Current Occupation: Senior Manager, Climate Innovation Centre (The Innovation Hub)
Q: Who is Gracia and how did she find herself working at The Innovation Hub?
A: A girl from the DRCongo who moved to SA over a decade ago. I studied Chemical Engineering and have both a BSc and MSc in waste management and harnessing biogas from organic wastes. I am passionate about sustainability and the role the green economy can/will play in contributing to Africa’s economic development. I have over 5 years of combined experience in the SA waste industry and biogas industry and spent a lot of my spare time tracking entrepreneurs on the continent as a source of motivation. I guess in that sense, The Innovation Hub is a natural transition as I get to interact with the entrepreneurial eco-system in South Africa on a daily basis which is one of the most exciting part of my role.
My friends would describe me as meek and spicy, nurturing (which can be overwhelming), full of life Congolese girl, a foodie, Afro beat addict, never shy on the dance floor, proud and self-confessed coffee addict, start-up blogger (www.africanstudentsabroad.com) and always chasing the next inspiring story on the continent.
Q: What’s your big idea?
A: Education is the next gold in Africa: entrepreneurs such as Fred Swaniker, Noella Coursaris, Chinezi Chijoke etc. are proving there is a significant need for quality and affordable education on the continent. My ambition is to establish my blog as the No 1 platform of exchange African students abroad and later build a company that will support the development of foreign African students while studying abroad drawing from my own experience and the challenges I faced coming from Congo. Tertiary education is still a luxury in Africa and no one with the means to study abroad should drop out, my organization will increase the success rate of African students through a network of peer-to-peer mentoring as well as preparing students mentally for the challenges they will face while abroad and how to overcome them.
I am the product of countless encounters with generous people who were willing to give me a change (bosses, colleagues, supervisor and friends) and believed in me, without which I could never be where/who I am today. I know not everyone gets to have that support system, and I hope to change that.
Q: You work in incubation, what are some common mistakes that entrepreneurs make?
A: Although I am still new to the business incubation space, the common mistakes I have seen many entrepreneurs make especially in the clean tech space is focusing on developing the idea and/or product too much and not enough attention paid to whether there is a market/demand for the services and (iii) what would the market be willing to pay for it. Without the mix of these ingredients, there is no viable business.
Q: What do you think it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?
A: Based on the people I look up to I would say (i) the right team who understands and has bought into the vision, (ii) a go-getter attitude, (iii) discipline and resilience to bounce back after setbacks, and (iv) flexibility/ability to adapt quickly.
Q: What do you think is the missing piece to the South African entrepreneurship narrative?
A: Although new to the incubation space, I genuinely believe that not enough is said about the hard work required to “make it as an entrepreneur” and even more so about the “failures/lesson learnt” from the daily challenges entrepreneurs face. As a result, this has created a skewed view of what entrepreneurship is about for the youth i.e. a quick fix (get rich scheme) vs. the importance of mastering a skill that will be required to run a successful business later on.
Q: Unemployment is a big issue in Africa and entrepreneurship is seen as one of the solutions, what do you think we can do better in order to create jobs in Africa as a whole?
A: While I strongly believe that entrepreneurship can play a key role in alleviating both the poverty and job creation deficit, I also believe that one cannot underestimate the importance of the regulatory framework that has to support these entrepreneurs. This include things like: access to and affordability of early stage finance, stable access to services (electricity, water, etc), ease of doing business (e.g. administrative process and costs behind registering a business), and financial incentives and/or support (tax breaks, etc). Entrepreneurs cannot thrive without the above: much remains to be done on the continent; however some countries such as South Africa, Rwanda and Kenya are doing much better than many of their African counterparts.
Q: Who would you consider as an entrepreneurship guru and why?
A: I am a risk adverse person. As such, I tend to admire most entrepreneurs who took calculated risks while building their organisations. As an Afro Optimist, I have also lot of respect for those who have succeeded while remaining unapologetically proud of their African heritage and passionate about giving back to the next generation. Knowing that the education sector is on my radar: the best guru for me is probably Fred Swaniker, (South Africa/Ghana) who has built both the African Leadership Academy and University. Others are Noella Coursaris and Patrica Nzolamtima (DR Congo) and Aishwa Oyebi and Ruka Sanusi (Ghana/Nigeria).