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Gaborone International Commerce Park
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BY VICTOR BAATWENG
Less than two weeks ago Botswana’s youthful enterprises descended at the Fairgrounds Holdings show grounds to showcase their products and services at the annual Youth Business Expo. The Expo, according to the organisers – Ministry of Youth, is a platform that accord young entrepreneurs in Botswana a chance to showcase their products and services.
The Expo feature exhibitions and seminars over a period of a week at the Fairgrounds in the capital Gaborone. Indeed this is a brilliant idea because we strongly believe that peer-to-peer interaction is incredibly valuable not just for youthful entrepreneurs but everyone else. This sort of interactions can help build skills, connections and confidence amongst budding entrepreneurs.
We have been told that amongst other things the Expo is meant to help young people of this country to access both local and international markets and expose youth entrepreneurs to new business trends. While this is a great idea and acceptable pledge from the organisers, what is not acceptable is the failure to provide something as simple and basic as free Wi-Fi. We made an observation that no dedicated Wi-Fi was set up for this event. How on earth do the organisers expect the exhibitors to reach out to the potential clients who could not make it to Fairgrounds or Gaborone? Infact in this era of technology and “internet of things” it is such as shame for the organisers to fail to set up free Wi-Fi as this is an event whose main focus is exposure and marketing. Unless the organisers want to tell us that in the world they live in exposure and marketing is all about walk-ins and there is no room for digitalisation. By the way this call for free Wi-Fi at the Youth Business Expo is not a call for spoon-feeding the youth entrepreneurs but a reminder that internet in modern day trade is a basic necessity. Being an arm of government, the organisers could have easily contracted another arm of government – BOFINET which provide wholesale internet to offer its services to the youth for that week. We want to believe that key amongst the desired outcome of any Expo is to have the exhibitors being able to network. And as we all know, networking is all about crafting win-win partnerships that provide value to both parties in myriad ways over time. If we allow exhibitors to share their stories even ONLINE via free Wi-Fi we are in a way helping them to network. Free Wi-Fi could also help the youth entrepreneurs to improve their web traffic – which sometimes is essential to prospective investors depending on the nature of the business.
Speaking of investors, our hope is also that the organisers are planning to get Botswana’s leading investors and international investors to take part at these annual exhibitions. Not as exhibitors but rather as potential funders to some of the brilliant ideas that youthful entrepreneurs could have. This could be done in the format of worldwide platform practised platform known as ‘Elevator Pitch’. For the sake of those who might not be familiar with it - an elevator pitch is a brief, persuasive speech that an entrepreneur/innovator uses to spark interest in their idea/innovation with hope that a potential investor listening or watching could have an interest and invest in the innovation. A good elevator pitch should last no longer than a short elevator ride of 20 to 30 seconds, hence the name. Elevator pitches are vital to the Youth Business Expo because numbers do show that Youth-owned businesses are the major causalities when it comes to small business failure. Ask anyone in the streets of the capital Gaborone who lives and breath entrepreneurs and they will tell you that lack of capital is a core factor when it comes to such failure. It is for this reason that we submit to the organisers that they consider use their “power” as government department to lure potential private funders to this event. This would surely jack-up a lot of the young entrepreneurs whose ideas cannot be implemented due to lack funding by government led institutions such as CEDA, YDF etc.
Apart potential funders one also hopes that at the Expo’s side-seminars, the organisers availed industry experts and gurus. This would be helpful because when you’re trying to grow your business there can be a great deal of value in learning from successful business owners, instead of trying to reinvent the proverbial wheel. With a forum like the Expo’s side seminars, the country’s budding entrepreneurs can quickly get a pulse on the market and obtain a plethora of ideas for their own businesses. All these speak to the ecosystem that any business not just youth owned ones need to thrive. This could be in the form of Research & Development (Academics could be roped in), Mentorship (Leading entrepreneurs), Funding (Private investors) as well as Marketing (Free Wi-Fi). One final suggestion in terms of the Business Expo would be for the organisers to also consider rotating the venue of the exhibition around the country. This could be a little more costly but it can be beneficial to other youth business owners in areas such as Gantsi, Maun, Kasane, Selebi Phikwe and Tsabong. The #Bottomline is that in its current format, the Youth Business Expo could reach its sell-by date faster than we need it to. We therefore call on the organisers to consider making some twigs & turns to it.