Most entrepreneurs take their inspiration from startups in the world’s most famous hub cities such as San Francisco, Belin and London. But today it’s worth looking further afield and learning lessons from developing world entrepreneurs and investors such as Mzi Khumalo, Barbara Silva and Ritesh Agarwal.
Many developing countries such as Kenya, South Africa, India and Brazil now have booming startup sectors and their entrepreneurs are the most determined, driven and resilient in the world. Here are three key lessons we can learn from them.
1. Invest in your education and training
In western developed nations we take education largely for granted. We don’t think twice about accessing learning opportunities – we know that if we’re lacking certain skills necessary to start and grow a business we can just find a training course and jump straight on it.
But because there is so much high-quality support available, we don’t value it, and that means we often don’t bother to invest in our own education. In the emerging world, education is vital and valued not just because it’s hard to access but because the challenges faced by entrepreneurs are so much greater.
In Africa for example, the challenges faced by entrepreneurs are not as simple as being unable to find an investor. African entrepreneurs face huge and fundamental problems such as poor infrastructure, lack of fuel and power, political instability, rampant crime and corruption.
This means startup founders in emerging nations grab every single opportunity they can to learn lessons that might help them overcome these enormous and ongoing challenges. Developing-world governments have also embraced this thirst for knowledge, with an eye on the long-term benefits.
One public-funded initiative in Chile is transforming the startup ecosystem, and Chile’s entire economy. Start-Up Chile is an accelerator launched by the government eight years ago. In 2018 its startups raised more than $392 million, and since its foundation, startups have been funded to the tune of more than $1 billion. On the back of its success Chillean universities now offer courses and masters degrees in innovation and entrepreneurship.
This thirst for knowledge has created some of the planet’s most vibrant startup cultures, and it gives western entrepreneurs a powerful incentive to keep investing in their own education if they want to stay ahead of these new world startups.
2. Have a mission that drives you
All entrepreneurs, no matter where they are in the world, understand the power of a strong mission and values for their startup. But in the developing world it’s often the mission that comes first, before the business.
For example, in India more than 65% of the population live in rural locations, and 75% of doctors and health resources are located in cities. This means that most people don’t have access to the kind of healthcare services that we take for granted in the west.
This lack of provision coupled with poor roads and remote villages has spurred entrepreneurs to found a whole range of healthcare startups, including Karma Healthcare started in 2014 that provides a mix of local clinics in remote villages and tele-medical services delivered over the internet.
Other startups have developed portable products that can be used in villages to test hearing and eyesight. Others still are focused on using AI to bring down the cost of cancer screening services so they are within reach of the country’s poorest people.
Another mission-driven startup, Naja Underwear, was founded by Columbian-born Catalina Girald with the aim of empowering the disadvantage women she met while travelling. She does this through providing access to training and work. Naja runs a program that teaches single mothers in Columbia’s slums to sew, work from home and support their families.
Never underestimate the power of a mission to drive you to create and build a company that not only thrives but changes lives too.
3. Do it for love not money
We all know that, as an entrepreneur, if you focus on the money at the start you can end up being led down blind alleys by it in the future. After all, it’s much easier to get money if you work for someone else – startup founders don’t get rich quick.
In emerging markets this attitude is even more important because your initial market of customers may not only be disadvantaged but quite possibly very poor. That means focusing on doing something you love, rather than taking rewards for granted. One of the best examples of creating a business for love not money in the developing world is probably Jean Bosco Nzeyimana, founder of Habona.
Nzeyimana grew up in a poor rural village in Rwanda without access to electricity. More than 80% of the population of the country use charcoal to cook; this has led to huge problems with deforestation. Nzeyimana could never hope to halt deforestation on such a scale on his own, but he was determined to try and save the environment he loved and help rural families like his own access clean fuel for heating and cooking.
He focused on this challenge and built a startup that turns organic waste from businesses, hotels and restaurants into clean-burning, affordable briquettes. In 2014 he was named Top Young Entrepreneur of Rwanda, received the African Innovation Prize and the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, a program founded by Barack Obama.
His love of the environment was more important to him than money, but his business is now thriving and no one would be surprised to see it expand across Africa.
These inspirational entrepreneurs and startups can teach us all how to think differently, approach challenges in new ways and build better more successful businesses in the future.