“There is no problem in Africa that nobody has thought about. Use those ideas!” said Ndubuisi Ekekwe from the African Institute of Technology two weeks ago at the SEED Africa Symposium in Nairobi. And, Jukka Uosukainen from the Climate Technology Centre and Network added: “Take the best innovations of the world and copy them. Let’s start copying. I love it!”
The topic of replication is no brand-new approach. But, the potential of replication of proven business models as a fast, effective and promising pathway to achieve the global sustainable development goals is undervalued. That is why we organised the SEED Africa Symposium, the first ever Symposium on replication of eco-inclusive business models. We brought together over 450 enterprises, researchers, practitioners, investors, policy makers and representatives of the civil society to discuss how we can jointly contribute to the replication of business models for green growth and sustainable development in Africa. At the same time, we’ve started a Practitioner Dialogue on Replication, which we will continue over the next year in order to gain insights into the topic, learn from experiences and collaboratively develop replication concepts, approaches and support measures.
Back at my desk, reflecting on the discussions and sessions I participated in, and the views that participants shared over several cups of coffee, I wondered to myself what is necessary to pursue this replication path. What is the secret behind successful replication? What are key considerations for entrepreneurs wishing to replicate? Which are the success factors we can build upon when aiming to support successful replication?
Lesley Donna Williams of Impact Hub Johannesburg brought it to the point during a panel discussion at the Symposium: „The three success factors to replication are a vibrant community, inspiring content and inspiring space.”
I want to dig deeper and find out what she was referring to. What are concrete success factors specifically for replication? Based on my experience and discussions at the SEED Africa Symposium, the following 5 factors are my starting position to discover the secret of successful replication:
1) Local adaptation:
Replication is not about copying and pasting exact replicates of the original model but rather a process of adapting the most relevant business components to the adopter’s local context. Or as Ndubuisi Ekekwe put it: Everybody copies, that’s key, but you should do it legally and should make sure to adapt it to the local conditions“.
The core concept and principles of the originating business models need to be kept intact. Other parts of the model need to be adapted to the new target market and environment, based on key market data. This is where innovation steps in – even though replication might be seen as contradictory to disruptive innovation, local adaptation and entrepreneurial spirit create innovative solutions even though you ‘imitate’ somebody else’s idea. In the words of Frank Neil from Anuel Energy Ltd.: “An entrepreneur is not just someone who copies, but someone who copies and adapts”.
2) Involvement of trusted partners as brokers
In order to successfully replicate a business model from one country to another, you need to build a relationship between the “originator” and the “adopter”. So far, so good. But how to find the right partner in a country you have possibly never been before and where you can’t rely on a personal network? While many highly mission-driven eco-inclusive enterprises are willing to disseminate information on their business model and share their experiences, most of them might still want to have the information handled carefully, avoiding “copycats”. Trusted intermediaries active in the target countries can support with their networks as well as help with a selection of potential adopters.
3) Clear value for both the originator and the adopter
The objective of increasing sustainability impacts is part of the DNA of eco-inclusive enterprises and replication might be a rather fast approach to achieve this. Yet, sharing information on the journey of starting their enterprise – which has cost the originators a lot of time, resources and perseverance – might not be everybody’s first choice. Successful replication needs dedication from both the originator and the adopter.
Benefits for the adopters appear obvious – the business concept is proven, you can spend less time and resources on business plan development and innovation processes and can use your resources for different purposes. At best case you don’t have to make the same (bad) experiences that the originator had to.
Value for the originators is not always that evident. Be it an originator’s intrinsic motivation or the expectation to increase market share through increased visibility of the product, clear value for the originator is needed in order to ensure that the core concept and principles are shared comprehensively and collaboration happens at eye level.
4) Find the right channels to disseminate replication-ready business models
Documenting proven business models is one thing. Making sure that the documentation reaches the right person is another matter. Finding the right channels and distribution partners is therefore one of the key success factors for successful replication. Various originators out there have the potential to serve as role-models and standard-setters for green and inclusive growth – why not exploit this potential? Replication can help to make the originators products and services mainstream!
Often it needs more than just making information available. Apart from knowledge on business models, successful replication needs the right skills – a comprehensive mix of information and capacity building is needed in order to achieve best results in replication. Only then we can realise what Jukka Uosukainen pointed out at SEEDAS16: “We need to understand better business models and connect the best technologies with the right business model.”
5) Usage of an appropriate approach to bring the right people together
This is closely linked with the previous point. Replication is more than just giving information on a proven business model to someone else. It is based on experience sharing and knowledge exchange. To do this, it needs the right people on board and an appropriate approach to achieve this effectively. A good match will make the replication process easier and has a great impact potential!
Have you discovered more success factors? We at SEED will continue to work on the list of success factors, and how we can contribute. The Symposium was only the start to build a more conducive ecosystem for the replication of eco-inclusive business models.
Watch our blog for new viewpoints on replication, apply for our SAG-SEED Replicator workshops and get in contact if you want to work with us on the topic of replication!
This blog was first published on the seed.uno website. Don’t miss the Practitioner Hub series on replication in November!