Data made available by the International Monetary Fund show that COVID-19 will cripple the global economy and growth will decline by 3 percent.
Other bodies such as US-based CB Insights is also projecting global startup financing will take a hit, with private market funding in the first quarter of 2020 hovering around US$77billion – down by more than 16 percent compared to the last quarter of 2019, and by nearly 12 percent compared to the first quarter of 2019.
This could strongly affect financial support for startup ventures across the world, with Ghana being no exception. In the period of COVID-19, businesses, especially startups, are hoping for support packages from various government interventions in the form of the stimulus package. Despite the roll-out of such supports, one key economic group that has been sidelined is startups.
However, countries which stand out as clearly defining a support structure for their startups have one thing in common – a recognised national representative body for startups. France, one of the leading world economies, set itself aside in that regard.
French startups have been allocated €4billion out of an overall package of €300billion that the government is mobilising to cushion the French economy. The support covers a refinancing scheme, payment of tax-credits and the payment of already-planned investments in the ecosystem.
This decision has been applauded across the global startup community as the best any government has taken so far in the interest of startups. The gesture also clearly falls within the scope of the government’s agenda to make France the leading startup-nation in the world.
This is made possible because of the work of organisations such as France Digitale and La French Tech, which represent the French startup ecosystem in its diversity and giving it a voice in policy and decision-making. That is exactly what we realised is missing in Ghana – the voice of startups.
This crisis offers us the opportunity to rethink the environment we want Ghanaian startups to thrive in, and restructure our startup ecosystem.
With an ecosystem fairly younger than that of our fellows in Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa or Kenya, the way forward for us is simple – unity: bringing together all startups in Ghana and Ghanaian-founded startups abroad under one umbrella.
This will be in the form of an organisation that rallies startups; helps policy and decision-makers understand and support the ecosystem; create a more structured collaborative platform for stakeholders and channel all these efforts into positioning Ghana as the leading startup ecosystem in Africa.
Having such an organisation is not only for times of crisis such as COVID-19 but most importantly for times of growth when there is need for a catalysing force that can lead the charge to make Ghana the Black Star of the African startup ecosystem.
A well-thought-through national representative body would be able to unify the ecosystem, build much-needed partnerships with government agencies and development partners, influence policy, lead on attracting foreign direct venture capital investments, and empower our startups to conquer the world.
We will then have an organisation mandated to address some of the challenges we are faced with – ranging from misrepresentation of startups, lack of data on the ecosystem, policy mismatch and absence of a unifying identity among others.
It is in government’s, partners’ and startups’ interest to have an organisation representative of our ecosystem to speak on its behalf. This will make it easier for government to be fed with accurate data and know-how, and where to take the pulse of our ecosystem, receive input and feedback on policies, enhance implementation and have a direct conversation with stakeholders.
Startups, through a national representative body, can help government rebrand Ghana from a history/culture tourist destination to the prime investment and business destination hub in Africa.
For an economy which, according to government, will suffer a decline in growth from a projected 6.8 percent to 2.6 percent of GDP, this is the right time to strengthen an ecosystem that can offer a viable alternative to the informal sector – which has been the economy’s backbone for decades. An empowered startup ecosystem will lead the digital and innovation drive and propel our economy into the fourth industrial revolution.
We can all agree an organisation that can go beyond a simple representative role and marshal the entire ecosystem hand-in-hand with the hubs, training and educational organisations, venture capital and angel investment community and other support organisations is what we need right now.
From Berlin to Beijing, the relevance of organisations with similar objectives have proven that it is crucial for us to give a voice and an identity to our ecosystem which goes beyond startup meet-ups and entrepreneurship competitions.
Many countries boast such organisations: Startup Canada (Canada), France Digitale (France), Startups.be (Belgium), Engine (USA), Bridge Budapest (Hungary), BESCO (Bulgaria), Upgraded (Finland), Startup Brazil (Brazil) and Coadec (United Kingdom) among others.
These organisations have made tremendous contributions to branding their local ecosystem, supporting with research-backed policy advocacy, advising decision-makers, fostering ground-breaking partnerships, bridging the gap between the (big) corporate and startup communities, and providing insight into new global trends.
These are clear ways to grow industries, fast-track knowledge-sharing, create an ecosystem identity and propel an entire economy into the future.
It is one thing for government agencies and development partners to randomly support individual startups and hubs, and another to have at the table an organisation that aims at not only empowering the same startups but also supporting all stakeholders to have a better understanding of the ecosystem, have a clearer view of the role those startups can play in positioning our local economy for what is coming, and ready our country for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Startup founders in Ghana have one thing in common; we don’t know how to get our voices heard. Not only because we do not have someone to speak for us, but also because our needs are as many as they are diverse. For this reason, we need a melting-pot; one in which we ‘cook’ it all and serve it right.
Having the opportunity to be part of a national startup network will not only give us a voice, but it will also make it sound right and louder and complement governments agenda of industrialisation. It will furnish us with the opportunity to let our countrymen and the world see that our interest is beyond ‘making money’, and rather changing our story, creating change and strengthening the lifelines of our economy.
A Ghana Startup Network will empower us to create more, change more and grow more – because it will give us an identity and put a name on thousands of faces, logos and digital addresses that we are across the nation and beyond.
We know this is the right time for us to come together. Even if it is quite unfortunate that decisions taken by the government with onset of the COVID-19 crisis have not specifically been tailored to meet our needs, it is not too late for us to prevent our lack of unity from swallowing up our voice. What is coming beyond this crisis is way beyond individualism, it is beyond ‘me-ism’ – and the best way to ready ourselves for it is to come together.
Our ecosystem needs a melting-pot.
Ghana needs its Startup Network.
Let’s make that happen.
>>>the writer is a PR and Institutional Growth Strategist, an Ecosystem builder and an Entrepreneur. He is the co-founder of the Ghana Startup Network where he leads the policy and institutional relations team