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Developing a great idea into a business

Being able to make something doesn’t mean you’re an entrepreneur, being able to make a business out of it does. I’ve met many great developers across Africa, some who would be considered “top of the class” in any country in the world. Unfortunately, some confuse starting a company for running a business.

It’s easy to get a legal entity, a company name and even a prototype out into the market. It’s hard to earn money off of that idea, even enough to make it self-sustaining, much less profitable.

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I can think of a couple reasons why this might be.

Sometimes I think this problem comes from the current eduction system, where you’re trained to be great employees but not independent thinkers with an entrepreneurial bent. That could be it, and it’s no surprise that the tech entrepreneurs who are making a living, building businesses of their own, weren’t the top students in their class.

I then look out at the many pitch competitions and challenges that are being presented to the young tech entrepreneurs in Africa, and I realize something else. The ability to communicate what you do and what value it brings to your market are missing.

There are an extremely small number of presentations that I’ve seen that would sway an investor or business executive to engage with your business and its products.

Again, maybe this is a matter of academic style and lack of business training in school. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that developers are generally not businessmen, therefore they have a difficult time pitching their product, even if they have the desire and fancy themselves in that role.

We need a couple things to happen.

First, more companies formed by a combination of one businessman and one techie. Start from there and see what happens when you each concentrate on what your strengths are – your competitive advantage. As a programmer, put your ego to the side and realize that an experienced businessman with good business acumen will take you far.

Second, I hope the local high schools and universities will offer basic business classes that are made open to young people in the technical field. Having a basic understanding of economics, marketing and incentives means a better chance that aspiring tech entrepreneurs will make it.

Equally, we need more business schools to have introductory classes in technology so that they know what the gaps are and can exploit them.

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