Founded in 2011 in Ghana Start Smart, is an online and SMs-based bookkeeping tool for individuals with little or no financial background to create the full set of financial statements, access advice and inspirational pieces on entrepreneurship in Africa.
The platform gives entrepreuers access to business training through a Business Plan Curriculum Series and a monthly Deep Dive training session all aimed at helping provide support services to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which have suffered inattention as focus shifts to larger corporations according to Juliana Taylor, the founder.
Taylor, its founder and CEO told TechMoran that while the both micro-businesses and large corporations both deserve attention and contribute significantly to African economies, SMEs need support to help the flourish and reach their full potential.
“Start Smart began as a cloud and SMS based bookkeeping tool which allowed SMES with little or no background in finance to standardize their bookkeeping processes. What we found though was that people were interested, but only a few went on to adopt the tool. The problem was that they lacked an understanding of why it made sense long term to adopt a tool like ours,” Taylor says.
“As a result we decided to take a step back and take a more holistic approach through which we could provide people with advice, training and tools that they could leverage throughout the lifecycle of their businesses to be successful,” she added.
Start Smart’s current product/service offering includes at the moment include consulting with a focus data, analytics, and strategy. Training through our publications and online course and Bookkeeping using its cloud and SMS based financial management portal.
“Even though we’ve been able to strike a good balance, the learning process never ends and we look forward to being able to continue to serve as a trusted advisor to businesses in Ghana and across Africa.
Armed with a Bachelors of Arts in Economics from Princeton University and a Masters in Management from Duke University and a team of five, Taylor says SMEs in Ghana are definitely a force to be reckoned with.
According to the Oxford Business Group’s most recent report on Ghana, they make up 90% of the economy and contributed nearly 50% of the nation’s GDP. While they are doing well, there is still a lot of room for improvement particularly within the realm of growth and sustainability of their businesses. Recently there have been a number of government and private sector initiatives to support entrepreneurs such as the founding of the Ghana Center Entrepreneurship, Employment and Innovation and a few venture capital/angel investment firms. Taylor believes though that there is still a great deal of work to be done in order to fully develop the potential of Ghana’s entrepreneurs.
Taylor also sees access to adequate business knowledge/training as one big challenge in Ghana.
“Whether it’s pricing strategy or customer segmentation it’s really important to understand these things because they are the concepts that feed into successful businesses. Sometimes I think we understand them intuitively, but it would really helpful to formalize this type of skill based education and make it more widely available to entrepreneurs,” she says.
Additionally, financing is a significant challenge; however it depends on the kinds of entrepreneurs that one is talking about. PWC recently published a report on the banking sector in Ghana which she thought was a really strong indicator of the state of the financing for entrepreneurs. According to the report, banks are meeting the needs of large corporations and multinationals, and micro lending institutions are meeting the needs of microenterprises; however, SMEs are largely neglected. In the report they referred to this group as the “Missing Middle”.
So with all the details, she didn’t just venture out but spent a year working with a global tech company in Ghana on their SME outreach initiatives in Ghana in order to gain insight into what entrepreneurs were going through.
“I would like Start Smart to meet at least some part of this need by helping entrepreneurs to understand and adopt the best practices for to not just be profitable in the short term, but also build the structures necessary to make them sustainable and scalable in the long term,” Taylor said. “And even though I founded Start Smart almost 3 years ago, I didn’t officially launch it until just about two months ago because I wanted to better understand the environment in which I was operating and align my idea with it”
According to her, there’s no replacement for hands on experience so it was really important for me to test my idea, see how it faired and adjust accordingly.
As the internet gains popularity in the country, with penetration rates of around 13%, it is making things a lot more convenient from banking all the way through retail but Taylor says there is still a long way to go.
“I think there is still a great deal of suspicion around the transparency/authenticity of the internet and a lot of Ghanaians still have challenges around accessibility,” she concludes.