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 SA SME financier company further extends services across Africa


 Business Partners Limited, a leading risk financier for local small and medium enterprise (SMEs), has taken the first step to permanently expand its investment model across Africa, which over the last 35 years, has proven to be an effective method in strengthening the SME sector in South Africa.

On 12 April 2016, the company launched Business Partners International (BPI) Uganda, a specialist risk finance company that provides customised financial solutions, sectoral knowledge, mentorship, and other added-value services for formal small and medium enterprises (SMEs) across Africa, and opened an office in Kampala, Uganda.

According to Mark Paper, the chief operating officer at BPI, BPI Uganda forms part of the establishment of the larger Business Partners International East Africa (BPI EA) company which will provide SME focused investments ranging from US $50,000 to $1 million.

He explains that Business Partners International East Africa (BPI EA) was established last year as a US$30 million investment company, and its shareholders comprises of Business Partners Limited – which is leading the consortium, the IFC (International Finance Corporation, the World Bank Group private lending arm), Swiss Investment Fund for Emerging Markets (SIFEM), Dutch impact investor Stichting DOEN and the Dutch Development Agency (FMO), the Canada-based Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) and Norfund, the Norwegian development agency.

Having previously launched the BPI Kenya SME Fund in 2007 and BPI Rwanda SME Fund in 2012, BPI Uganda is a further move by the company to increase its overall exposure in the region, says Paper.
“Previously, we have always set up and managed investment funds with an investment life limited to 10 years. This new investment vehicle however doesn’t have a limited life and has been established as a permanent company with the purpose of offering risk capital and technical assistant support for the targeted countries in East Africa.”

Paper says that based on the results generated from the Kenya and Rwanda Funds, BPI recognised the opportunity to establish a permanent company with an unlimited investment life. He says that the Kenya and Rwanda Funds will also be converted into permanent companies, once the Funds end their operation and existence in 2017 and 2018respectively.

BPI Uganda was a clear choice for investment for the first phase of BPI’s permanent expansion plan across Africa, says Paper. “The country has experienced an upsurge in middle class and the level at which new business enterprises are being opened and established is increasing. Entrepreneurship is thriving in Uganda and currently contributes approximately 90% to the country’s GDP.

“We also recognised Uganda as a growth centre for Africa due to the country’s growing economy over the past five year period, and the fact that the East African region continues to prosper, with a forecasted GDP growth of 5.5% expected in 2016.”

BPI Uganda seeks to provide access to funding, post-investment technical assistance support and mentorship for entrepreneurs and SMEs, thereby fostering entrepreneurship, facilitating wealth creation, broadening tax bases and ultimately creating jobs. “Similar to South Africa, all applications will be assessed on the viability of the business, the entrepreneur’s integrity, drive and experience, as well as their ability to manage a successful independent enterprise. Capital and security are not necessarily required for an application to be accepted,” says Paper.

It will also have a specific mandate to operate exclusively in the SME space, says Paper. “We seek to reach out to family-owned companies and those enterprise owners whose businesses are doing well but cannot attract the full commercial lending support that they need from traditional banks.

“Private equity firms often refrain from lending to these SMEs as they are either too small, or prefer not to deal with the complexities of doing business with a family management team rather than a board of members. This is however the area that BPI specialises in, and the exact service offering that we are working to expand to entrepreneurs across Africa.”

Paper concludes: “While entrepreneurship and SMEs are booming across Africa and are large contributors towards the region’s GDP, access to finance is a limitation to achieving real growth. By increasing access to finance to entrepreneurs across the region, we will not only be boosting local economies, but also the global economy as entrepreneurs facilitate growth in the middle class and create a more attractive market for potential investors.”




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