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The authority on gender empowerment in business for nearly 20 years.

3 barriers entrepreneurs face when building their businesses

Written by Editor

January 30, 2024

By Sonto Pooe – CEO and Founder of Native Child 

The African economy has been on the rise in recent years, and this growth is reflected in the emergence of new businesses across the continent. What has been most exciting for me is the increase in the number of female entrepreneurs that have emerged from this growth.

As part of the collective of said entrepreneurs, it is worthwhile to note that the journey hasn’t completely been an easy one. I am grateful to gain the opportunity to reflect on some of the challenges that I have faced as an African female founder that I have grown and gained key lessons from in the past few years of my journey.

The business sector is a space that has been known to be male-dominated and this has made building an enterprise twice as difficult for female founders. Having limited access to funding (sometimes none at all)  was an obstacle when I founded NativeChild in my kitchen many moons ago. 

Although we now have one of the largest ethnic hair care and cosmetics brands in South Africa, with our products in over 600 retailers across the country and soon expanding into North America, it is important that I emphasise that this journey was not an easy one, especially when creating a completely new product that deals with a niche market. 

I struggled to receive the investment and buy-in that I needed to get my company off the ground. Facing these kinds of challenges often may deter many people from starting their own enterprises, the belief that I had in my brand and my products gave me the strength I needed to persevere. 

In this piece, I highlight the barriers and challenges I faced as an entrepreneur, some of which are shared experiences for many entrepreneurs when building their businesses, especially in the bustling African economy. I hope that sharing hindsight into some of the challenges I faced could help future entrepreneurs determine if this is a career path they would like to enter into.

Read the latest edition of the Standard Bank Top Women Leaders publication,your guide to South Africa’s Top Gender Empowered Companies.

Lack of access to financing

The lack of access to financing has been a major challenge facing female-owned businesses in Africa. Financial institutions shy away from lending to women, citing high risk and a lack of collateral. Most female entrepreneurs in Africa have limited assets, and this makes it harder for them to secure loans. Furthermore, banks and other financial institutions are often located far away from rural areas where many female entrepreneurs are based. These factors make it harder for female entrepreneurs to acquire capital, which in turn limits their growth potential.

Socio-cultural barriers

Socio-cultural barriers are another major challenge facing female-owned businesses in Africa. Many African societies are patriarchal, and women are often relegated to the domestic sphere. This means that female entrepreneurs have to work extra hard to gain acceptance and recognition in their communities. Women in business are often seen as unconventional and are met with scepticism, especially when they venture into male-dominated fields. This can lead to isolation and limited access to networks, which are crucial for business growth.

Lack of technical skills and education

Lack of technical skills and education is another challenge facing female entrepreneurs in Africa. Education is a catalyst for economic growth and helps entrepreneurs to make informed decisions. However, many women in Africa do not have access to quality education, which limits their ability to manage and grow their businesses. Inadequate technical skills such as marketing, accounting, and financial management also limit female entrepreneurs’ growth potential.

In summation, there are many other challenges that female entrepreneurs face across the African continent, lack of access to financing, socio-cultural barriers, and inadequate technical skills are some of the major obstacles. 

Addressing these challenges requires a concerted effort on the part of governments, financial institutions, and the private sector. It is essential to create an enabling environment that promotes gender equality and removes the barriers that hinder female entrepreneurs’ growth. Only then can we create an ecosystem that supports the growth of female-owned businesses in Africa. 

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