Imagine spending hours to complete and finally submit an excellent application for a chance to win up to $300,000 business grant; only for your application to be disqualified because you did not share permission to your Google drive file.
This was the case of a candidate I reviewed his application for the Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) competition in 2022.
Africa’s Business Heroes is a prestigious business competition initiated by the Jack Ma Foundation in 2019 to identify, support, and inspire the next generation of African entrepreneurs. The competition is for business owners who are making an impact in their local communities, working to solve the most pressing problems, and building a more sustainable and lucrative economy for the future.
It is open to entrepreneurs from all African countries, all sectors, and of all ages who operate business formally registered in an African country, and that has a minimum of 3-year-track records. Ten finalists compete for a share of US$1.5 million in grant money.
I was privileged to have volunteered as an interview facilitator and a round 1 and 2 judge for ABH 2022. I gained some experience in the process and will like to share some of what I learned. Hopefully, this helps a business owner applying for the 5th edition of the ABH 2023 to submit a quality application and deliver a compelling presentation if they make it to the interview stage.
By the way, the fifth Edition of the ABH 2023 competition is currently open for applications. Apply here if you meet the requirements.
7 Ways to improve the quality of your application for Africa’s Business Heroes
- Quote correct financial figures
While filling out your application, you will have to submit your historical and forecasted revenue. This is how much money your business has generated in the past and how much you predict it will generate in the future. If you rush through this section of your application, you may end up submitting conflicting financial figures.
In one of the interview sessions, a shortlisted candidate presented financial figures that were different from what he submitted in the application. He spent a good part of his interview explaining why the discrepancy.
ABH judges are often considerate and understanding professionals who want to see you succeed. But such discrepancies can raise doubts about you and your business. You don’t want to spend part of your interview explaining why you have different figures from what is in your application. So do well to submit accurate financial figures.
- Quote industry stats from reliable sources
While describing the problem your business is trying to solve and your innovative solution, you’ll have to present relevant industry and market data to support your case. Avoid quoting data from unreliable sources. Instead, use industry-specific sources, the national bureau of statistics in your country, or popular online sources like statista.com.
You have to demonstrate a thorough grasp of the problem you are tackling, the opportunity, your target customer, and what your solution means for them. The right data will give some legitimacy to your presentation without objection.
- Make your files accessible.
I started this article by drawing your attention to an applicant who was disqualified because his Google drive video files had restricted access. From accessing his application and researching the company, I observed the applicant had what it takes to make it to the next round. But not following a simple instruction, howbeit, unintentionally, cost him the chance.
Even after I requested access to the file, since I wasn’t permitted to contact applicants directly, I couldn’t access the video before the shortlisting deadline.
The point is to be meticulous with your application. With over 20,000 applications in 2022, likely higher in 2023, you don’t want to make it easy for any judge to disqualify your application.
- Be Impact- driven
Toward the end of an interview I facilitated in 2022, a candidate was asked the closing question, “so why did you apply for ABH if your business is doing do so well?”
When he was done talking about the impact ABH will help him achieve in his community, one of the judges responded, “so why didn’t you build your presentation around this?”
In other words, his application and presentation during the interview were focused on the brilliance of his solution, with little emphasis on the impact he is making and plan to make in his community. This closing part of his interview granted him much-needed favor from the judges.
Africa’s Business Heroes is focused on identifying entrepreneurs who are making an impact in their communities and in the African continent. Hence, the judges want to understand the problem your business is solving, how you are solving this problem, and how much impact you are making while solving the problem. ABH is not for business owners whose sole purpose is to make profit. You have to be passionate about making an impact.
Cast the spotlight on the impact your business is making, and how ABH will help you achieve your well-articulated future growth plan.
- Articulate your future growth plan.
Your business might have performed well in the past, but without a clear path for future growth, you will hardly convince anyone to support you. Many applicants fall short in this section of their application. Avoid presenting your future growth plan without careful consideration. This shouldn’t be an afterthought.
Consider the size of your market and articulate your future growth plan. Convince the judges that you have the ability and capacity to implement your plan. If you have gaps in management, state a clear plan on how you intend to fill the gap. Outline a clear path to your business expansion, product development and so on. You want to convince the ABH team to want to be a part of your success story.
- Tell an inspiring story.
The ABH program is about telling the stories of African entrepreneurs making an impact on the continent.
It’s based on the premise that entrepreneurs are the heroes who, against all odds, are overcoming obstacles and challenges to create and develop innovative solutions to Africa’s problems.
If you think about it, who is a hero without an inspiring story?
The story is what makes the hero. So think about the entire application process, including your self-introduction and customer testimonial video, and the interview process, if you get shortlisted, as an opportunity to tell an inspiring story of your journey as an entrepreneur in Africa.
- Review your applications
It’s common knowledge to review your application before submitting it. Most people do that. The problem is that you are likely to miss errors and flaws when reviewing your own work by yourself.
That is why you should get a third party to help review your application before submitting it. It’ll be a good idea if you get someone with business experience to look through your application. If not, you can ask your friends, colleague or family member to help out.
Leave nothing to chance. Ensure you put in your best effort.
If you make it to the next round, congratulations.
If you don’t get shortlisted, you will receive feedback from the judges on what and where you can improve in your business and your application. Improve on the feedback and apply again next year.
Best of luck!