During his visit to Kenya and Rwanda in 2017, Founder and the Executive Chairperson at the Alibaba Group, Jack Ma, made a commitment that he will be creating a $10 million African Young Entrepreneurs Fund. Fast forward to November 2017 and Ma had fulfilled this promise by welcoming the inaugural class of 24 Afrikan entrepreneurs in China for a 2-week intensive course on e-commerce at Alibaba.
The eFounders Initiative is a collaboration between the Alibaba Group and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). It is headed up by Brian Wong, Vice President at Alibaba and has been with the company since its early days.
Among the e-commerce startups who made the cut from Afrika for the training program was Ahwenepa, a fashion e-commerce startup from Ghana. We caught up with Henry Cobblah, Co-Founder and CTO at Ahwenepa, to tell us a bit more about their startup and the training experience at Alibaba.
iAfrikan: For the benefit of people who might not be aware of Ahwenepa, tell us a bit about the startup.
Henry Cobblah: Ahwenepa is a digital solutions company for African Fashion with a strong sense of data. We provide a marketplace platform to sell African fashion products from thousands of designers and vendors.
How did you come about the idea of starting Ahwenepa?
Ahwenepa came about by the critical analysis of the problems African fashion designers face, namely: individual e-commerce platform cost and management, no marketing skills whether online or traditional, packaging and delivery challenges, comparing different designers, customization, payment, and originality.
Given you are a startup from Ghana, are customers in Ghana keen on ordering fashion online?
We are an Africa Fashion platform so we focus on the whole of Africa. Also, we have seen 70% of sales come from the diaspora.
How did you come about to participate in the eFounders Initiative with Alibaba?
We applied and went through a series of interviews and then got selected in addition to 23 others out of 750 applicants.
What was your experience with the eFounders Initiative?
The eFounders Initiative helped me to understand and appreciate the digital economy, as called for by the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
It opened me up to Alibaba’s mission to help small businesses succeed in our home markets and beyond by leveraging the power of technology. Countries with poor infrastructure, regulatory frameworks, skills and local content development, and electronic payment systems, are missing out on what the innovative flair of young entrepreneurs can generate in the fast-growing digital marketplace.
What did you learn?
One big takeaway for me was Big Data - how we capture data, manipulate, mine and analyze data. Another one lesson was around payments - cashless, dependable payment platform.
Rural Digitization using e-commerce was also educational as it highlighted how e-commerce can improve the lives of rural communities given the right infrastructure.