Mauritian entrepreneurship continues to bloom with support and mentorship

The importance of SMEs and entrepreneurs in developing local African economies and intra-Africa trade can’t be ignored – they make up 90% of private business in Africa and contribute to more than 50% of employment and GDP. In Mauritius, entrepreneurship has followed a successful historical path, with its potential to contribute to the country’s economic development first realised in the 1970s. Both the Mauritian Government and the private sector are giving recognition and support to  entrepreneurship development. In addition, low corporate taxes in the country allow SMEs to devote more money to researching and developing new ideas.
However, many entrepreneurs still have limited access to technology, or financial support and mentorship. It is essential that SMEs have access to this type of assistance so that they can flourish. This assistance is so important because almost 80% of SMEs  fail in their first year, while about half of the SMEs that survive their first year manage to remain in business for the next five years. So it’s clear that to enable SMEs to develop, we need to create an environment that promotes business entry and expansion.
It’s equally important that we understand the challenges SMEs face to find ways to help them overcome these. One of the   biggest challenges is that many SMEs don’t have access to modern technology or even broadband networks. This negatively  impacts their productivity and relevance in our digitally-driven world.
Not only does it make sense to address these challenges so that Mauritians can remain relevant in the digital world, but encouraging entrepreneurship is also a great way to combat unemployment. To a large extent, the traditional job market is already  highly saturated with little space to take on new employees, while there is often a mismatch between the opportunities in the ICT sector and the skills graduates have. Developing the ability to  recognise opportunity and giving people the tools to capitalise on those opportunities empowers them to take ownership of their future by creating their own jobs – and paying this forward by eventually being able to hire others.
Microsoft’s goal in Mauritius is to work closely with organisations and people across the country to fully harness the power of innovation to meet the needs of the country and its communities and make a real impact. Caroline Koa Wing, Microsoft Citizenship Project Manager, adds: “Our main objective is to align to the priority of the country, in terms of the promotion of entrepreneurship. We focus on the upskilling of youth in general, as well as entrepreneurs through the integration of technology.”
Across Mauritius, there are now 950 jobs tied to the Microsoft partner ecosystem and 57 startups supported by BizSpark. In Addition, 525 students at secondary and tertiary level have been trained in coding and app development, while 132 women have benefitted from the English Literacy through IT (ELIT) course, with more taking part in the Microsoft Digital Literacy Course. Starting with little to no computer knowledge, one of the trainees, caterer Rookian Curimbucus, shared: “I attended computer training for the first time, which helped me to create an email address and search the internet. We also learned how to balance a budget and how to use a credit card. Ever since the training, my business has flourished.”
 A further 900 students received entrepreneurship education from 40 trained teachers through Build Your Business. Two of the teachers at the heart of the training, Sabine Cadersaid and Marie Micheline Clair, shared: “The students were really driven and motivated. Already at secondary school level they are able to frame their ideas and have the know-how necessary to join the labour market.” Existing entrepreneurs who have also taken part in the training feel that Build Your Business helped them identify weaknesses within their businesses and rectify them, while teaching them skills such as creating a business or marketing plan. Company manager, Ranjit Doorjean, commented: “The Build Your Business course really opened my eyes to how to best manage my own business and built up my confidence as an entrepreneur. I can say that my revenue has more than doubled since I took the course.”
Beyond this, through Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative, it has developed the Biz4Afrika platform, which is an SME community portal for African SMEs. It provides examples and advice on best business practice for SMEs and offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to communicate and collaborate with similar businesses and industry leaders to address their core challenges. The goal is to empower every African entrepreneur with a great idea for a business to turn that idea into a reality by bringing them online and providing them with affordable and relevant IT and non-IT related services – which in turn can help their community and their country.
Mauritius is an island, which lends itself to being isolated from the rest of the African continent and the world. However, its already strong entrepreneurial streak coupled with support from initiatives like these could see the country punching above its weight and becoming globally competitive.