Alibaba founder Jack Ma has established a new contest that will see African entrepreneurs compete for $10 million in funding, with the aim of supporting businesses that are growing the continent’s nascent digital economy.
Called the Jack Ma Foundation Netpreneur Prize, small businesses in Africa will vie for $1 million in prize money every year for the next decade, starting in 2019, a statement said. The Jack Ma Foundation will host an annual pitch competition, with all 10 finalists receiving grant funding and access to the Netpreneur community of African business leaders for mentorship and other resources.
“As a fellow entrepreneur, I understand the importance of getting support during the early days,” the Alibaba executive chairman said. “This prize demonstrates our support of a next generation of young entrepreneurs across Africa that is paving the way for a better future and impart positive change in their communities.”
While the competition will be open to entrepreneurs in all industries, the prize will focus on internet-led businesses that help advance technology and innovation in Africa. Applicants must be African nationals leading mission-driven organizations, and the 10 finalists will be selected by a team of judges from five regions representing the entire continent. Applications for the first year open in January, with the finalist pitch competition broadcast on television and online in the second half of 2019.
The prize was announced at the “Netpreneurs: The Rise of Africa’s Digital Lions” conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday, which drew 800 entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, researchers and policymakers. In addition to Ma, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi and South African Minister of Science and Technology Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Lin Songtian, China’s ambassador to South Africa, were in attendance.
“The rise of the digital economy provides growth and opportunity to the developing world, but it is up to us to make sure no one is left behind. The work that Jack Ma and UNCTAD are doing together will help empower the emerging generation of young African business leaders to participate in and lead that growth,” Kituyi said.