Launchpad is Google’s programme that connects the brightest entrepreneurs across the continent and we’ve been doing this since last year, says Launchpad Accelerator Africa’s head of start-up success and services, Fola Olatunji-David, whose primary responsibilities include ensuring the success of these start-ups.
Though the programme has now been tailored for Africans, in Africa, who have business ideas that can change the course of the technology industry, the programme started four years ago in Israel and was later rolled out in San Fransisco.
“The idea was to take people from emerging ecosystems across the world and bring them to San Fransisco. After a while they realised that if you have a class for everybody across the world, it means each region might only get two people. If you want to teach people how to succeed in Africa, why take them to the US? How about we build a programme for Africa on the continent and the regional programme started,” said Olatunji-David.
The global programme still exists for those who want to expand their businesses.
The third class of the programme, which just graduated, consisted of teams from six African countries – Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Senegal, and Uganda.
The programme runs for three months for each class. The selected applicants spend a week of introductions with the Google and get all the information they may need, and are assigned mentors who help them kickstart their businesses, before being sent back to their countries of origin to work on their ideas. A month later, they have another week of boot camp with the Google team to update them on their progress.
They again return to their countries and implement the changes they received from the boot camp. The final meeting then happens during graduation week, where they share their successes and goals.
“We have structured the programme but also created flexibility. At the very beginning, we send them self assessments and ask them to send it to 10 people they work with and then compare it somewhere in the middle of the programme and check the disparity. This creates a form of self-awareness where they start realising what they have or don’t have.
“Often times you find founders who are delusional, who either think they’re everything or not good enough, so it helps them balance it out. It helps build a balanced team. Of all the 35 businesses we’ve helped, none has killed it off because we’re here to make sure they succeed.
“We have an alumni community, we invite them for the programmes, we check in with them, we have alerts when they reach milestones, we celebrate with them. We also connect them with each other. People who graduate from class 3, if they need a service from someone who was in class one, they can reach out. We’ve created channels that can help them reach out to each other. They’re also part of the global Google network.
“We have workshops, one-on-one mentorships, which is the core of our programme, We also touch on technology, sales and marketing. We don’t take equity from them, support is equity free. It’s a grant,” says Olatunji-David.
Though Google only received about thirty applications from South Africa – Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban – they are hoping to receive more applications from rural communities, and their community skills programme is there to ensure that.
“We are running a community skills programme in rural communities where we have word of mouth people doing digital skills training. There we talk about Launchpad and get companies to be part of the programme,” says Olatunji-David.
Though every start-up is treated differently depending on the needs of the business and what the founders hope to achieve, technology gaps and leadership are one of the few challenges facing entrepreneurs across the continent.
“We have something called the leaders lab, where we take them through various steps – very practical – how to be a good teammate first before thinking about being a leader. We also identify business gaps – How do you sell? You built this amazing product, but how do people hear about this? How do you close a sale? Marketing and PR – How do you make sure that you’re sending the right message?”
Though competition is always seen as a problem, Google embraces entrepreneurs who have similar ideas – even if they’re from the same country.
“There is enough market for everyone. They also help each other with ideas.”
The programme has helped businesses such as South Africa’s Pineapple, Jumo, Aerobotics, Tango TV, Twiga, Helium and Piggybank.ng, to name a few.