Businesses all over the world, especially Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) have been facing the harsh realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.
SMEs in Ghana represent about 90% of businesses, according to the World Bank. Since the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses have been unable to operate due to social distancing and lockdown measures. Others with non-essential products have seen a sharp decline in demand for their products. The heavy dependence on imported goods (e.g. packaging materials and machinery) has affected many businesses as borders were closed. This has resulted in increased unemployment rates, also in Ghana. The full effects are yet to be measured as the pandemic continues. Now more than ever, support services for businesses are critical to providing guidance to repurpose and adjust their models in order to stay relevant.
With the pandemic restrictions limiting access to support services for entrepreneurs and business owners, it is essential that co-working spaces, incubation hubs, innovation labs etc. work together with their entrepreneurship communities to develop innovative products and services. The hubs themselves, have to be innovative in reaching out to entrepreneurs with critically needed services during this period.
A definitive response for businesses and start-ups
Online incubation services have become a welcome response, offering great possibilities for hubs to provide their services remotely. Bridge for Billions is one such innovative platform that allows hubs to run virtual programmes for SMEs in different locations at the same time.
SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, together with MDF West Africa, the Ghana Innovation Hub, i-Code Ghana and Kumasi Hive, under the European Union-funded Boosting Green Employment and Enterprise Opportunities in Ghana (GrEEn) project, are running an online incubation service to assess how entrepreneurs in Ghana can be supported during the pandemic. GrEEn is aimed at creating green jobs in the Ashanti and Western Regions of Ghana.
The two-month online incubation programme, which was kickstarted in June, offers participants an opportunity to be mentored and coached to build eco-inclusive business models. Participants (youth, women and returning migrants), selected from the Agriculture, Renewable Energy, Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sectors, will complete eight modules.
The challenge to online incubation and acceleration support
Though essential in this period, online incubation services limit the kind of entrepreneurs who can be supported. Not every entrepreneur is tech savvy and therefore, regardless of the ease of using such platforms, many will be excluded from applying and participating.
Entrepreneurship communities provided by hubs hold great appeal for many because of the networking opportunities and the peer-to-peer engagements which are great for collaborating, developing innovative ideas or simply finding motivation through the hard and sometimes lonely journey of entrepreneurship. Online platforms will be limited in replicating that kind of atmosphere even with active virtual peer communities for sharing and learning.
Overall, online incubation services fill a significant gap by meeting the needs of entrepreneurs and business owners during the COVID-19 pandemic and should certainly be explored as a viable option for providing support services. At the post-pandemic and recovery stage, entrepreneurship hubs can continue to offer a structured approach to learning virtually, in order to reach a wider audience with their programmes, in addition to their typical entrepreneur community activities.
Written By: Genevieve Parker-Twum
Senior Incubation and Acceleration Advisor, GrEEn Project
This blog and its content do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.