Fempreneur Pitch Night

 In a bid to select participants, Innovation SL posted a  CALL for applicants for the Freetown Pitch Night-fempreneur edition; with a star prize of $5,000, seven women were selected for the competition. Two-week prepping sessions were held in order to prepare them. During this time, they were given instructions on how they should showcase their ideas, to aid them with their pitch deck.

On the 26th of  April, 2023 the Freetown Pitch Night was held at the Limkokwing University, Hill Station, Freetown with the theme “FEMPRENEUR” (a platform where female entrepreneurs are given the opportunity to pitch their ideas and access seed funding). The event was hosted by  Ms. Margret Cassel and Ms.Francess Beresford- Renner. 

A keynote address was given by the company’s CEO/MD Mr. Francis Stevens-George who created a sense of purpose; in his speech, he stated the reason why Innovation SL partnered with Mercury International. Relatively, “for entrepreneurs to work we need a pipeline of ideas. To have new ideas to work we should have INVESTORS.” He further added that entrepreneurship has been the bedrock of development in Sierra Leone, for an entrepreneur to work there should be an ecosystem, for an ecosystem to work there should be a pipeline where new ideas as well as older ones strived. He emphasized that for both old and new ideas to strive there is a need for Investors, for that reason, there was a sense to appreciate Mr Martin  Michael, the MD of Mercury International, for deciding to collaborate with the Freetown pitch night by providing seed capital, especially for female entrepreneurs. Statistically, Sierra Leone has an estimate of 1.5 million women in the micro or small business sector and this sector accounts for 90% of the country’s economy. However these women have been struggling over the years to up-scale their businesses  because they lack funds and this is exactly why the fempreneur edition of Freetown Pitch night is a stitch in time.

Mr. Martin Michael explained that, since 2007 Mercury International has been involved in a wide variety of corporate social responsibilities by awarding scholarships to approximately 2000 students, providing abroad treatment for people with severe ailments and having built two schools.

Conversely, they were never introduced to such a platform wherein they could have the opportunity to aid entrepreneurs, which is why they had decided to partner with Innovation SL through the Freetown Pitch Night to provide a seed capital of $25,000 in total for five sessions of FPN and two out of the five sessions would be exclusively for female entrepreneurs. This is so because female entrepreneurs face the most challenges in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The emerging winner would help to alleviate poverty by creating job opportunities and payment of tax as that is what they are looking forward to. He left the stage thanking Mr. Stevens-George for the shared platform.

One of the hosts Ms. Francess Beresford-Renner ushered the panel of judges to introduce themselves and they were predominantly women, namely: Fatmata Sesay, John Wearing, Tafadzwa Chiganga, Waheed Awonuga and Mavis Madaure.

The pitch proper started immediately after the judges had introduced themselves and pitchers were reminded of the pitch’s rules which include the utilization of five minutes for presentation and two minutes for questions and answers, all summing up to seven minutes per pitcher.

The first pitcher for the night, Panashe Chikhata from Recycle2Skill, is a young hardworking and innovative female entrepreneur who has strong culinary and computer skills. She has been working with a team of four members; 3 female and 1 male that has the Practera programme, a programme that has been working with Seed Stars (an incubation company) in Switzerland. As a young female entrepreneur, she has a vision of empowering unskilled youths by providing them with skills at the cost of plastic waste. The business would have a positive impact: socially, economically and environmentally. This will help curb the problem of waste management and mitigate the issue of climate change.

The second pitcher Emily Kumba Fanday from ‘The Community’ has a peer-to-peer lending platform that has been allowing individuals or institutions to lend directly to borrowers in both formal and informal businesses. The community project was launched in 2022 having a population of 70 people; 30 female and 40 men. It has been seen as a viable market that provides loan services among institutions, businesses and individuals who are interested. Due to the huge market size, they have decided to have a low operation cost, minimal regulation, big data and technologies to streamline models. This is because they wanted to disrupt the system of how loans are given. To ensure the lender’s trust, the Community has a license of operations from the Bank of Sierra Leone which makes it reliable and secure. They had a business treat and control unit structure that would help lenders have better ROI.

The third pitcher was Mariama Bah from Rise Radio 96.3 FM who started by asserting that Climate change has been a global phenomenon caused by human activities primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. Burning fossil fuel generates greenhouse gas emissions that act like a blanket wrapped around the earth, trapping the sun’s heat and raising the temperature. Looking at the topography of Sierra Leone, there is a dire need to discuss the

causes, impacts and solutions of climate change. Due to the lack of awareness (no specified programme on climate change by radio station) there was a sense of massive deforestation in both rural and urban areas causing flooding and soil erosion nationwide. This has impeded the production of agricultural goods.  Rise radio has a dedicated 4 hours radio program that would be providing radio content and radio drama that would be deemed fit for climate change discourse.

