INTERVIEW: ABH Prize Competition celebrates outstanding entrepreneurs striving to make a difference in local communities

Monday 8 May 2023

The Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) Prize Competition, a philanthropic initiative sponsored by the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Philanthropy, launched its fifth annual edition in March this year, calling talents across the African continent to apply.

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In this interview Michael Mang, Project Director at Africa’s Business Heroes tells us more about the competition, its significance for African entrepreneurs, its areas of focus and the criteria it sets to select the best 10 entrepreneurs for the fifth edition.

  1. Could you give us an insight about the Africa's Business Heroes (ABH) Prize Competition and its core objective?

The Africa's Business Heroes (ABH) Prize Competition ( is a philanthropic initiative sponsored by the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Philanthropy with the aim of supporting small and medium-sized businesses across the African continent. Our goal is to identify and celebrate outstanding, mission-driven entrepreneurs that are striving to make a difference in their local communities.

Over a 10-year period, the program will recognize 100 African entrepreneurs and provide access to grant funding, training programs, mentoring and networking support for the broad African entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Every year since the first edition in 2019, entrepreneurs from across Africa apply and go through several rounds of rigorous evaluation conducted by ABH judges. The finalists are selected after demonstrating that they are visionary entrepreneurs who embody innovation, resilience, growth potential and impact on Africa.

2023 marks the fifth edition of this grant opportunity and each year ABH awards 10 outstanding entrepreneurs from across Africa with a share of a US$1.5 million grant.

  1. How are the entrepreneurs selected for the ABH Prize Competition?

Every year since the first edition in 2019, entrepreneurs from across Africa apply for the award and go through several rounds of rigorous evaluation conducted by ABH judges. 10 finalists who demonstrate their innovation, resilience, growth potential and impact on Africa are upgraded to the Grand Finale to compete for a share of a $1.5 million grant.

  1. What are the criteria used by the ABH judges to evaluate the entrepreneurs' suitability for the prize?

ABH judges look out for applicants who are not simply good businessmen or women but who are inspiring. They assess the candidate’s sense of purpose, vision and leadership qualities. Here are a few specific areas they focus on:

Problem/Need: Our judges evaluate whether the problem or need to be addressed by the applicant is significant. We're looking for businesses that are solving pain points for customers or addressing unfulfilled needs.

Solution: ABH judges assess how each business is addressing the problem/need they've identified and whether the solution is unique and has a competitive advantage.

Market Traction: Our judges look out for whether there is demand for the business' product/service. We place emphasis on solutions that have customers and where there is demonstrated demand for the solution.

Financial Sustainability: ABH judges evaluate the financial status and prospects of businesses. We place emphasis on revenue models that show scalability and that have generated income.

Team: Our judges assess applicants’ understanding of their teams: key roles, strengths, weaknesses and their management approach. ABH believes in the power of teamwork and we’re looking for entrepreneurs who have strong teams.

References: ABH judges evaluate applicants’ character, leadership potential/achievements and impact based on what others say about them. The submitted reference and customer testimonial video are important tools to allow the judges to do this.

  1. You've so far reached the 5th year of the ABH edition out of the 10 years the Jack Ma Foundation committed to; What are the areas of focus for this year’s competition?

2023 marks the mid-point of our 10-year commitment to this competition since its launch in 2019. Following the previous editions’ success and the interest ABH has generated in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, we are excited to welcome even more diversified and extensive engagement with the African entrepreneur community this year.

A crucial part of ABH’s success is a group of esteemed judges who not only evaluate but also inspire entrepreneurs broadly. Hundreds of judges at all levels of the competition support and mentor African entrepreneurial talents taking part in the competition each year. This year, we look forward to bringing in more industry veterans as mentors, trainers and judges to further support our contestants on their ABH journey.

Over the past four years, our ABH Community has grown strong thanks to our actively participating Heroes, who are tireless in supporting one another and sharing their experiences. This year, we plan to build on our efforts to provide training and networking opportunities for our Heroes by launching a peer-to-peer learning series: ScaleUp. It is a quarterly series of masterclasses presented by ABH Heroes on topics that are relevant to other entrepreneurs.

