AfricaLive talks to Mr. Leonard Chacha Kitoka, the Founder and Managing Director of Innovex on the future of entrepreneurship in Africa and the opportunities available on the continent
AfricaLive: Please give readers a brief background on your organisation and the scope of service you provide.
Mr Leonard Chacha Kitoka: Innovex is an advisory and assurance services firm that I started fourteen years ago. I established this company after my stint at PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC), where I learned the ropes. Leaving PWC was all about doing what I used to do for them, independently. After some time, I invited an ex-colleague of mine to join me at Innovex, so that he can head the audit arm of the company. My ex-colleague and now partner got the audit side up and running, while I focused on the advisory arm.
We have grown in leaps and bounds since we started and now have forty-five staff members and four directors on board. One of the directors came in to help us with our most recent arm of the company, which is Innovex-IT. The IT arm of the company was set up to help us adapt to the highly digitised environment we have now. Important aspects, like data management and cybersecurity, also have to be observed. The IT-arm of the company is supposed to help firms that are struggling to navigate through the fast changes in technology.
Our company operates mainly in Tanzania with branches in Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, and South Sudan. We are working hard to intensify our presence in the region and to expand to West and Southern Africa. Our core business, in a nutshell, is advisory services across sectors be it; management, staff and other sectors, as well as consulting services. We have vast experience and have worked alongside the public sector as well as with development agencies like the World Bank and UNDP. Tax issues are also part of our core business, where we help organisations manage their tax affairs to avoid being at loggerheads with tax collectors.
AfricaLive: Other than the East African markets that you are currently operating in, what other markets are you trying to enter?
Mr. Leonard Chacha Kitoka: Central African markets would be very exciting. The Congo would be a great market to be in, but we are yet to secure a reliable local partner. I mentioned our presence in South Sudan, but we are serving that country from our Tanzania offices. A South Sudan office is very risky because of the civil skirmishes that have plagued the country for a while. We are not done with East Africa because we also want to set up shop in Ethiopia shortly.
AfricaLive: You mentioned struggling to get a local partner in the Democratic Republic of Congo. What according to you is an ideal local business partner?
Mr. Leonard Chacha Kitoka: We need local partners who are well-grounded in their communities and can advise us accordingly. An ideal partner generally is one that is a master of their field and can deliver quality whenever called upon to come through. Internationally we are looking to work with well vast companies, have integrity, and are willing to work in Africa. We have already secured partnerships with reputable Israeli and Indian firms, and so far, so good.
AfricaLive: Your opening of an IT arm of the company communicates that technology is very big to you. What changes do you see technology making in your industry in the coming years?
Mr. Leonard Chacha Kitoka: Whether people agree or not, the future is in technology. It is up to individuals and companies to join the technology train or be left behind. In Africa, mobile technology, for instance, has become very big within a short time. People now can send messages, photos, documents, and videos across borders. This ease of sharing written files and videos puts intellectual information at risk, and this is where we come in with our assurance services. Great partnerships have supported our efforts with top-notch companies that provide assurance services to the likes of Google and Microsoft.
AfricaLive: We find that two-thirds of start-ups fail after three years of operation in Africa. Being one of the few people that made it in business, how can we develop an ecosystem that encourages business success?
Mr. Leonard Chacha Kitoka: Being a business owner is tough, that’s why you have to be absolutely clear on what you want to go into from the start. Aspiring business owners must have a clear focus and a persistent attitude. African start-ups have had it tough for a long time with changing policies and unstable political environments. One must seek to build a business versatile and adaptable enough to brave the turbulence. Success also depends on the kind of business partners you bring in. Partners have to be on the same page for it to work and you must both have a long term vision. Having a long term plan is what will prevent partners from allocating profits to short term wants. Businesses also suffer in Africa because of policy changes that may not support them.
I would urge business leaders to focus less on trying to influence governments to change and focus more on building a versatile business. Businesses should not have to succumb to the whims of the government of the day. Challenges of finding the right partners and the right staff also set businesses back. I am happy to say that the continent is seeing a re-awakening of sorts that will soon sort out most of these challenges. Economies are becoming more democratised as more and more countries seek to move away from aid in favor of investment. Africa has some of the fastest-growing economies, with a lot of natural resources still under the ground. We also have a bulging youth population that is highly literate and capable of solving the human resource needs that may arise. Africa’s rapidly changing environment is favorable for existing businesses and those yet to be established.
AfricaLive: What message of confidence would you send foreign investors who have an interest in the African continent?
Mr. Leonard Chacha Kitoka: I would advise international investors not to have a superficial view of Africa. They should look more in-depth before making their decisions about the continent. Individual countries may have apparent issues, but a keener eye will notice the potential and opportunities. It is also vital for foreign investors to know that Africa is not for the myopic. Investors that are serious about Africa are those that come here for the long-haul because this continent will be very different from what it is today in about 50 years.