Rafeh Saleh, judge on Africa’s business heroes, discusses opportunities for African entrepreneurs

Now in its fourth year, Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) prize competition is one of the Jack Ma Foundation’s flagship philanthropic programs. It aims to identify and celebrate the tremendous entrepreneurial talent throughout Africa. ABH aims to uplift Africa’s brightest start-ups, SMEs, and businesses through grant funding, publicity, and access to a global network of mentors and investors.

ABH is currently calling on entrepreneurs from every African country to apply for their chance to win a share of a $ 1.5 million grant. Applications will be open until June 13th and as the judging of the fourth annual competition gets underway, we speak to one of the ABH judges Rafeh Saleh, Founding Partner of Cubit Ventures. Rafeh Saleh launched Cubit Ventures as a seed-stage venture fund backing startups driving digital transformation in Egypt. He’s an experienced entrepreneur and executive that has advised numerous companies on their growth strategies.

Here, Rafeh shares his insights on the state of entrepreneurship in Africa and what he thinks it takes for an entrepreneur to be successful both in the ABH competition and in business.

Can you tell us about your journey into the world of entrepreneurship and VCs?

It’s been quite a long journey. Throughout my career, I launched a system integration company long before start-up was a common term, led one of the largest consulting firms in Egypt, launched an accelerator, helped launch several start-ups, and advised numerous companies of all sizes on growth , turnaround, and business restructuring strategies.

How do you see the state of entrepreneurship in Africa today and what are some of the opportunities and challenges facing entrepreneurship in the continent?

I believe the main challenge is the lack of a conducive enabling environment across most of the African continent, yet the opportunity in Africa is massive.

There’s so much to build and disrupt in the areas of education, infrastructure, health, and logistics among others. That coupled with a young ambitious fast-growing population, innovative founders will capitalize on the opportunity and transform the continent.

What has your experience and involvement as a judge on Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) prize competition been like?

The experience is phenomenal. I got to meet companies of many shapes, sizes, industries, verticals, counties, tech and non-tech. I also got to engage with companies of tremendous impact in solving grass-root issues across the continent. It’s a very enriching experience and that’s why I’m keen to participate for the third year in a row.

Why are initiatives like ABH important to the development of a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in Africa?

Entrepreneurs need access to knowledge, talent, markets, capital, and exposure. It is initiatives like ABH that spark the fuel for that level of access. Entrepreneurs that go through the ABH program get to self-reflect on their businesses, explore and discuss cross-border growth across the continent and beyond, and get varied advice from a very diverse mentor pool.

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What qualities in an entrepreneur or business do you look for when you are a judge? What would help them stand out?

I look for inspiring, mission-driven founders that are adamant about solving an acute problem. I like to see a well-defined business model with solid unit economics backed by a fantastic team.

How have you benefited from being part of the ABH program?

Being part of the ABH program goes beyond the judging panel, it’s the inspiration of connecting with the founders, collective thinking along with the fellow judges, and the continued visibility with the ABH network.

What advice do you have for potential ABH applicants or aspiring entrepreneurs?

Be true to who you are, and project that passion across your full narrative; across your application, posted videos, and pitch deck. Understand your target market segment well and don’t underestimate your competition.

Keep validating with your customers. True validation comes from real paying customers, not from founders, teams, advisors or mentors. Your customer is your north star! Build a strong complementary and cohesive team. Know your numbers well, your business is your baby, and you should be ready to answer any questions.

To apply to the 2022 Africa’s Business Heroes competition and gain access to a wide range of benefits, enter your application on ABH’s official site. You can also follow Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The application deadline was just extended to the 20thth of June 2022. If you are a seasoned entrepreneur, VC, academic or business professional and would like to join the ABH community of judges, please visit this page.

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