Continuing from our successful gathering of our Heroes in Kigali last year, we also plan to have further networking opportunities via a Summit. Lastly, we will expand our Local Connect Lead program, which empowers ABH Heroes to drive engagement at a local level. We believe these initiatives will help produce more tangible value for our members.

Last but not least, we are preparing for the return of a large-scale Grand Finale and Summit slated for November 2023. It will feature masterclasses by business legends, engaging panel discussions, exhibition booths, breakout sessions and of course, a show-stopping Grand Finale to mark our 5th anniversary. It will be a true celebration of Africa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and ABH’s impact thus far.

  1. What prompted Mr. Ma to support African entrepreneurs with Grant Funding?

In July 2017, Jack Ma visited Africa for the first time in his capacity as special adviser to UNCTAD. During his trip, Jack had the opportunity to engage with African entrepreneurs and hear their stories. He was inspired by the entrepreneurial energy of the young people he met with. He also recognized the same barriers to entrepreneurship in Africa that existed in China when he founded Alibaba in 1999.

As a proponent of the power of entrepreneurship to drive positive change, Jack decided to establish ABH to inspire, train and support entrepreneurs in Africa to build inclusive business models that can create development and economic opportunity for the continent.

  1. Can you tell us more about how Egypt has benefited from the initiative over the past 4 editions?

Egypt has had the 2nd largest number of winners since ABH’s initial edition in 2019 to date, making 5 Top 10 finalists who have won grant funding totalling over US $765,000 (equivalent to over 24 million Egyptian Pounds). Besides the Top 10 finalists, all participants in the ABH competition even if they don’t win among the top 10 have also equally benefited from the entrepreneurship training, networking, and pan-African publicity among other benefits.

Participating in ABH supersedes the grant opportunity as there’s so much more to benefit even if one doesn’t win a share of the money. Our finalists have the opportunity to become a part of the ABH Network where they are exposed to valuable entrepreneurship resources, including mentorship, exclusive training resources – such as investment readiness coaching, and more.

All ABH participants have the opportunity to network with a wide range of business leaders and other like-minded entrepreneurs and be given access to exclusive ABH events tailored to help them refine and grow their businesses

ABH finalists have the opportunity to engage with our highly qualified judges who offer them business advice throughout interviews and the evaluation process.
Additionally, we provide our Top 50 and Top 20 finalists a platform to tell their stories through our website and social media channels. We also issue press releases on our Top 50 and 20 finalists to ensure their stories gain exposure across Africa and the world. Our Top 10 heroes get featured in our ABH Show which highlights their stories and chronicles their journey to the finale, the Show is broadcast across the continent on top TV stations. Former participants from Egypt can testify to these benefits and more.

  1. Who is eligible for the ABH grant, and why it’s important for Egyptian entrepreneurs to apply?

We are looking for African entrepreneurs (start-ups Founders and Co-Founders) who are creating an impact in their communities and building a more inclusive economy for the future. Africans from all 54 African countries are eligible to apply irrespective of age, industry sector or gender. It is a golden chance for Egyptian entrepreneurs to showcase their solutions that are expected to deal with the serious challenges their local community is experiencing.

We encourage every entrepreneur that suits these criteria to apply immediately before May 12. Just click on this link and follow the process:

  1. Please provide a few tips for entrepreneurs to successfully apply for the grant.

Start early and be sure to finish the application process before the deadline! It’s an extensive application so work on the easy questions first, skip the hard questions and return to them later. Some of our strongest applications came from applicants who started the application early and submitted it early.

Be prepared. Check the eligibility criteria and get familiar with the application. There are 6 sections in total, and all compulsory questions need to be completed or your application will be disqualified.

Be concise. ABH has strict word limits, stick to the limits as otherwise, you won’t be able to proceed.

Be memorable & bold. The more compelling you are, the more compelling your application will be. Judges are reading through several applications and articulating the key factors that make your business stand out.

Be persuasive with examples & data. Back up your points with data and cite sources where possible to add legitimacy to your points.

Leverage all ABH resources. You can download the application to work on it offline, click on the info icon throughout the application for extra guidance, attend application support workshops or chat with an ABH support hero if you have any uncertainty.

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