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