The African Diaspora Marketplace, an initiative that helps small to mid-size businesses break into Africa, has returned this year with a newly refined focus on keeping projects alive over the long-haul.
Born in 2009 from a partnership between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Western Union Co., the initiative hosts a biennial competition for startups and established businesses hoping to expand into one or more of the 29 selected African countries. To be eligible, applicants must be able to demonstrate their African heritage.
This year, organizers added several partnerships to ensure that winners of the competition, who receive a matching grant of up to $50,000, can prosper well after that money is exhausted.
Jeffrey Jackson, senior private sector advisor for USAID, who spoke at an ADM networking reception at Georgia State University Jan. 14, said it’s an effort to build an “ecosystem” around the enterprises to improve their chances of success.
“We think we have a network that can really support the activities of the businesses above and beyond the grant,” Mr. Jackson said.
For example, the program will connect grantees with Homestrings Ltd., a London-based investment firm that focuses on facilitating diaspora connections. Homestrings is to provide ADM winners with further capital to grow their businesses on the continent. Deloitte & Touche Southern Africa has also stepped in as a new venture-capital option.
David Saunders, outreach coordinator for ADM who is currently traveling to major U.S. cities on roadshows promoting the initiative, said that expanding access to capital for awardees this year was a much-needed improvement.
“Some of these companies are so successful very quickly, but they’re not prepared to go after additional investment money,” Mr. Saunders told Global Atlanta.
Besides long-term investment options, the ADM has also launched training workshops, counseling services and mentorship opportunities with past winners help competitors on the front end, before the grantees are even determined. This year, the program has collaborated with the Minority Business Development Agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which will help guide the competitors through the technicalities of the competition.
This sort of hands-on support and assessment, Mr. Saunders said, was lacking in previous years.
“ADM I didn’t have the right experts evaluating the proposals,” he said. “They would get excited over an applicant without the proper knowledge of whether that company would succeed.”
This year, he said, the companies are to go through so many checkpoints that they are “almost 100 percent able to be successful.”
Other partners include the Center for International Business Education and Research at George Washington University, which reviews diaspora proposals in the early phases of the competition, and Washington-based Small Enterprise Assistance Fund, which functions as the financial implementing partner for ADM.
Since the competition first opened for applicants in 2010, which saw over 700 applications, the program has awarded 34 matching grants to the tune of 2.5 million dollars. Organizers this year are expecting upwards of 1,000 applications by the extended deadline on March 7.
While the competition excluded certain business sectors in previous years, it has expanded to accommodate what organizers have called a “pent-up demand.”
To learn more about the rules and regulations of the African Diaspora Marketplace competition and to see the full list of eligible countries, visit www.diasporamarketplace.org. Roadshows were held in eight U.S. cities.
See awardees from the 2013 generation here.