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Entrepreneurs: The Driving Forces Behind Innovation and Economic Growth

The Association of African Exhibition Organisers emphasises support for entrepreneurs this Entrepreneur Month

by Tia

Crucial to Africa’s progress and economic expansion, small and medium-sized enterprises constitute 95% of all officially registered businesses and make a significant 50% contribution to the overall GDP of sub-Saharan nations. Despite entrepreneurs dominating the market, they encounter substantial challenges in their pursuit of growth and prosperity, extending beyond the conventional hindrance of securing financial resources.[1]

Addressing their needs and ability to reach their potential is essential to creating a prosperous Africa. In recognition of Entrepreneur Month, members of the Association of African Exhibition Organisers (AAXO) share their learnings to uplift future entrepreneurs of the MICE sector:

Challenges Faced by Young Entrepreneurs 

Angelique Smith, the CEO of Event Synthesis International highlights that client scepticism toward young entrepreneurs represents a challenge that must be overcome. She recalls her experience when she launched her business in 2003, emphasising that she faced questions about her level of experience, especially upon entering the corporate sector. In response, she adopted a continuous learning approach, pursued qualifications, and actively engaged with industry associations, committees, and networks to stay updated on the latest industry trends.

In a crowded industry, it is crucial for young entrepreneurs in the MICE sector to identify market gaps and seize opportunities. Projeni Pather, Managing Director at Exposure Marketing and the visionary behind MamaMagic, serves as an inspiring example: “My early exposure to the profound impact of exhibitions on businesses and their target audiences reinforced my belief in their potential as a leading marketing platform. Recognising an unmet need for parenting exhibitions, I founded Exposure Marketing in 2004, giving rise to Africa’s largest baby and parenting expo. Our journey through the pandemic has been marked by resilience and a transformative approach, leading to the birth of a robust Exhibition and Marketing Management agency arm within our organisation.”

Adapt or Stagnate

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, the ability to adapt or stagnate can make all the difference for entrepreneurs. As highlighted by Ashdown and Smith, identifying market gaps and embracing innovation are essential for success. 

David Ashdown, CEO of VUKA Group, says that entrepreneurship is characterised by taking risks, creativity, and problem-solving: “VUKA Group distinguishes itself through an entrepreneurial spirit that empowers the entire team.” One such example of adaptation,  and as an experienced leader operating across emerging markets, VUKA Group adapts a different approach and mindset when working across different regions showcasing the importance of localisation in events’ strategies.

“Problem-solving is a constant in entrepreneurship. From managing diverse client personalities to navigating unforeseen challenges like economic fluctuations, supply shortages, and last-minute changes, being solution-oriented, adaptable, and resilient is key to success in the MICE industry,” says Smith, winner in the Tourism category at the 2022 Woman of Stature Global Awards hosted in Dubai.

Green Eventing

Sustainability has emerged as a crucial consideration in the MICE industry, and its significance cannot be overstated. As the world grapples with environmental challenges, entrepreneurs in the sector have recognised their role and responsibility in contributing to a sustainable future.

Event Synthesis International, as example, has made a dedicated effort to embrace sustainability, evident in its membership with the EGF (Event Greening Forum) and the adoption of sustainable practices wherever feasible. These practices encompass a wide range of initiatives, from reducing paper usage to incorporating sustainable materials into their operations.  VUKA Group is also focused on embracing and driving sustainability in the sector. Ashdown acknowledges the importance of incorporating sustainable practices, from reducing paper usage to promoting eco-friendly materials: “Our organisation’s membership with the Go Green Africa and its dedication to minimising our environmental footprint are clear indications of our commitment to sustainability.”

Staff Well-Being Paramount to Business Well-Being

Ashdown delves into the cultural aspects of VUKA Group, emphasising the value of well-being and mental health in the workplace. “Our company has initiated a well-being program; for example “Well-Being Fridays,” a series of well-being activities for our employees. VUKA Group’s culture emphasises empowerment, trust, and growth in the workplace by encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset and supporting individuals and teams to create and take risks in project management. The management team lead our organisation through an autonomous business unit structure that promotes ownership and decision-making with this principle being drawn down into the business.’


Key to the success of any entrepreneur is a future-focused mindset. Ashdown touches upon the changing landscape of the events industry in the post-pandemic era and predicts a shift towards a centrist approach that blends live and digital events: “ We foresee challenges and opportunities related to reporting analytic performance and suggest that live event organisers need to adopt data-driven insights into their strategies to remain competitive. We are investing in our tech-stack to enable this depth of feedback, knowledge and understanding to our customers and for us to take decisions on event evolution ”

Pather focuses on uplifting future MICE professionals by passionately imparting her knowledge through speaking engagements and thought leadership, contributing to the industry’s growth. Furthermore, Exposure Marketing’s future-focused approach includes digital transformation, hybrid events, social media, content marketing, and sustainability practices. By staying ahead of the curve, as an exhibition management agency, the company is able to share its competitive edge with industry clients.

Entrepreneurs play an indispensable role in the MICE sector with their innovation, determination, and ability to identify and fill market gaps being the driving force behind the industry’s growth and adaptability. Entrepreneurs not only create new opportunities but also foster economic development and job creation with their dedication to delivering unique and engaging event experiences pivotal in ensuring the sector’s continued success and relevance in an ever-evolving business landscape. 

For more information on the Association of African Exhibition Organisers or the organisation’s members, visit www.aaxo.co.za

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