The fourth pitcher was Lydia Bernard-Jones from ‘The Bridge’ who has proved to be a link between young Sierra Leoneans and the opportunities to get resources in order to maximize their potential.  There are many students in Sierra Leone who lacked the opportunities of having scholarships and they needed someone to cross the bridge, by creating a platform for scholarship opportunities ranging from secondary school to university and sharing links with peers and mentors in their field internationally. The bridge would provide prestigious and productive young people equipped with experience to be competitive in their careers. This would build a strong cohort of youths that would be equipped with the skills.

 The fifth pitcher Nippy Bah is the leader of ‘Mamie Coker. Mamie Coker’ has a project that ensures young people employment in Sierra Leone. It’s a team made up of 5 members; 3 females and 2 males experienced in code and web development. The project stemmed from the fact that a girl was in desperation to secure a job. Relatively, a platform called Mamie-Coker was created to connect clients with skilled and reliable workers. From the research that was conducted, approximately 100 people were asked about their pressing needs and what they were willing to pay for. 70% said they are willing to pay for skilled workers.  Such could be applicable by creating profiles for both businesses and prospective workers, connecting clients to workers or hiring workers on behalf of the client and monitoring until the job is done and encouraging feedback from both workers and clients. Using technological tools, it would improve access to service in various skilled service fields and also promote digital literacy in an efficient manner.

Fatmata Kargbo, the penultimate pitcher from Tamara Millennium company, expressed that their business vision is to empower underprivileged women by providing them with essential training to help them sustainably earn their daily income. She explained that their financial struggles are often caused by the lack of seed capital and knowledge on how to utilize it.

Therefore, there was a need to create Agro-forestry cooperation for these women to get training on crop practice which would increase production. They would be providing basic business management skills as well as bookkeeping while making sure that they would be weeding the seed bed and proper farm check-ups. Participatory field research was conducted; the research informed that, if they had been working with them it would have been better.

Ms Hawanatu Sesay, the final pitcher, co-founder of the Wi-AgricTech business which focused on designing Green and Smart farming technologies to improve and increase the quality of food products nationwide. In Sierra Leone, the males have outshone females when it comes to technology which is why she served as a bridge to connect more females in the tech world. That is why she focused on farming technologies to increase the production of crops. With these technologies, they would train over 500 farmers by 2025 for the cultivation of vegetables worth 1 ton annually. The io T plant monitoring device through a cloud-based technology via phone could detect soil fertility, plant growth and moisture level of the plant, it could take an automatic decision on behalf of an individual regarding water, light penetration and nutrient level. The technology has been highly secure, efficient and reliable.

Madam Isatu Harrison the CEO/founder of creative hub Africa and Izelia Fashion who was the guest speaker for the night, started her speech by explaining that she obviously did not wake up one day and got to where she is currently as she had to go through some rough patch and challenging times. Cleaning was her first business; she started with a mop and a bucket where she employed 10 people and had some others as part-timers. The cleaning business was successful as she had a Ghanaian woman who worked so hard to own part of the company. She later sold the business and pursued a hairdressing venture which she fancied; ended up selling the cleaning business and failed in the hairdressing saloon. She relentlessly moved over to being a seamstress as all she had left was a singer machine and some Ankara pieces, being a business person who has always had a knack for fashion she then ventured into the fashion industry with just a sewing machine and eventually developed the brand called Izelia, which is well known today for its signature gara tye fashion prints all over the entrepreneurial ecosystem. She finally encouraged young female entrepreneurs to use what they have until they can get what they need.

At the final phase of the event, the judges have presented gifts of appreciation on behalf of Innovation SL before declaring the winner. Certificates were presented to all the pitchers

respectively, starting from the rear. The judges unanimously declared “the Community ” led by Emily Kumba Fanday as the winner of the 2023 Freetown Pitch Night, fempreneur edition. The MD of mercury international, Mr. Martin Michaels presented the cheque of $500 as seed capital to the winner and the event was concluded with an atmosphere of excitement and high anticipation for the next edition of the Freetown Pitch Night slated for the 13th of  May 2023.    

