The latter part of the 20th century saw persons under the age of 25 years affecting their world revolutionarily through innovations that later on became businesses. This trend has continued into the 21st century and many of the ideas which have driven change and generated big monies are founded by persons who are under the age of 25.
The twist to this development h
owever is the prevalence of this breed of people are in developed countries and little of them is seen in Africa and for that matter Ghana. The question is, why? And the other question is, how do we get our young Ghanaians venturing into business or become entrepreneurs?
Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Blake Ross are just a few of several thousands of persons in the West – especially Silicon Valley – who have created their own businesses. In the process they have impacted lives globally, positively, and in the process become billionaires and globally influential and respected people.
In the past decade a couple of young Ghanaians have ventured into their own businesses doing seemingly amazing things. This is certainly a good sign that a lot more people can get into the act of setting up their own businesses.
To get young people into setting up their own businesses, I believe there should be deliberate decisions and actions by various stakeholders such as the schools and government to enable him/her and also prepare his/her mind towards such a venture.
Our educational institutions have a crucial role to play. What they should do is tailor our curriculum to imbue students with the sense to think critically about issues. To achieve this, school curriculums should be tweaked to include more research-based activities.
Additionally, students should be challenged with projects that involve the solving of real-life problems. This should start at the secondary school level. An early start would make it easy for students to make good use of their university education, including using what they have learned to start up new ventures. As part of the school curriculum, an entrepreneurship subject or course could be introduced to train entrepreneurs for the Ghana economy. Ashesi University has such a model and goes to the extent of letting students choose an entrepreneurial endeavour for their thesis or final year project.
Young people should also be encouraged to set up their own business by government’s engendering a sustainable enabling environment for businesses. One of the major reasons a lot of people state that they fail in business in Ghana is what is normally described as the lack of an enabling environment. I believe various factors make setting up a business quite daunting in our part of the world. First among these is the time it takes to set up a business.
Though there is significant progress made in the process, more could be done. Government or the stakeholders should adopt fairly simple and non-bureaucratic measures to reduce the time it takes to register business and its associated cost in Ghana. Measures that could be taken include making company registration forms easily available using distribution channels such as banks and even schools – and not forgetting churches if possible.
Another channel which is even less costly is over the Internet. Business registration forms should be easily downloadable or even completed over the Internet. This approach would create more opportunities for young people to set up businesses.
As part of fostering an enabling environment, the cost of starting and operating a business should be reduced for the young person who decides to set one up. By saying this, I propose the setting up of a Bureau for Young Entrepreneurs that would see to the sustainability and partial regulation of businesses set up by young people. Their role would be to ensure that young business persons have access to the needed laws, institutional framework and tools to enable them meet statutory requirements – and demands of the business terrain including marketing, business planning, accounting et al. Their function would also include ensuring that laws that are enacted to benefit the young persons who set up businesses are not encroached on by institutions who do not qualify. These services rendered by the bureau should be free or hugely subsidised.
They should also be enormously advertised so that their existence and how to access them would be common knowledge.Young people who set up businesses would need their businesses to survive and become successful. In order for them to survive and succeed in business, these businesses should be competitive. Mostly, the challenge is competing on price and market share. To get the young businesses to overcome these challenges, one of the areas that have to be looked at is taxation. Young businesses should be given tax-holidays for longer periods so that revenues and monies that would otherwise pay for taxes would be ploughed back into the business. One tax component that I believe young businesses should be exempt from is the collection and payment of VAT.
This would enable the young company to be able to expand its market share, especially in a situation where the young business has a very good and competitive product but with high cost of operation or production. Not collecting VAT could make its goods slightly cheaper. What it also tells consumers is that when they buy services or products from these companies which fall in the category of a young business, they are helping promote their enterprises. Doing this would enable young businesses to retain more of their funds for operational improvements. In the process more young businesses which have good products and services are kept in the market and made competitive. NGOs for example do not have to pay VAT, and I believe an improved version of that model could be applied to the young entrepreneur.
Efforts should also be put into the development of our Internet and electricity infrastructure. Lower cost of bandwidth and lower cost of electricity would also enable young people to explore other channels for business operations, such as over the Internet. The Internet is a relatively cheap and widely accessible avenue to establish a business. Making bandwidth inexpensive would make it possible for young people to start up their business in garages, bedrooms and anywhere. This also would ensure that innovations come to market on time.
Mentoring by existing entrepreneurs could be a platform to use to woo more young people into setting up their own businesses. This can be done through organising seminars and mentoring programmes for aspiring young entrepreneurs.
When it comes to raising money, I believe one of the ways not to do it is to hand out huge sums of money to young start-ups through business plan competitions. Very few successful examples are there to support this notion that has been the recurrent method employed by organisations which want to encourage entrepreneurship.
The model should be getting young people to build and grow organically. I believe young persons who have been able to create a product through their own sweat and resources should be supported and not showered with money. In terms of raising money, I believe the all-time principle of raising monies from friends, family and ‘fools’ should be adopted. In order to keep money in the business and boost revenue streams as well, young people should be encouraged to be revenue-driven and not necessarily profit-driven. Primarily, I believe the more revenue you have coming into your business the more chances you have to make some profits.
The time has truly come for Africa to take its place on the global economic podium, and this podium should be mounted by a lot more young Ghanaians.