Noel K. Tshiani, founder of Congo Business Network, reflects on a recent trip from New York to Paris to participate in Viva Technology, Europe’s leading startup and tech event that was held in Paris from June 14 to 17, 2023. From this experience, he advises startups from Africa on how to maximise the benefits of business trips overseas.

In today’s interconnected world, success for entrepreneurs relies on their ability to expand their horizons and tap into global markets. While virtual meetings on Zoom have become commonplace, nothing can replace the power of face-to-face conversations. In this piece for TechCabal, I discuss the value of business trips for entrepreneurs in Africa, with a specific focus on how travelling overseas to attend major business events in Europe can significantly increase a startup’s chances of success, especially for those from French-speaking countries who are looking for investors and strategic business partners with major corporate brands.

1. Breaking barriers and cultivating networks

Business trips present a unique opportunity to overcome geographical barriers and develop valuable networks. Attending conferences such as Viva Technology or Ambition Africa in Europe allows African entrepreneurs to meet industry leaders, speak with potential investors, and connect with entrepreneurs who share similar ambitions. These face-to-face interactions foster trust, establish meaningful connections, and open doors to new collaborations that can propel startups forward.

2. Embracing cultural exchange and innovation

Exposure to different cultures provides a fertile ground for innovation and growth. By immersing themselves in European business events, African entrepreneurs will gain insights into global trends, diverse perspectives, and emerging technologies such as the rise of artificial intelligence. This exposure sparks creativity, challenges conventional thinking, and enables entrepreneurs to bring fresh ideas back to their home markets, fostering innovation across various sectors, from fintech to agritech.

3. Accessing global markets and investment opportunities

Business trips serve as a gateway to global markets and investment opportunities. Europe, with its vibrant startup ecosystem and thriving business environment, offers a multitude of prospects for African entrepreneurs. Notably, France stands out as the top startup ecosystem in the European Union. Attending conferences in Paris provides a real opportunity to showcase a startup’s solutions, connect with experienced accelerators such as Station F, attract international clients, and potentially secure funding from institutional investors such as Partech Africa.

4. Enhancing business sense and industry knowledge

Attending tech startup events overseas delivers a unique learning experience. African entrepreneurs can access cutting-edge industry insights, attend workshops, and learn from renowned leaders such as Elon Musk and Marc Benioff who both recently attended Viva Technology in Paris. This exposure helps African entrepreneurs to refine their business sense, stay ahead of industry trends, and gain a competitive edge in their respective niches.

5. Bridging the perception gap

Africa’s potential often goes unnoticed in Europe due to misconceptions and limited exposure to major brands. Actively participating in international business events allows African entrepreneurs to challenge stereotypes and showcase the diversity of the entrepreneurial ecosystems in Africa. Doing so promotes a positive narrative, highlighting the immense talent, innovation, and untapped opportunities in the continent in countries such as Senegal, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Things to know before embarking on a business trip

To fully maximise the benefits of a business trip, African entrepreneurs should approach their travels strategically, focusing on key areas that can enhance their experiences and success outcomes.

1. Research extensively

One of the fundamental steps is conducting thorough research before embarking on the trip. Dive deep into the conference agenda, study the list of speakers and attendees meticulously. By doing so, you can identify the most relevant sessions to attend, potential collaborators to connect with, and valuable networking opportunities to explore. Additionally, take some time to familiarise yourself with the city or country you will be visiting. This will provide insights into the local culture, customs, visa requirements, and business etiquette, ensuring that you navigate the environment with confidence and peace of mind.

2. Network strategically

Polishing your networking skills is crucial when attending business conferences overseas. Prepare a compelling elevator pitch that showcases your unique value proposition as an entrepreneur in Africa. Be open and proactive in building relationships with individuals from diverse backgrounds. Engage in meaningful conversations, actively listen to others, and seek opportunities to offer value and support. Remember, effective networking can lead to fundraising for your startup, valuable partnerships, collaborations, and mentorship opportunities.

3. Know the local culture

A key aspect of successful business interactions abroad is being culturally sensitive. Take the time to familiarise yourself with the cultural norms and etiquette of the host country. Show respect for local customs, traditions, and social norms. Being aware of and sensitive to cultural differences will enable you to establish strong connections, build trust, and foster successful collaborations.

4. Have a collaborative mindset

Approach the conference with a mindset of collaboration rather than competition. Embrace the opportunity to connect and engage with fellow entrepreneurs, industry leaders, and potential partners. Seek mutually beneficial partnerships and explore ways to contribute to the global business community. By fostering a collaborative mindset, you can create a supportive network that uplifts and accelerates the growth of all involved.

5. Reserve your flights and hotel early

When reserving your flight and lodging, consider practical factors such as the time difference and potential jet lag. Arriving well-rested and adjusted to the new time zone will ensure you’re in optimal condition for the conference. Additionally, look for hotels or meeting spaces that offer amenities tailored to your business needs, such as reliable Wi-Fi, well-equipped conference rooms, on-site printers, fitness facilities, and nearby restaurants with healthy dining options.

6. Pack a variety of clothes

When packing for your business trip, pack smartly and consider the nature of the conference and its associated side events. Include appropriate business attire for formal occasions and television appearances. Additionally, pack casual clothes suitable for informal networking or tourism. If you are based in a French-speaking country, remember to bring marketing materials in English to give to potential investors.

By adopting a strategic approach encompassing extensive research, targeted networking, cultural sensitivity, a collaborative mindset, thoughtful travel arrangements, and strategic packing, African entrepreneurs can elevate the impact of their business trips. These preparations will ensure that you make the most out of your international journeys, creating opportunities for growth, partnerships, and memorable experiences.

By venturing beyond borders and attending business conferences in Europe, entrepreneurs can forge connections, access new markets, gain industry insights, and challenge perceptions. It’s time for African entrepreneurs to embrace the power of business travel and unlock their full potential on the global stage.

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