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While many entrepreneurs are focused on raising funding from traditional sources such as banks, angel investors or from friends and family, Cameroonian entrepreneur Alain Nteff was able to raise up to $200 000 in equity-free funding in 18-months, simply by entering competitions.
For Nteff it all started in 2014, a year after he and Conrad Dangu founded GiftedMom, a platform that tackles infant and maternal mortality through information sent to users via SMS or a smartphone app.
After running a six-month pilot a friend of his told him about the Mastercard Foundation’s Anzisha Price competition. He applied, together with over 300 other candidates from across Africa.
“We were chosen among the 40 semi-finalists, they came to Cameroon and saw what we were doing. We were later on selected among the 12 finalists, who were selected to pitch for five minutes in South Africa and we won the first prize of $25 000,” he said.
It was after that competition that he decided to turn the idea into a business. “Prior to that we had no money,” he said. He explained that at the time, the founders had bootstrapped the startup and were “building for fun from our rooms”.
He said that during this time (September 2014), the startup was not generating a revenue, even though the founders had signed on 2000 users.
“So to attract investment at that time was really very early because everyone was looking at it from a non-profits point of view, and asking are these guys going to make money, can they monetise what they are doing?
Competitions give you free money to get the traction that is needed says Cameroonian entrepreneur Alain Nteff
Nteff said in Cameroon getting investors is not easy. He said initially the startup was not getting feedback from investors. “When we did, it was around traction and that ‘You’re not making money,'” he said. “It’s a huge problem on the Africa startup scene,” he added.
“So that is why we decided to go for competitions which give you free money to get the traction that is needed,” he said.
However, in 2015, the startup received its first investment of $20 000 from Africa Leadership Network Ventures. “We’ve raised $20 000 plus over about $200 000 in competition money. That’s a total of $220 000 in about 18-months period,” he said.
He urged other entrepreneurs running seed-stage startups that investors won’t talk to you until “you’re very interesting in terms of traction, revenue and profitability.”
“So go for the competitions, I always say to the startups,” says Nteff.
Here are some of the awards and competitions the startup has won:
The New York Forum Institute: Young Africa Business Award (2015): The startup won the first prize of €50 000.
D-Prize: This competition awards social entrepreneurs up to $20 000 to launch a pilot in emerging markets, if successful startups also stand to receive further funding.
Ashoka Changemakers (2015): Winners of the Ashoka Changemakers Future Forward Award get up to $1500 in funding.
Total Cameroon Challenge Startupper (2016): GiftedMom won the first prize of 12.5 million Central African CFA francs ($25 000)
Digital Africa Awards (2017): The medtech startup walked away with €30 000 from the awards.