If there is one thing that this year’s Top 100 SMEs survey has clearly demonstrated, it must be that East Africa is truly becoming one market and one economy.
Participants in the survey admit that they have identified and seized emerging opportunities in the regional market and those that have not gone regional are upbeat of the prospects that the larger territory offers in terms of market size and growth potential.
With 76 per cent of Kenyan entrepreneurs in support of regional integration and an even greater number of 93 per cent expecting closer economic ties among East African state to have a positive impact on their business, we could only be standing on the threshold of a major transformation.
The fruits of the regional integration project will certainly accrue to those with open minds and humility to reach out to other players across the region for partnerships that add value to their enterprises.
To realise the objective of becoming regional players, businesspeople must understand the critical role that partnerships built on mutual trust and understanding plays in successful expansion and entry into new territories.
This is because forming partnerships with local investors is the easier and sure way to gaining acceptance in new markets.
Here on the home-front, I hold the view that celebrating the successes of our own entrepreneurs is the most honourable thing we can do as a people with a clear understanding of the role that these men and women play in our society.
The segment of our economy that small and medium-sized businesses occupy is not only critical to the well-being of Kenya as a viable and prosperous state but also to our ability in the future to defend our position as the region’s top most economy.
This is because these enterprises have continued to grow into becoming major players in the national economy that account for about 20 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and more than 50 per cent of the labour market. The proof of all this lies in a quick estimate of the worth of the 247 companies that participated in this year’s survey.
With the majority (60 per cent) of the participants running on a turnover of between Sh70 million and Sh299 million, another 30 per cent on turnovers of between Sh300 million and Sh699 million, and the remaining 10 per cent having topped between Sh700 million and Sh1 billion, these SMEs are controlling business worth about Sh100 billion annually or 10 per cent of the national budget.
And because participants in this survey represent only a tiny fraction of the total number of SMEs, we can confidently say that entrepreneurship is the bedrock of our economy that deserves our full attention and support.
Remember that no country in the world has ever managed to advance economically without founding, nurturing and helping own enterprises grow and establish a presence beyond the national borders.
In fact, this reality has effectively led me to the conclusion that a country’s level of economic advancement is directly linked to the support it offers the big dreamers in enterprise to thrive. Show me a country that does not support its entrepreneurs and I will show you a poor country.
As we celebrate the successes and triumphs of those who have defied the pitfalls of disillusionment in the turbulent landscape of entrepreneurship, I must caution that the distance that remains to be covered is immense and the climb steep.
Our entrepreneurship must continue climbing the maturity ladder aiming for that hallowed spot where we can effectively compete with the Chinese and Indian giants for the mega government contracts that have nearly become exclusive to them.
Congratulations to all the entrepreneurs who participated in this year’s survey and especially those who finished among the Top 100 and have joined the CLUB 100 2010.
•THE AUTHOR is the Chief Executive Officer of Nation Media Group.