BY VICTOR ADAR
Just over six months ago, Osita Oparaugo decided to set up Marketsquare Africa, an online portal where small players and start-ups in Africa form joint ventures, partnerships and create synergies for expansion towards building a stronger economy. His platform is designed to reduce what family businesses has had to grapple with such as the need and dependency on loans as finance remains a growth-constraint specifically for the tiny players.
Mr Oparaugo’s soft spot for business grew from his interactions with start-ups, having travelled widely preaching intra African investments as well as Foreign Direct Investments. The trained legal practitioner is determined to champion products that financially empower start-ups and SMEs thanks to the backing of over $1 million worth mother company – which is also his baby – called Footprint to Africa Limited.
From his part, the platform is expected to help foreign investors and entrepreneurs who would like to penetrate the African market find the right agents or distributors by posting their businesses one click at a time. It does not only serve as a great tool for start-ups but also networking a time when new economic realities lay bare. His contentment with Marketsquare is evident.
“All you need is collaboration,” he says. “No economy can survive without SMEs. They are the backbone of every economy. We do recognise that there is a vacuum in African development and it has to do with finance, and access to this is difficult. So we came up with Marketsquare primarily to bridge the gap between the investors and SME in the way that you don’t need to go looking for bank loans anymore or searching for investors to grow your business.”
The University of Buckingham graduate who hails from Eastern Nigeria sees the frustrations having been born into an SME home, and believes his fresh venture would change the face of global business, thereby help companies reduce dependency on loans. He says this is the new path of global business whereby local players can interconnect with their foreign counterparts and foreign manufacturers can easily connect with suitable local agents and distributors. This service eliminates the cost of travel and scouting that sometimes yield little or no results.
It is such Uber critical perspectives encouraging tiny players to form joint ventures and partnerships that will help change the narrative that has clouded small players for decades on end. Posing open-ended questions like “what do you have? What do I have?” Oparaugo the man argues that most family run businesses have too many flaws. Due to ownership structure, it makes it difficult to access loans. Investors are wary of this fact, and as always the case, it is a scenario that has left potential point men and women wondering whether they are talking to the right people or not.
“If the wife dies what happens to this business? Who will work with the dad? Are her sons going to agree, are the daughters going to agree? This brings problems,” he says.
Hearing his game plan, the Marketsquare is not a trading platform, but rather, it is designed to help. If you have a farmland for example, you can post it on the site to seek for the right partner to work with. Some one in South Africa with machinery will see it and contact you. Africa is the same, he says. In Rwanda, in Uganda, South Africa and Mozambique wherever you go, it is the same SME problem, which is finance. It has no territorial country. In Kenya SMEs face same problems that they face in Nigeria.
The platform has two sections. Although the general section is free of charge, the premium section costs only$75 (Sh7500) a year. In addition, on the general section, everything you post there is free, you can say “I am so and so, I have ISP licence or mining licence and I’m looking for an investor from South Africa” and so forth. You can do more on premier platform; post business with pictures, you can leave voice notes, video, and even drop a certificate. “ We have created a platform that will win the war in five years. It will take a little bit of time but in the next three years we will have over 300,000 joint ventures,” he says.
Because all is done online, you might think it is a very small space where fraudsters can flourish but that is not the case. When you post, the content does not go live. It is vetted promptly and if it has a bogus feel, or lacks enough contact details the user is contacted and all the loopholes sealed.
“You cannot believe that in the last six months the Manufacturers association of Israel has signed on to the Marketsquare Africa. Even our interest of coming to Nairobi is because of the number of companies from Nairobi that have signed up so we recognise that the people in Nairobi understand this concept and then the best thing for us is to bring it here and to introduce it to the people proper,” he says of the concept, adding that so far 115 business have signed up including Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency of Nigeria.