From a shipping container to a sprawling complex – A young entrepreneur’s big dreams become a reality

Kingsley Ighobor: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 January 2024:

Micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are the backbone of any economy. In Angola, people are determined to shift away from oil dependency, which currently constitutes nearly 94 per cent of foreign earnings.

Although the Angolan economy grew an impressive 3.1 per cent in 2022, the World Bank attributed this growth primarily to improved oil revenues and enhanced economic management.

Recognizing the country’s need to diversity its economy, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is actively assisting the government in implementing an extensive Train for Trade II programme funded by the European Union and aimed at empowering thousands of Angolan entrepreneurs predominantly involved in MSMEs.

Africa Renewal interviewed some successful small business owners to shed light on the key factors in their success and the prospects they see for their businesses and their country.

Six years ago, 34-year-old Adão de Sousa sold various items from a rented shipping container in Soyo, a coastal city in the northwest corner of Zaire Province in Northern Angola. Adão had learned the ropes of entrepreneurship from a mentor he affectionately calls his uncle.

In his early days, Adão chased after moving vehicles, peddling fruits, vegetables, poultry products and personal protective equipment (PPEs).

Fast forward to November 2023, and we find Adão seated behind a massive desk in his sprawling business complex. Now 40 years old, he is the chief executive officer of Asos Comercial, a conglomerate with interests spanning oil and gas, farming, livestock and guest houses.

My uncle always urged me to work hard and focus as a young man.

The complex consists of a huge warehouse of PPE, with delivery trucks parked in the rear. Behind the main building, Adão is constructing guest houses and an ultra-modern vehicle repair shop, among other projects.

“Growing up, I was fortunate to have an uncle who taught me the ropes of business,” Adão said, recalling his humble beginning. “My uncle always urged me to work hard and focus as a young man.”

Gaining insights to diversify business 

As a thriving oil port, Soyo accommodates many businesses connected to the oil sector. Adão initially tapped into this wealth by selling PPEs like safety helmets and boots to oil companies.

An astute entrepreneur, he gradually diversified his business portfolio into farming activities — such as raising goats, sheep, cows, and poultry — as well as repairing vehicles and renting guest houses to oil and gas employees during their onshore stays.

Insights he gained a year ago from friends and business associates who had taken the Empretec training program fueled his drive to diversify his business.

They taught me things I never imagined I could learn — how to take calculated risks, diversify businesses, and do market intelligence.

It is no coincidence that Empretec training took place in June 2022, and he inaugurated his complex a year later, in May 2023.

“For several days, they came here and taught me how to take calculated risks, diversify businesses, and do market intelligence — things I never imagined I could learn,” he said.

“Although I have learned a lot already, I am waiting for the next opportunity to connect in person. I hope they organize it one more time.”

He also continues to receive mentoring and guidance from Soyo Empretecos and from Hirondino Garcia, the director general of the Empretec Center in Angola.

With financing from the European Union, UNCTAD is implementing a Train for Trade II programme to equip Angolan entrepreneurs with skills to manage profitable enterprises.

Mr. Sousa’s business complex in Soyo, Angola (Photo above).

A new generation of Angolan entrepreneurs

“I belong to a new generation of young Soyo entrepreneurs,” said Adão. “We don’t wait for the government to provide for us. Each of us must take initiative and push forward.”

One of Adão’s notable achievements is his successfully lobbying the government to pave the road that leads to his company headquarters in Soyo. “I made significant efforts to convince the Soyo municipal management to pave this road. It has made our location more attractive, and many other businesses are sprouting up along the same route.”

With 18 employees already, Adão expects to increase his workforce substantially once he completes such ongoing projects as the vehicle repair garage and the guest houses. He has also committed to mentoring young entrepreneurs, sharing his story as a source of inspiration.

“In reality, doing business, especially trading, is simple if you learn how to do it: you buy, you sell, and then you buy more and sell more. You keep repeating the process,” he advised upcoming entrepreneurs. “However, you also need to gain financial literacy. And you must be disciplined and focused.”

I belong to a new generation of young Soyo entrepreneurs. We take initiative and push forward.

Adão emphasized the value of weaving “local content” into the economic fabric of Angola. Local content requirements typically mandate companies to procure a certain percentage of their products or services from local businesses instead of importing them.

While some experts view these requirements as barriers to trade, Adão finds them crucial for fostering the country’s economic growth.

Looking to the future, the businessman believes the sky is the limit. “I aspire to expand my businesses, create employment opportunities for many more of my brothers and sisters, and contribute to the development of our beautiful province.”

Africa Renewal

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