SANNIUELLIE, Nimba â€“ Four youth entrepreneurs in Nimba have been presented more than L$600,000 (US$3,077) as winners of the Youth Entrepreneurship and Employment Project business plan competition.
YEEP is an initiative of the Liberian government, financed by the African Development Bank. It is being implemented by Spark, an international organization focused on entrepreneurship. The business plan competition is the component that encourages youths into sustainable entrepreneurship.
The manager of the entrepreneurship center at Nimba County Community College, where the program is being implemented, Joseph Mensah, described the outcome of the competition as impressive.
Mensah said the competition, which began in December last year, received at least 130 applications from young people to participate. However, following a thorough screening exercise, the number of participants was reduced to 60. He said the final stage of selection after the business plan training again saw the number reduced to 10 finalists.
The four winners of the competition were selected based on their business ideas and the employment opportunities they can provide when empowered, Mensah said.
Abraham Diakpo, the owner of the Come and See Business Center, a mobile money transaction center in Sanniquellie, was named as the first winner of the competition. Diakpo was presented a cash prize of L$300,000 (US$1,522).
In addition, Jeremiah Cooper of Nimba Farm Online Store in Ganta and Simeon Kollie of Modern Technology Computer Center of Sanniquellie also received US$200,000 (US$1,015) and US$100,000 US$507), respectively, as second and third place winners. The fourth-place winner was provided L$40,000 (US$203).
Although the competition was initially designed to produce three winners, a fourth winner was added based on what the vetting committee described as â€˜the competitiveness of the process.â€™
Mensah said Diakpoâ€™s mobile money business won the first place prize based on the assistance it is rendering rural dwellers in accessing cash in the absence of a banking institution.
â€œWe all know the constraints when it comes to banking in this area. It is difficult to move with money, considering the road conditions, security, and also unavailability of banks. As a result, anyone making interventions in such direction is something that needs to be funded because it will ease the tension on the business community. And you know mobile money is so useful today because it enables people to pay their children fees and get their salaries,â€ he explained.
As part of the benefits for the competition, the center manager added that winners will also be provided mentorship and coaching to ensure that the money they received will be used for business and not misused. He said the businesses would also be audited on a routine basis to help them grow and be sustainable. Additionally, the money provided to the winners would be paid back over time to help other youths to benefit.
At the same time, he assured that the next phase of the competition for a new batch of entrepreneurs would kick off in the following week. He encouraged more young people to take advantage of the program to start their own businesses.
Diakpo, who won first place in the competition, promised to use the money to expand his business to Karnplay, where he said people find it difficult to access cash through the mobile money platform. With this expansion, he said people would not have to travel all the way to Ganta to cash out their money.
Diakpo said he has also written the Central Bank of Liberia to request a license to operate a foreign exchange bureau that will also run MoneyGram and other money transfer services.
Cooper, who operates the Nimba Farm Online Store and was the second-place winner of the competition, said he is contemplating using the money he won to launch a website that will connect farmers in Nimba with buyers in and out of the country.
He observes that market women find it difficult to locate areas they can easily buy what they want to sell. With his online platform, he believes, business people will easily locate where to buy plantain, cassava, and livestock. He said the system will also help farmers to make more money from their produce.
Featured photo by Jerry Myers