While receiving an award for Excellence in Commercial Diplomacy at Howard University’s Africa Business Conference, Florizelle Liser, Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa expressed her desire to see entrepreneurs in the African-American community and in African countries seek out partnerships with each other. The city of Atlanta, Georgia has a mix of key ingredients to make this happen:
1. According to 2010 U.S. Census data, Atlanta has the second largest number of black-owned businesses in the United States. One cannot help but notice the entrepreneurial spirit within the black community, with individuals operating in industries ranging from dry-cleaning to management consulting.
2. Through Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, Delta launches direct flights to Accra, Johannesburg, Monrovia, Abuja, Lagos, and Cairo. One can fly to Accra in a time not much longer than it takes to fly to Los Angeles.
3. Mayor Kasim Reed has a vision for Atlanta to be the Western Hemisphere’s logistics hub – an aspiration that will contribute to the growing impact of the African Growth and Opportunities Act on trade between the US and African countries.
4. Georgia Tech University develops numerous engineers whose skills could contribute to Africa closing its $93 billion gap in infrastructure development.
5. Though not in Atlanta, the University of Georgia develops a talented pool of students in the agricultural industry who could contribute to Africa reaching $880 billion in agricultural output by 2040.
Dr. Adetunji Adegbesan, a strategy professor at Lagos Business School,shared an incredible story that crystalizes the potential of entrepreneurship on the African continent. An MTN executive monitoring data usage on the company’s Nigeria network noticed that a significant amount of data was passing through the network, but someone was not paying for that usage. After alerting the company’s network engineers, MTN blocked the source of that usage. A few weeks later, the same executive noticed more data passing through that was not accounted for financially. He again approached network engineers who blocked the source. Yet again, data was passing through after a few weeks and the executive approached engineers in Europe who established an elaborate block that was sure to keep the data from passing through. Data was passing through the block a few months later.
Who was breaking through MTN’s network? The company tracked the source of the data and located a small college city where a group of graduates helped families set up their computers. As part of the package they offered, these entrepreneurs “installed” the internet on these computers. They figured out a way to log the computers into MTN’s internal network while keeping the computers’ identities masked. The end result – MTN hired these innovators.
Entrepreneurship is essential to economic growth on the African continent and in the US. One can be sure that the vibrancy found in that small college city in Nigeria is not isolated, and US entrepreneurs would do well to engage this movement. Atlanta-based entrepreneurs should take the lead in engaging fellow entrepreneurs in African countries.