Anzisha Top 20: Inside the Selection Process and the Pandemic Effect

By: Lionel Tarumbwa

The coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on how business and organisations operate. This year’s Anzisha Top 20 selection process was no exception to the disruption of Covid-19.

In light of the lockdown being enforced and the travel restrictions that were imposed, the Anzisha Prize team reimagined how the selection of Africa’s youngest entrepreneurs was conducted. Key activities had to be re-engineered to ensure that the process was not brought to a halt. 

Selection Process

The early stages of the selection process were not affected as these have been traditionally done online and remotely. A record 1,200 applications were received this year and 4 selection analysts had to each review between  250 to 300 applications.

The focus on the first stage of application reviews was on the following criteria:

  • Impact on community
  • Job creation
  • Potential for scalability

A critical focus was on the ability of businesses to respond to critical needs in the communities that they are operating. 

“When you look at a business operating in the agriculture sector or education sector is responding to a much bigger need on the continent than say a business in fashion,” says Christ Makanda one of the selection analysts.

Analysts also focused more on the ability of very young entrepreneurs to create jobs for other youths as a direct response to address the need for respectable jobs for Africa’s growing youth population.

“As a team, we had to develop a completely different program that serviced both the entrepreneurs currently in the fellowship and the incoming entrepreneurs. The addition of the analysts added a lot of value as their focus was ensuring we recruited a strong group of young entrepreneurs this year,” says Thokoza Mjo, Program Lead, Very Young Entrepreneur Acceleration.

The analysts shortlisted 150 applicants after the first round of applications. The shortlisted applicants then proceeded to have interviews with the analysts. Analysts described it as the most exciting stage as they were able to connect with the entrepreneurs more after hours of going through written applications.

“I think it was really easy to distinguish people who have clear leadership roles and those who had someone fill in the application for them”

“It was the most exciting stage because we went from just reading hundreds of applications without being able to put a face on the voice. So it was really nice to listen to the applicants talk about their own business and feel their excitement and enthusiasm as they spoke about their businesses,” said Christ.

During the interviews, the analysts also tested whether the applicants’ had a hands-on understanding of business metrics and operations. The key attribute that stood out among many applicants who scored highly in this stage was leadership.

“I think it was really easy to distinguish people who have clear leadership roles and those who had someone fill in the application for them,” he added as he reflected on his experience interviewing the applicants.

The third stage in the selection process was split into two parts. It involved applicants participating in several assignment challenges that gave the analysts a greater understanding of the business metrics and its traction. 

“We were giving the applicants feedback on how they could improve their assignments so that we could determine whether they were willing to learn and receive feedback. A lot of second assignments were better than the first drafts,” added Christ as he reflected on the ability of very young entrepreneurs to learn.

Due Diligence and the Pandemic Effect

The Anzisha Prize has traditionally conducted a due diligence process whereby analysts and the team visit the physical operations of the applicants. This would take analysts across the continent to visit the 50 businesses that would have made it to the third stage of the selection process. However, this year it was not possible due to most countries being in lockdown and the travel restrictions that had been imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The team came together and reimagined the process. Anzisha’s most important stakeholders, its fellows came in-handy in the reimagined process. The network of Anzisha Fellows across the continent came on board to work with analysts and conduct visits on behalf of the team. This also allowed the entrepreneurs who had advanced to get an experience of what it takes to make it to the top 20. The process was made easier as the Fellows had been previously through the due diligence themselves.

Analysts Reflections: Creating Investor-Ready Business

One of the key questions asked each year by many young entrepreneurs is how can they build a business that can challenge for opportunities such as the Anzisha Fellowship. Analysts have reported that the continent is not short of great ideas. The innovations coming out of the continent are amazing. However, entrepreneurs need to learn more about the business management process of entrepreneurship. 

“Entrepreneurs have to learn to do the boring stuff within their business such as accounting and administration. It is what separates businesses that will survive and those that cannot survive,” says Mhraf Worku who participated in the selection process.

Her sentiments were also shared with the rest of the team of analysts. Most VYEs have failed to grasp doing the work that it takes to make their businesses attractive to investment and funding. The lack of clear accounting and administrative processes is what separated great ideas from great businesses. Numbers and processes were a clear demonstration of a business being able to survive.

This year’s selection process brought out a spirit of Ubuntu through engagement as well as newfound lessons in creating agile processes that withstand the test of a crisis.