Interview: William Senyo
How can the quality and availability of skilled technicians and developers be assessed?
WILLIAM SENYO: Recruiting skilled technicians and developers in Ghana is challenging, but it is possible due to a growing pool of these graduates in the labour market. However, demand for technical profiles is increasing and if the public and private sectors are to keep pace, we must encourage prospective higher education students to consider studies in computer sciences. While misalignment is normal over the business cycle of developed economies, the costs of mismatches in developing countries like Ghana are much higher because it stifles early business growth and blocks the opportunity to create sustainable economies. With 10% of Ghanaians completing higher education, I believe that we have a good base, and looking at emerging models for rapidly developing this talent there is reason to be optimistic.
What progress has been made to digitise the private sector, and what more can be achieved?
SENYO: The private sector has made significant progress in digitisation. Thanks to the aggressive competition in the financial services sector, banks are leading the way and increasingly digitising their services. Most banks have developed app-based mobile banking services. Some incumbents here have demonstrated a strong risk appetite and built synergies with early stage local tech companies in their ecosystem to help push new tech products. However, the industries which are the most likely to be disrupted by technological innovations are not necessarily the most digitised yet. Agriculture has the potential for innovation because technology can help fix the long-standing productivity deficit and make up for institutional voids in the sector.
What financing options and support exists for micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises?
SENYO: Access to finance is undeniably one of the biggest issues in the Ghanaian entrepreneurial ecosystem. The latest World Bank Enterprise Survey estimated that nearly 60% of small businesses and 40% of medium ones rely on internal financing for their investments. The remainder comes primarily from loans contracted in the banking sector. Unfortunately there is a low-trust environment, and banks have always been suspicious about lending to small businesses and struggle to offer favourable lending terms. Subsequently, this system excludes entrepreneurs who lack the collateral to back loans from formal financial services. For innovative small businesses, one alternative solution is to join incubators or accelerators providing access to seed capital, though this remains a niche option and does not solve the issue of early-stage and later-stage capital. Equity financing is starting to emerge as an alternative, but the process is slow and Ghana’s financial landscape for small enterprises is still predominantly dominated by debt. Ghanaian businesses have had difficulties getting rid of the idea that their capital structure has to rely exclusively on bank financing. The low development of our equity market is also reinforced by the adverse impact of government borrowing on interest rates.
How can corporations support Ghanaian start-ups?
SENYO: The relationship between the Ghanaian start-up scene and big corporations remains weak. Corporate venturing is an area in need of growth. It would give start-ups access to capital and the capacity for scaling, while allowing big companies to venture into innovative spaces where they can serve their strategic interests. Simply seeing large Ghanaian companies acknowledge the potential of local entrepreneurs and engaging with them through loose collaborations for product development, corporate sourcing or mentoring would be a move in the right direction. Foreign corporations have already spotted this potential, with international companies such as Merck, Facebook and Siemens all having sponsored projects to sustain the development of the Ghanaian entrepreneurial ecosystem.
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