Enablis gives ICT entrepreneurs much needed early-stage finance and support

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Since the creation of the Digital Opportunity Task Force (DOT Force) at the G8 Summit in 2000, many programmes and initiatives have emerged to address the digital divide and offer enormous opportunities to narrow social and economic inequities and support sustainable wealth creation through the use of ICT. One such development was the creation of the Canada Fund for Africa in 2002 to support new initiatives that have a major impact on sustainable development. The Canada Fund for Africa would provide the critical USD10 million in seed funding for the creation of a ground breaking private sector-led Non-Profit Organization that aims to help entrepreneurs in developing countries by leveraging the transformation power of ICT.

This innovative private-public partnership, Enablis Entrepreneurial Network (Enablis), was founded in 2003 as a Montreal-based non-profit organization which focuses on driving measurable social and economic development by supporting entrepreneurs in the developing world who adopt ICT as a significant enabler of growth. Enablis’ private sector founding partners Accenture, Hewlett-Packard and Telesystem, provide substantial pro-bono services and equipment and have already secured funding of over USD25 million, primarily for the first regional operation in Southern Africa. Enablis was also able to successfully leverage its first USD10 million donation from the Canada Fund for Africa into an additional USD15 million from partners, sponsors, donors and social investors, which include in South Africa: Khula Enterprise Finance, First National Bank and KPMG.

In 2004, Enablis SA became the first Enablis regional hub with offices located in Cape Town and Johannesburg. “We work directly with entrepreneurs to accelerate growth and improve sustainability through the application of ICT,” explained Enablis’ Regional CEO in Cape Town, Martin Feinstein, about the work they do. “Enablis is a membership based organization where our network of entrepreneurs receive our unique programme of business support services through which we have helped people like Nathaniel Sebolai of Johannesburg, whose start-up is recognized as the first black empowerment enterprise in the mobile telecom space.”

At present Enablis has 80 members and by March 2006 this number is likely to increase to around 200 claimed Feinstein. “Members come to Enablis in three different ways. Through other organizations like the Black IT Forum. Through our Annual Business Plan competition, which has so far received 150 submissions this year, of which about half will become accredited members. And then through word of mouth of course.”

Enablis accredit membership to entrepreneurs based on whether their products and services will have a wider social impact on their community. Within the ICT industry this can be achieved either through cheaper connectivity, business efficiency, employment opportunities, etc. Entrepreneurs outside the ICT industry need to demonstrate that they can use ICT to improve profitability and productivity. “We assess what we call their EQ which is their Entrepreneurship Quotient. We look at their potential as well as their integrity and commitment to succeed,” said Feinstein.

Operating at the grassroots level, Enablis is dedicated to delivering to its member entrepreneurs all the networking, learning, mentoring and coaching that are of relevance to them and will contribute to their success. “We provide a suite of services and support activity ranging from seminars to workshops to forums and much more,” said Feinstein.

Enablis recently created a unique funding vehicle for members with the R50 Million Enablis Khula Loan Fund, which offers a 90% bank guarantee above $20,000 that provides entrepreneurs with start-up and early-stage financing at favorable commercial rates. “This provides finance for entrepreneurs who would otherwise have difficulty in securing funding from financial institutions,” Feinstein added. Enablis is currently in the process of raising a R50 Million Equity Fund in South Africa to provide a second financing alternative.

Other recent initiatives that Enablis have introduced include the Gateway Project in the Northern Cape to assist entrepreneurs in this less developed area and the e-circle peer-to-peer support programme where small groups of members can meet regularly to discuss any problems or issues. “The latter you could say is like Entrepreneurs Anonymous,” described Feinstein. Enablis is also collaborating with the Richard Branson School of Entrepreneurship in Johannesburg where they will be providing the ICT background and knowledge. “Students at this school will become student entrepreneurs at Enablis thorough a special category of membership that we are seeking to introduce,” Feinstein revealed. “When these students graduate and become entrepreneurs they will automatically become full members with us.”

With its experience at building and managing a broad local and international public-private partnership, Enablis is ready to expand its operations to 10 new developing countries in Africa over five years. To achieve this objective, Enablis has created the USD100 Million Enablis Global Development Trust I (Trust) in order to raise the core expansion funding, which can be applied progressively to the growth of its network. Enablis will match the contributions to the Trust through a mix of international private sector donors, local partners and social investors who together will contribute more than USD100 Million over this period, bringing the total funding to over USD200 Million. Founding partner Accenture is currently preparing a screening model for country selection based upon strict Enablis readiness criteria.