Start-Ups are businesses designed to scale up very quickly

22 Feb 2016
Nicolas Goldstein


Nicolas Goldstein: The Mauritian government provides the enabling environment to attract start-ups.

Nicolas Goldstein, Founder, Mauritius Start-Up Incubator

Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor, Financial Nigeria, spoke to Nicolas Goldstein, Founder, Mauritius Start-Up Incubator, on what value his MSI model can deliver in fostering investment in Africa.

Jide Akintunde: 20 years ago when I founded an IT business, it was not revered to as a “start-up.” It was simply a new business. Is start-up merely a trendy way to describe a new business now, or the term conveys something more fundamental about the new business?

Nicolas Goldstein:   Indeed, “start-up” is a sexy term used to describe a small business. Nevertheless, the term may have several significations. In fact, a business with five-year experience can still be referred to as start-up. In the true sense, a start-up only ceases to be a start-up when it has been bought over by a larger company or when it has more than one office. Also, a business is no longer a start-up if its revenue is more than $20 million and if it has up to 80 employees.

We all agree on the fact that a start-up is a company that is specially designed to scale up very quickly. So, being labelled as start-up presents some advantages. For instance, the company may be able to cash in on the ‘cool’ factor when hiring. This factor allows the company to snap up qualified staff on the cheap, especially those who are attracted by the promise of innovation.  

Still, we have found that some founders reject this idea. They insist start-up is a culture that is not delineated by metrics; therefore, a company can remain with that designation forever.

JA: Your business – the Mauritius Start-up Incubator – itself is quite trendy. But I think the services you provide have always been required. What are these services and why is it that many of such businesses are being founded now?

NG: Mauritius Start-Up Incubator aims to help young entrepreneurs set up their businesses. From my personal experience, I have come across many people with amazing ideas but who don’t have the know-how to manage a start-up. As a result, they move into other endeavours.

Another service that we provide has to do with helping unemployed youngsters find the right career. Our role is to help train them and make them gain experience for the labour market.

JA: Mauritius as a state – although a small country – sits pretty at the top of business climate reform in Africa. How does this make Mauritius even more an ideal haven for launching start-ups in Africa?

NG: Mauritius is known to be a strategic place in the Indian Ocean for trading and setting up businesses. In fact, the Mauritian government provides the enabling environment to attract start-ups. One of the most striking projects the government is implementing is the Smart City scheme, an economic development programme aimed at creating ideal conditions for working, living and spurring investment through the development of smart cities across the island.

Another development programme is the Young Empowerment Programme (YEP), specifically designed for companies to recruit people for a one year period, during which the government pays half of the employees’ salaries.

Mauritius is a multicultural island. Mauritians are known to be fluent in both English and French, thus allowing their companies to access the international market.

JA: What types of businesses fit well into the start-up innovation model you operate at MSI and why?

NG: We are looking to support web-based or digital companies to add value to their services.

We at MSI operate in four categories, which are ICT, call centre, new technology and smart cities. These are the growing industries in Mauritius, and we are trying to adapt our incubator based on the government’s vision and to leverage on the growth of the country.

JA: How can Nigeria and other African countries leverage the business innovation model that MSI is and represents?

NG: Nigeria could benefit from investing in Nigerian entrepreneurs in the digital space who can bring innovation to the country. You will be amazed to see how many ideas you will receive when you invite people to send their ideas online. We call that collaborative thinking.

All these ideas need to be harnessed and promoted for the growth of your market.

Also by bringing an incubator into a country, you are also inviting people from your country living abroad to participate in innovation. There are many Nigerians in United States and Unite Kingdom. If you invite them to participate, they will bring the knowhow and they will be glad to help young Nigerian entrepreneurs who are in the country.

JA: What are your early successes at MSI?

NG: We are proud to say that after one month, we have our first Incubee. He is a young entrepreneur designing websites on the WordPress platform for the European market. He speaks French and English, fluently.

He came with an idea to build websites for local activities. He had a business plan that was tailored to the market needs. That is how we knew he could succeed. So we are helping him to grow and to market his company. The project is called Wordpress Factory Mauritius.  

We are also proud to have the attention of the media on this project.

JA: What are the areas that the Mauritian authorities are focusing new reform efforts that should assure foreign investors that reform lethargy has not set in and that, indeed, Mauritius will continue to attract foreign investment and be a destination for outsourcing?

NG:  Mauritius is located in a strategic position that enables the country to attract investment from across Africa, Asia and Australia. Mauritius has transformed itself into a hub for international investors.  

Over the years, the economy has successfully metamorphosed from a mono-agricultural economy into a diversified, innovation-driven and knowledge-based economy. The areas where the Mauritian authorities are focusing attention on are ICT, call centres, new technology, tourism, real estate and smart cities.