 REPORTED BY- George Garber

EDITED BY- Francess Beresford-Renner

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THE EUROPEAN UNION (EU) PARTNERS WITH INNOVATION SL FOR A SPECIAL PITCH NIGHT TO HEAR COMMERCIAL SOLUTIONS TO SIERRA LEONE’S PLASTIC PROBLEMS.
By Memuna Forna- Insight Magazine. There can’t be anyone who has not experienced Sierra Leone’s problem with plastic waste. Abandoned plastic bags, water sachets and bottles litter the streets. They clog gutters and drainage channels, increasing the risk of flooding in our already flood-prone country. They wash up onto the beach, deter tourists, poison our fishing stocks and threaten the environment. Our plastic waste problem disproportionately affects the health and livelihoods of poorer and more vulnerable communities. It devastates agriculture, fishing and tourism, and according to a recent report dumped and burned rubbish, especially plastic waste, is responsible for the death of one person every 30 seconds in developing countries. We are not alone. This is a continent-wide problem, and has prompted 34 countries to introduce either total or partial bans on single-use plastic, making Africa world-leaders in the fight against plastic. Many would argue that the urgency of the situation in Sierra Leone, demands a similarly urgent response, particularly because we lack functioning large-scale collection and recycling infrastructure. However, the reality is that single use plastic in Sierra Leone plays a significant role in the daily lives of much of the country’s population and without alternatives in place, a plastic ban could create other problems. Some of the considerations that could derail Sierra Leone’s attempts to reduce plastic use, include the importance of packaged sachet water as a source of drinking water, particularly in urban areas, or communities without access to clean water; the use of plastic bags as ‘flying toilets’ to dispose of human waste, in the many communities without proper sanitation facilities; the use of plastic bags to distribute and store food; and the fact we have a domestic plastic packaging industry. But these considerations are not insurmountable, and the European Union in Sierra Leone is collaborating with Innovation SL on a special Freetown Pitch Night (14th October – 5-7pm) to hear three entrepreneurs pitch commercially viable and sustainable solutions to single use plastic in Sierra Leone, which will take us several steps closer to becoming a plastic-free society. The event is organised within the framework of EU Climate Diplomacy Week and EU Green Week on the theme of nature and biodiversity. Our three entrepreneurs will be pitching to a panel of judges made up of Tom Vens – the EU Ambassador, Lesley Ní Bhriain – the Irish Ambassador, Mr Patrick Dzierzon – the Deputy German Ambassador, Estelle Van Eeckhout – the MD of Brussels Airlines in Sierra Leone and PJ Mandewa-Cole from the Department of Science, Technology and Innovation. Freetown Pitch Night – the entrepreneurs and innovators pitching event, which gives budding entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their ideas, solicit feedback, advice and potential partnerships has become the go-to platform for business innovation in Sierra Leone. Francis Stevens, CEO of Innovation SL and the organiser of Freetown Pitch Night says:
“An ecosystem that provides a platform for new and innovative ideas to be discovered and for an ecosystem enabler such as the EU to be part of this discovery process is the essence of Freetown Pitch Night.”
The winning business idea will be helped to develop their idea, with a trip abroad, sponsored by the EU and Brussels Airlines. Initiatives being pitched include: Seaweed based bottles, water sachets and bottle caps: Alhassan Sesay, founder of the Sierra Leone School Green Club (SLSGC), an environmental and agricultural organisation proposes replacing water sachets, bottles and plastic containers using a product made from seaweed, which will in turn make use of Sierra Leone’s annual seaweed invasion into a benefit. Eco-friendly grocery bags, food packaging, cups, bottles, dishes: Kisimi Kayleemasa Kamara, founder of eWoman Sierra Leone, is a Software Engineer who is replacing single use plastic bags, bottles and packaging with raffia grocery bags, banana leaves food wrappers/dishes, bamboo cups/bottles and coconut shell cups/dishes. Replacing single-use plastic bags: John Sawo-Koroma, founder of CraftyBee Fashion World produces a range of affordable fabric bags including a 100% cotton fabric shopping bag, which is durable, reusable and biodegradable and intended as a replacement to plastic bags. Watch Freetown Pitch Night – Replacement of Single Plastic Use on the 14th October (5-7pm) via Facebook Live @EUinSierraLeone or @FreetownPitchNight. By Memuna Forna- Insight Magazine.
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Freetown Pitch Night- A Critical Element in an Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

The Freetown Pitch is more than a night where entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas. It is a platform for them to connect, build their network and crucially, demonstrate their innovative abilities.

The Freetown Pitch Night is part of efforts to build an ecosystem in Sierra Leone that will support a new breed of entrepreneurs-value creating entrepreneurs.

An entrepreneurship ecosystem “refers to the elements – individuals, events, organizations or institutions – outside the individual entrepreneur that are conducive to, or inhibitive of, the choice of a person to become an entrepreneur, or the probabilities of his or her success following launch. (wiki)

It is fair to say that at worst, we lack an ecosystem that supports entrepreneurs, and at best what we have for an ecosystem is at a birth stage. The diagram depicts an Ecosystem. The Freetown Pitch Night is part of the Networking Asset (Gathering places).

Value creating entrepreneurs (as opposed to rent seeking entrepreneurs) need an ecosystem that would allow them to flourish. We are beginning to now see the slow emergence of a significant number of such entrepreneurs. At the August Pitch Night, we witnessed three innovators in the Circular Economy. These entrepreneurs where turning waste to wealth, not only creating value for themselves, but for society as whole.

There are several entrepreneurship value creating styles. In essence, value creating entrepreneurs seek to create value for society, seek a higher purpose than simply making money. These entrepreneurs have a clear blue print for their company’s  genuine contribution to our society. Further, the entrepreneur’s  existence is reflected in the products and services they create and how their company operates.

This is the opposite of a rent seeking entrepreneur which is defined as the  use of the resources of a company, an organization or an individual to obtain economic gain from others without reciprocating any benefits to society through wealth creation.

Freetown Pitch Night provides opportunities to enhance the development of a new breed of value creating entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone; entrepreneurs that will create world class products and services while addressing  local needs.

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