Alibaba founder Jack Ma has announced a new initiative for African entrepreneurs that will see entrepreneurs compete for $10 million in funding, with the aim of supporting businesses that are growing the continent’s nascent digital economy.
Called the Jack Ma Foundation Netpreneur Prize, small businesses in Africa will vie for $1 million in prize money every year for the next decade, starting in 2019, a statement said.
Having founded what is now one of the biggest e-commerce success stories in the world, Ma Is an iconic business figure who is listed as amongst the world’s most powerful and richest people by Forbes. Now Alibaba’s executive chairman he uses his Jack Ma Foundation to foster entrepreneurial initiatives, including this one.
The Jack Ma Foundation will host an annual pitch competition, with all 10 finalists receiving grant funding and access to the Netpreneur community of African business leaders for mentorship and other resources.
“As a fellow entrepreneur, I understand the importance of getting support during the early days,” the Alibaba executive chairman said. “This prize demonstrates our support of a next generation of young entrepreneurs across Africa that is paving the way for a better future and impart positive change in their communities.”
While the competition will be open to entrepreneurs in all industries, the prize will focus on internet-led businesses that help advance technology and innovation in Africa.
Known as a colorful businessman, Ma’s love of English took him to America where exposure to the internet and the ease of business that it enabled inspired him to create what is now the biggest e-commerce company in China. With market capitalization of $542 billion after its 2014 IPO, Alibaba is now one of the world’s top-ten most-valuable companies.
The prize was announced at the “Netpreneurs: The Rise of Africa’s Digital Lions” conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday, which drew 800 entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, researchers and policymakers were in attendance.
“The rise of the digital economy provides growth and opportunity to the developing world, but it is up to us to make sure no one is left behind. The work that Jack Ma and UNCTAD are doing together will help empower the emerging generation of young African business leaders to participate in and lead that growth,” Kituyi said.
Ma described African entrepreneurs as being “first class” and said although the continent has plenty of problems, it is also “full of opportunities”. He called on innovators to look at challenges like lack of infrastructure and poor logistics as opportunities.
“The same questions people are asking you now, how can Africa have internet companies, how can you do ecommerce, you don’t have credit cards, you don’t have government support, you don’t have anything, that’s the opportunity,” he said, adding that entrepreneurs “never complain, but make other people complain”.
“So, today Africa you don’t have bank accounts — a lot of people don’t have bank accounts. You don’t have logistics, you don’t have the credit card system. This is opportunity, go build up (on) this,” said Ma.
He predicted that in 10 to 20 years Africa will have “10 or 20 Alibaba companies” and called on African governments to create tax policies that favour small businesses and startups.
“Its the entrepreneurs that will drive African economies,” he said. He revealed that the $10-million African Netpreneur Prize was “just the beginning, and a test”.
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