Promoting young IT entrepreneurs in Ghana
Accra - Overlooking the Gulf of Guinea from the heart of the old center of Accra is a six-story concrete building that looks perfectly anonymous to the outside world. In fact, one would never suspect that more than a dozen start-up companies are occupying the entire top floor of the building, a meandering 9000 sq feet of office space that includes two IT laboratories, a lecture hall, conference and library facilities and an office for each business.
A systems analyst and former KPMG senior consultant, Solomon Asante Dartey heads the Ghana Multimedia Incubator Centre (GMIC) that has been providing space, training and equipment to lift these start-up companies onto the national IT market. “Thanks to Ghana’s education system, there is a lot of talent around”, says Dartey. “We identify that talent and help to build the skills of young people so that they can go out there and get some jobs,” he adds.
When the Ministry of Communication of Ghana launched its ICT for Development initiative in 2005, aiming to create a service economy based on some of the most cutting-edge sectors, UNDP, in addition to helping the government to design and implement the initiative, facilitated the creation of what is known here as the Ghana Multimedia Incubator Centre (GMIC).
“UNDP picked up the enormous opportunity that the Government of Ghana has opened up. Together, we are working to make this into one of the most innovative business incubation models in Africa,” says Frederick Hans Ampiah, Partnerships Advisor at UNDP Ghana.
Tapping into the potential of the market
The Ministry of Communication has developed the center in collaboration with the UNDP and a number of government and academic institutions, including the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi and the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communication, which collects finances from local telecom operators, service providers and members of parliament to ensure universal access to IT services.
UNDP has been funding 50 percent of the annual budget of $300,000 needed to run the center. The Ghanaian government has been funding the other half of the investment, while IBM and Microsoft have been providing mentoring support and equipment respectively.
Of the 14 companies chaperoned by the center, six have already successfully made it to the market. In addition, close to 250 students have been trained to become call center agents and data entry clerks and all of them are now employed in the country’s fledgling outsourcing industry. In total, the center has created 653 jobs.
“Our physical location and the fact that we all speak English are a blessing,” says Dartey. “So far, the outsourcing industry has been concentrated in Asia, whereas we are in the same time zone as Western Europe . That’s a huge advantage in terms of business opportunities”.
In addition, in 2008, the center trained 380 data entry clerks to help the Electoral Commission to process election results.
The center has established a rigorous selection process to pick the companies it will support over a period of one to three years. Students from the country’s main universities write up business proposals and fill out an application form. Together as part of a panel, UNDP, the Ministry of Communication and members of the business and academic community examine the viability of the proposals, based on their capacity for innovation and delivery.
“We receive an average of three applications per week’” says Dartey. “We have shortlisted five projects for 2010, three of which were made by women”.
Innovations to promote businesses
The CEOs, all in their 20s, speak with confidence. The center’s most successful start-up is headed by a woman, Vida Anima Ackom. Ackom is the CEO of a company called Real IT Solutions, which creates educational software for universities, government institutions and the students at the center. The company also caters for children at primary and basic levels, transcribing their school programmes into interactive DVDs that are designed to facilitate learning, with the help of two graphic designers and a sound and animation engineer. “We are improving the kids’ academic performance by making learning easy and fun,” says Ackom.
Daniel Quartey heads iBit Soft, a company that uses radio frequency identification technology (RFID) to create solutions for point-of-sales and home security. For instance, the technology can scan 40 labeled items in less than a minute, allowing warehouse managers to save time when browsing through their inventories or taking stock. It can also be applied in protecting houses and cars, sending text messages to their owners in the case of a burglary or theft.
Another company, Equinox Intercom, has developed an e-Learning portal, performing so well that it has won two international awards, including the 2009 World Bank-InfoDev Global Innovators’ contest. Cecil Nutakor, CEO, says “I was able to turn from an IT guy into an actual CEO that does planning, marketing, financial analysis, understands the cost element of doing business and manages 10 people. The most important thing the center has done is to give us credibility, thanks to the Ministry of Communication and UNDP.”
With UNDP’s support, the initiative has created a “pre-incubation” center in Kumasi, the country's second biggest city. The new center will host and test five more companies that will graduate to the business incubation center in Accra.
In addition, as part of the World Bank’s Africa Incubator Network, the Business Incubator recently travelled to Beijing where it signed MoUs with the Chinese government, leading to the production of equipment such as iBit’s sensor devices in China and promoting access to Chinese markets for all of the products and services that come out of the center.
“We are going to make a huge success of this center. Eventually, our business support model will be replicated in all four corners of the country”, says Dartey.
Partnerships Adviser, UNDP Ghana
For more information, please visit http://www.gmic.gov.gh