Where does the fourth industrial revolution leave very young African entrepreneurs?

In this article we explore the level to which the industrialization agenda aligns with both the industries and capabilities of very young entrepreneurs (15-22). The argument presented here is that industrialization does not offer an opportunity for this segment of entrepreneurs to add immediate value in and thrive. This exploration aims to open up a discussion about the level to which the industrialization agenda fosters opportunity for these entrepreneurs, and if not, what policy makers should do about it.

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1. Industrialization ranks very high on the policy agenda

Industrialization ranks pretty high on the African entrepreneurial policy agenda. Google “Industrialization in Africa” and you are presented with over 13 million results in less than a second: there is no shortage of opinions, research and convenings dedicated to exploring the full potential of industrialization for development, job creation and innovation on the continent.

In fact, the 2017 African Economic Outlook was themed around Entrepreneurship & Industrialization. The Outlook discusses the opportunities and challenges associated with harnessing the industrial revolution for Africa’s progress. One of the major attraction factors to industrialization is the job creation potential as it is a labour intensive sector.

2. But unintentionally left out a very important demographic: very young entrepreneurs

In particular, the outlook identifies the types of entrepreneurs that will foster Industrialization. There is enormous entrepreneurial potential in Africa. African women are more likely to start a business than elsewhere in the world. The 25-35 age bracket accounts for 38% of all entrepreneurial activity on the continent, generally younger than entrepreneurs elsewhere in the world, whose median entrepreneur age is older than 31.

The 18-24 and 35-44 age groups each account for 23% of the working age population in Africa, but account for less entrepreneurial activity than the 25-35 year olds. Naturally, the share of entrepreneurial activity, experiences of those older than 25 place them at the centre as agents of this revolution.

These are the people who should be able to provide jobs to the 29 million young African people that will enter the job market every year until 2030.

However, current conversations around the industrial revolution unintentionally leave the under 25s largely out of the picture- an enormous lost opportunity. The majority of very young entrepreneurs are naturally early stage entrepreneurs who operate in low productivity sectors that require low skill levels, and offer a few barriers to entry.

Therein lies the tension with the industrialization agenda and very young entrepreneurs- Although small young firms create the most jobs, only a few grow fast, because of that low growth they are not the entrepreneurs that are seen to have the most potential to contribute to this new wave of industrialization.

3. The conversation must shift

This reality presents policy makers with some key imperatives:

Focus on the industries where very young entrepreneurs are active Focus on the industries where the bulk of very young entrepreneurs are. Prioritize building supportive policy to enable broader entrepreneurial activity by more young people.

Find the connections & build capacity Virtually any industry can be disrupted and improved using technology- this presents an opportunity for young entrepreneurs to explore the possibilities that technology brings for their industries. However, this should not mean exclusive investment in high-productivity industries, it should be alongside.

Make a deliberate effort to focus on the very young The world of “very young” entrepreneurship is largely unexplored and can induce reasonable trepidation about its potential to deliver on the jobs and productivity promise. At the end of the day, we need to create opportunities for very young entrepreneurs to fail fast, learn fast , so that they grow fast.

The Bottom Line The conversation needs to begin early and turn into action even faster: As we consolidate our vision towards a great industrial revolution, we must just as heavily invest in the most important revolution shaping Africa. We are not just a young continent, we are soon becoming a very young continent. If we do not lead the way in creating policies and an enabling environment for the very young entrepreneurs that are increasingly dominating our economic landscape, who will?