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'Business Bomba' Inspires Innovation in Sierra Leone

The winner of the 2009 Business Bomba competition came up with the idea of marketing a nutritious tea called 'Morvigor' made from the leaves of the Moringa plant.
The winner of the 2009 Business Bomba competition came up with the idea of marketing a nutritious tea called 'Morvigor' made from the leaves of the Moringa plant.

As Sierra Leone becomes increasingly business-friendly, a national business-plan competition invites innovative thinkers to bring their best business ideas to vie for a $23,000 start-up prize.

Massive speakers at a busy intersection in Freetown blast out news of "Business Bomba", a national business competition aiming to inspire future entrepreneurs to come up with new ideas.

Now in its second year, Business Bomba aims to get more people involved in business activities by helping develop their ideas into real business plans and giving them the capital to do it.

Ten finalists stand to win cash prizes of up to $23,000.

At the offices of the African Foundation for Development, the organization managing the competition, Emmanuel Oyoko is busy copying notes from a flipchart. He works for a construction company in Freetown and has tried to start up a business before.

"I set up a business before. I was in aluminium construction business but along the line, it was not moving," Oyoko explains. "The contracts were not forthcoming and again the finances - I'm not that [well-off financially]. So I see the business was not moving the way I wanted."

When Oyoko heard about the Business Bomba competition on the radio, he rushed to pick up an application form.

According to David Bathalomew, who coordinates the contest, it is about more than just prize money. It is about building a burgeoning private sector in Sierra Leone.

"We had a lot of training and workshops about businesses, how to develop business plan and change the mindset of people," he said. "We had a lot of clinics that we conducted for people in the rural areas especially for those who have never been to school, in fact. And they now have an education of how a business is supposed to be run."

Business advisors will provide a range of support to 60 semi-finalists, including marketing, accounting and legal services. The ten winners must pitch their ideas on the "Lion's Den", Sierra Leone's version of Donald Trump's, The Apprentice.

From local honey out of eastern Sierra Leone to a pineapple and gin alcopop made in Freetown, last year's winning business ideas, are now breaking onto the market.

Eva Roberts, a doctor who returned to Sierra Leone from the United States three years ago, won first prize with her idea to market tea made from the nutritious Moringa plant.

Roberts' tea was already in demand among her friends. With support from Business Bomba, Roberts says she was able to turn a popular home-made product into a profitable business.

"We were able to expand the business much quicker than we would have done otherwise. Because we were able to buy a grinder to grind the leaves into powder. We were able to buy a transport to help us go buy leaves from the out-growers. We were able to get the packaging done," Roberts said. "So it really came in very handy."

Sierra Leone's president Ernest Bai Koroma has pledged to run the country "like a business", and tried to bring his country's economy out of the foreign aid.

Recent reforms streamlining business registration and taxes have made doing business in Sierra Leone easier on paper, but setting up and running a business here remains challenging.

Emmanuel Oyoko is hopeful.

'I hope a lot of things. If I could win, be one of the winners - if I could be financially sponsored, then I think I will make it," he said.

Oyoko says he has a great business idea, but he says, he is not revealing anything right now.