They are all here, dressed up in full formal attire, trying to contain their excitement. They have come all the way from Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire for tonight's event.
"I have been waiting for the result of the competition since I applied in April," says Calvin Tiam, a contestant from Burkina Faso. And it has been a long process. Among the 633 contestants to have applied, 70 were short listed and only 20 were selected and invited to Casablanca.
Open to the 22 sub-Saharan IDB member countries, this contest was a first for the Bank, which is aiming to improve its tools to help reduce poverty. "For us, it is a way to scout talents in the region and support them through a mentorship programme, in order to foster entrepreneurship, which plays a vital role in creating jobs," says Osman Buyukmutlu, Principal, Strategy & Implementation, at the Islamic Cooperation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD), part of the IDB Group.
The goal of this healthy competition was to highlight success stories from the continent, where the winners will receive a cash prize and also help from the 18 mentors at eight different sub-Saharan entrepreneurial support organisations. Among the 20 finalists, three winners were chosen per category from the following: "Idea track", for a start-up project, and "Growth track", for an already existing company willing to expand. Prizes varied from $25,000 for first prize, to $15,000 for the second prize to $10,000 for the third prize. The "most export oriented" project won a special prize of $7,500. In view of their size, these amounts were meant to cover up to 50% of the needs of the different projects. This competition, an initiative of the IDB Special Programme for the Development of Africa, is likely to be renewed next year.
The names of the winners were finally announced. For the "Idea track" category, Uchechi Iweola, 26, took first place. This Nigerian intern at the George Washington University Hospital in DC was rewarded for an innovative project: creating medical records accessible via mobile phones. "In Nigeria, the databases are mainly paper based. My project will facilitate the communication of medical histories for doctors and nurses looking for data about their patients," explains Iweola. "The market is changing in Nigeria, it is the right time for this kind of initiative," he adds. In the "Growth track" category, the champions were the Beninese Gildas Zodome...