N.B. Business Networker Recruiting Companies For Africa Summit

Bernadette Fernandes in Angoche, Mozambique, during a previous trip to Africa.

When people think of strong business markets with investment opportunities, Africa would be the last place many would think of. But a New Brunswick entrepreneur is looking to change that mindset, and she wants Atlantic Canadian companies to join her.

Bernadette Fernandes, the founder of The Varanda Network, is Canada’s official representative for the Africa Trade and Investment Global Summit being held in Washington from June 24th to the 26th.

The inaugural summit, which will take place every two years, aims to connect businesses from around the world to business and investment opportunities in Africa.

The continent has been experiencing some major growth over recent years. According to data from Bloomberg, the GDP of the eleven largest sub-Saharan countries in Africa increased by more than 50 per cent of the last 10 years.

By 2020, the continent is expected to have a collective GDP of $2.6 trillion, consumer spending of $1.4 trillion, and 122 million people added to the workforce. Africa is also home to six of the top 10 fastest growing countries in the world.

Fernandes, who has travelled to Africa with women entrepreneurs in the past, says she is looking for companies all across Canada, but particularly ones on the East Coast to join the Canadian delegation because she says there’s a correlation between industry in Atlantic Canada and Africa.

“There are 14 key sectors of focus for Africa. Most of those are really aligned with Atlantic Canada, because of agriculture and innovations that we have across sectors. But the agriculture business is strong and anything with natural resources like mining, those things are really strong for us,” says Fernandes.

“I think there is a strong correlation between Africa and Atlantic Canada specifically. Anything in the technologies and sciences that we’re really strong in I thought would be a great fit.”

Atlantic Canada is often left out of discussions about international business and investment in the country. Being from the region, Fernandez wants to help change that at the summit.

“Canada-wide we have some really good strengths. But I’m partial to Atlantic Canada. I live here. I work here. I’m based out of here. I raised my children here. Also, within the Canadian Market, Atlantic Canada seems to be left out of a lot of these missions and opportunities” she says.

“I’d really just like to showcase Atlantic Canadian companies and this an opportunity … I think I have something that we can leverage to bring us front and centre,” she says.

Fernandes has more than just her position on the organizing committee to leverage, she has the experience too. Her expertise is in trade and investment with The Varanda Network and she holds the Canadian office for Pennsylvania, where she helps companies from the state do business in Canada and vice-versa. Prior to that, she was working for the New Brunswick government doing trade and investment.

Fernandes says she is just starting community outreach and any business interested can contact her directly for more information and costs. She says she will also play the role of “match-maker” to delegates and make sure they connect with the people they want to meet. She typically charges $800 for this service but will be waiving this fee for Atlantic Canadian companies who attend.

“Because of my position on the organizing committee, I’m able to do match-making for our companies and put them in front of the decision makers that will help them grow faster within the continent,” she says.

With more than 2,000 participants are expected at the summit from not just Africa, but from other countries as well, Fernandes says the summit is a cost-effective one-stop shop for Canadian businesses to meet businesses and investors from Africa and elsewhere.

“It’s very costly for them to travel to Africa to do a discovery or to explore an opportunity. They can travel to Washington for a fraction of the cost and meet with all of them at once,” she says.

“There are 54 countries in Africa and there are 70 countries participating, so it not only gives them an outreach to Africa directly as one-stop-shop but also the other countries that are attending. It’s really such a huge opportunity rather than travelling to one country at a time, especially in a market that is so distant.”