim Touré, Dialikatou Diallo, Christina Ndong, Ismaël Koné, and Abdoulaziz Nikiema explained that this discrepancy is caused not by low demand, but by informal, bureaucratic customs barriers.
To address this issue, the team created ATA (Africa to Africa), a tailor-made platform that would facilitate more efficient business-to-business trade across the continent. The platform would offer data related to products, prices, customs, and taxes—information that businesses need to sell, buy, and export or import their products within the continent. This project addressed SDGs related to decent work and economic growth, reduced inequalities, and partnerships for the goals.
Winning Ideas, Hopeful Future
It takes a global village to deliver an Africa-wide competition. GBSN extends its thanks to the organizations that offer financial support to ABCC. These include AACSB, the SWIFT Institute, and the University of Connecticut School of Business in Storrs. It also receives in-kind support from Peaqs, emlyon business school, the Association of African Business Schools, the South African Business School Association, the Kenyan Economics Student Association, and Good Governance Academy.
Each year, the ideas that student teams present at the ABCC get more ambitious and well-conceived, with ideas that promise wide-reaching impact across Africa. This year’s judges were impressed, for example, by students’ thorough research into the issues they had chosen. They also were especially struck by solutions such as the one behind FEWOFERT 63-5, which was far different from any ideas students had proposed for past challenges.
By giving students a platform to explore, develop, and implement these ideas, ABCC aligns with GBSN’s mission to “improve access to quality, locally relevant management and entrepreneurship education for the developing world.” Even more important, the students who bring such exciting solutions to this competition are likely to be among those who solve the biggest challenges across the African continent.