The 2014 edition of the forum Investir en Côte d'Ivoire (ICI) ended optimistically for several young Ivoirians who received funding to launch their projects. However, many young entrepreneurs regard self-financing as a more pragmatic way approach way of achieving their ambitions.
Four days, 3,700 participants - including 1,500 investors from over a hundred countries, 162 stands, 15 group sessions on themes like SME promotion, renewable energy and agro-business. Plus, investment intentions totalling 443 billion CFA francs.
As far as Ivoirian authorities are concerned, these figures testify to the success of the largest economic forum ever held in Abidjan, which took place earlier this month.
For Bacely, Philipe, Aline, Charly and many of their peers, the 2014 ICI was a golden opportunity to get business ideas and to learn from the experienced entrepreneurs taking part in the event as exhibitors.
Bacely Yorobi (featured in a previous RNW article here) is an internet marketer. The 26-year-old entrepreneur is the man behind SocialSpot, a project meant to ultimately enable small businesses to do proximity marketing and give web surfers free internet access via a wide network of hotspot connections.
As a laureate of the forum's start-up competition, Bacely received a cheque of four million francs. It was a much-needed capital injection to kick-start his project.
IT expert Ehui Delmas (who also featured in a previous RNW article here) was also among the contest's young laureates. His project, Môh Ni Ba, which uses communication technology to enable and facilitate birth registrations in rural areas, received funding from the government at this year's ICI forum.
No cash prize went to Charly Kodjo (26). But the owner and manager of Instant de Vie Studio, a company specialising in internet photography and audio-visual productions, won in other ways. The young entrepreneur managed to sign up new clients and make business contacts.
"We want to solve the problem of [photographic] content on the web. The idea is to produce photographic content for commercial websites. With online shopping, the quality of the pictures greatly influences sales. But online stores in Africa tend to display poor pictures of their products," says Charly.
As far as funding is concerned, Aline Yao (28) and Philipe Kouakou (31) were successful at making business contacts. Aline talked to potential investors about the expansion of her interior decoration agency. Philipe got a few business people interested in his idea of a modern carwash franchise.
Self-financing, the ultimate solution
For entrepreneurs like Bacely and Ehui, the government funds provide much-needed starting capital. However they still need more funding if they want to sustain and grow their respective enterprises. The SocialSpot manager seems to have found a solution. "It is self-financing and we are working on it," he reveals.
Charly Kodjo is already in self-financing mode. "At the beginning, like any other entrepreneur, I was looking for funding. In fact, I used to believe in receiving funds from a bank or a relative. But now I don't wait and hope for these somewhat miraculous funds anymore. I have a plan [... ] I will finance myself by securing new contracts. I've already tried this and it works very well," he explains.
Philipe is also considering self-financing. "The funding we seek from government structures, private or state-related companies might never come - or arrive a little too late," he says.
"The next edition of the ICI Forum is in 2016 and young people should not wait until then," Aline adds. "If they hope to realise their projects by relying on funding from the government of private companies, they are in for a long wait. I think it is time they considered self-financing strategies."