No. 12: Partnerships Needed: Atlantan and African Entrepreneurs Ripe to Connect

While receiving an award for Excellence in Commercial Diplomacy at Howard University’s Africa Business Conference, Florizelle Liser, Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa expressed her desire to see entrepreneurs in the African-American community and in African countries seek out partnerships with each other. The city of Atlanta, Georgia has a mix of key ingredients to make this happen:

1. According to 2010 U.S. Census data, Atlanta has the second largest number of black-owned businesses in the United States. One cannot help but notice the entrepreneurial spirit within the black community, with individuals operating in industries ranging from dry-cleaning to management consulting.

2. Through Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, Delta launches direct flights to Accra, Johannesburg, Monrovia, Abuja, Lagos, and Cairo. One can fly to Accra in a time not much longer than it takes to fly to Los Angeles.

3. Mayor Kasim Reed has a vision for Atlanta to be the Western Hemisphere’s logistics hub – an aspiration that will contribute to the growing impact of the African Growth and Opportunities Act on trade between the US and African countries.

4. Georgia Tech University develops numerous engineers whose skills could contribute to Africa closing its $93 billion gap in infrastructure development.

5. Though not in Atlanta, the University of Georgia develops a talented pool of students in the agricultural industry who could contribute to Africa reaching $880 billion in agricultural output by 2040.

Dr. Adetunji Adegbesan, a strategy professor at Lagos Business School, shared an incredible story that crystalizes the potential of entrepreneurship on the African continent. An MTN executive monitoring data usage on the company’s Nigeria network noticed that a significant amount of data was passing through the network, but someone was not paying for that usage. After alerting the company’s network engineers, MTN blocked the source of that usage. A few weeks later, the same executive noticed more data passing through that was not accounted for financially. He again approached network engineers who blocked the source. Yet again, data was passing through after a few weeks and the executive approached engineers in Europe who established an elaborate block that was sure to keep the data from passing through. Data was passing through the block a few months later.

Who was breaking through MTN’s network? The company tracked the source of the data and located a small college city where a group of graduates helped families set up their computers. As part of the package they offered, these entrepreneurs “installed” the internet on these computers. They figured out a way to log the computers into MTN’s internal network while keeping the computers’ identities masked. The end result – MTN hired these innovators.

Entrepreneurship is essential to economic growth on the African continent and in the US. One can be sure that the vibrancy found in that small college city in Nigeria is not isolated, and US entrepreneurs would do well to engage this movement. Atlanta-based entrepreneurs should take the lead in engaging fellow entrepreneurs in African countries.

No.1: Speed It Is I Love

My first track meet ever, I lined up for the 100m dash next to a guy wearing Air Force 1s, jean shorts, and an NFL jersey.  All eight of us in the race had no idea how to get into the right stance, and were jumping around trying to get a jump on the starter’s gun.  When the gun did go off, my man in the Air Forces did not waste any time getting to the finish line.  While I was not the fastest guy, I had so much fun—just running. 

After winning the county championship in the 200m dash in the eighth grade, I had the opportunity to run with a track club during the summer.  Humility is something I learned quickly as I ran against the likes of Michael Grant, one of the fastest 13-year olds in the country.  I also learned what it was to have good form, and to develop my own by studying other athletes.  In high school I became a perfectionist, studying video after video of athletes like Justin Gatlin, Dwain Chambers, Aziz Zakari, and Maurice Greene.  I dreamed of dominance while watching Jesse Owens run and Bob Beamon jump.  I scoured professional athlete progressions on http://www.iaaf.org.  I began following other high school athletes on Dyestat and Milestat.  I raved about Kelly Willie and Jeremy Wariner facing off at the 2002 Golden West Invitational, both running sub-46 in the 400m dash.  Brendan Christian ran 10.20 in the same meet!  I wanted that kind of speed.

I was fortunate that my football coaches in college allowed me to continue running track.  Both sports taught me extremely valuable lessons.  I developed a mental toughness on the track that enabled me to push through a sophomore season in which I fouled out of meets for both the indoor and outdoor seasons in the triple jump, until I set a huge personal record in the Southern Conference Championship.  I developed a physical toughness on the football field that created a craving for contact. 

My obsession with track and field statistics bordered ridiculous.  After track meets, I would spend hours studying results from meets across the country.  I kept a mental log of the progression of a number of athletes and offered my predictions for the NCAA Championships, US Championships, and World Championships whenever anyone showed interest.  I am itching for the indoor track and field season to begin.  I did spend some time this fall expanding my knowledge of cross country running and road racing.  Look forward to comprehensive commentary on track and field at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels.