Chinese e-commerce tycoon Jack Ma has announced a $10 million fund that will support African entrepreneurs who are working within the digital economy to address Africa’s most important challenges.
The founder and executive chairman of global e-commerce giant Alibaba launched the program, dubbed ‘Netpreneur’, with $10 million set to be awarded to 100 African entrepreneurs over the next decade, according to Ventureburn.
The announcement was made in Johannesburg, South Africa this week, where Asia’s richest man was speaking at an event organized by the Alibaba Business School, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) and the Jack Ma Foundation.
The Netpreneur prize will focus on small business growth, grassroots innovation and women founders in particular, according to ITWebAfrica.
A pitch event will be hosted by the Jack Ma Foundation on an annual basis from 2019, with 10 finalists from all over Africa competing for $1 million in prize money while impressing their ideas and innovations to investors who will be present.
The finalists will receive grant funding and access to the Netpreneur community of African business leaders to leverage the community’s shared expertise, best practices and resources.
Ma encouraged African entrepreneurs to see the challenges around them such as infrastructure problems and logistics issues as opportunities to innovate and overcome the obstacles they face. He also said that he could relate to the entrepreneurial struggle they face.
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“As a fellow entrepreneur, I understand the importance of getting support during the early days. This prize demonstrates our support of the next generation of young entrepreneurs across Africa who are paving the way for a better future and imparting positive change in their communities,” said Ma, according to Techmoran.
“I am inspired and encouraged by these entrepreneurs who, together, will help build a sustainable, inclusive economy for Africa and for the world,” he added.
This was not Ma’s first visit to Africa. In July last year he made a two-day visit to Kenya in his capacity as special adviser for the UN Conference on Trade and Development, according to ITNewsAfrica.
His mandate on that trip was to promote entrepreneurship in Africa, and he brought with him a delegation of China’s richest billionaires including internet tycoon Bob Xu, founder and chairman of Mengniu Dairy, Niu Gensheng, real estate tycoon Huang Youlong, and Alibaba founding partner Lucy Peng.
During that visit Ma was thoroughly impressed by the calibre of entrepreneur that he came across in Kenya, while the broadband infrastructure and speeds in particular surprised the e-commerce tycoon.
At the time he mentioned that he was pleasantly surprised by the speed of the internet, saying that the speeds he encountered were faster than in some developed countries, according to ITWeb.
The Alibaba founder, whose wealth is valued at $28.3 billion, expressed interest in investing in Africa and Kenya in particular at the time, according to DailyNation.
He also committed to training 200 young African entrepreneurs and founders of digital startups. This latest announcement further illustrates Ma’s continued commitment to the digital economy and the support of entrepreneurs in Africa.