Entrepreneurship in Africa: Challenges and Rewards
Markit Opportunity is a for-profit social enterprise with a mission to improve the incomes of smallholder farmers in the East African Community (EAC) by leveraging mobile technology and logistics innovation to create trusted, transparent and coordinated supply chains.
In the words of Founder and CEO, Ashley King-Bischof, “Markit Opportunity is a market-driven approach to solving smallholder farmer access to markets. Non-profit organizations have not been able to do that at scale thus far and I believe this can be achieved through our model.”
We’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley, to understand the main challenges she’s faced in her entrepreneurial path. These are some of her insights and recommendations for new and aspiring entrepreneurs:
What drove your interest towards entrepreneurship in Africa and this particular project?
My passion for microentrepreneurs began when studying mircrofinance. After I learned that most of the labor force in Africa was working in agriculture, I imagined that giving farmers better market access would create an opportunity to impact millions of lives.
The problem of market access is ubiquitous for the BOP, and is still very challenging. I enjoy a good challenge, especially those with big rewards.
What challenges have you had to face as an entrepreneur?
Our idea for Markit Opportunity began abroad. One of the biggest challenges I faced was access to customer feedback. So I picked up and moved to Kenya. After arriving, it was very exciting, and there was a lot to learn. Once our operations began, a few challenges persisted:
- Stress: Being an early-stage entrepreneur is not easy. If you’re keen on making it work, it takes long hours and lots of problem solving (both internally and externally). Knowing when to sprint and when to rest is not always obvious. Managing stress made me healthier, and perform better from the beginning.
- Cash flow: This can’t be unique to any entrepreneur. Most have to raise money while running operations, and it’s tough. Deciding what costs are important and which you can do without is critical. Fundraising also can take up more time than you think.
- Talent: Having business partners(s) who complement your skills and personality is important for making critical decisions. I chose to increase our chances of making the right ones by forming a large advisory board quickly. They have helped solidify my choices and raise new vantage points.
Any good advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
If you’re considering becoming an entrepreneur, do it as soon as you’re able to! Who knows how your life will change. You can’t control everything, but you can control when you begin this path. A wise woman once told me that if I wanted it, I should go for it. And I’m very happy I did.
I would also suggest taking these concepts into account while diving into entrepreneurship:
- Plan for uncertainty. Plan to stay healthy, both mentally and physically, plan to succeed, plan to work hard. Yet, plan to be challenged and plan to continuously challenge the assumptions you have. When your vision needs to shift, be okay with that.
- Focus. Once you’re doing well, there will be plenty of opportunities that pull you away from your company’s goals. Learn to say “no” to them. Stay the course, and focus on the problem you’re trying to solve.
- Self-promote. Not everyone knows what you’re good at or what successes your business is having. Promoting what you’re doing helps ecosystems understand you better and opens up more doors. It’s a must.
As an alumna, what is your favorite Emzingo memory?
Paragliding with my fellow Emzingo-ers off of a sand dune outside of Lima, Peru. The wind speeds were slow so we had to run fast enough to get lift before takeoff. Some of us tumbled down the dune before we were airborne. Everyone participated and motivated each other. We swore we could have gone as far as Venezuela. It was a powerful moment, indeed.
About Markit Opportunity:
Markit Opportunity is a social enterprise designed to increase income of smallholder farmers in the East African Community. Their holistic approach to empowering rural farmers offers its customers opportunities to access information about the markets they buy and sell in, exchange high-quality produce through a mobile auction platform, and procure transportation services.
This multi-pronged approach allows the regional supply chain to connect with existing and new suppliers in their chain. With the advancement of mobile money technology and smartphone penetration, Markit Opportunity sees the potential for EAC farmers to connect with the best prices and highest quality standards in international trade.
Learn more about how they work by visiting their website.
Ashley holds an IMBA IE Business School and participated in the Emzingo NexGen Fellowship in 2014. She enjoys business development, strategic planning, financial planning, haggling with traders, talking with farmers directly in the field, and running her own social enterprise.
She expects to spend nearly 80% of her time in fundraising activities over the upcoming months and hopes to continue building her team to impact millions of lives.
About this post:
This is part of our series Profiling Female Social Entrepreneurs. If you’re interested in this series, check out: