E-Cover Team from left: Aissatou Fall, Khaby Diallo, Souadou Fall, and Alioune Badara Diané Sène; Not Pictured: Ayenou Doniel Jordon

E-Cover Team from left: Aissatou Fall, Khaby Diallo, Souadou Fall, and Alioune Badara Diané Sène; Not Pictured: Ayenou Doniel Jordon

Five aspiring entrepreneurs in Senegal are grinding up old tires by hand to create ecologically responsible floor tiles that could cover green spaces and gymnasiums with a locally sustainable product, made by and for West Africans. Their only problem, finding financing.

Trash Heap Diamalaye, Dakar

Trash Heap Diamalaye, Dakar

“It is so difficult to find buyers who are interested in investing in your project. No one is just there saying ‘hey we’re here to give you money for your great idea.’ Even contacting the businesses that you can find is hard.” — Souadou Fall, president & coordinator of E-Cover

E-Cover, or Ecological Cover, began in March when four classmates at the International Superior Management School in Dakar analyzed how the environmental effects of countrywide waste could be developed into a profitable business venture.

“We noticed that many people had a tendency to minimize the impact that tires have on the environment, people are much more focused on plastic, but tires really pose a major problem. People don’t really care, and we were like why not work for something that actually poses a problem where we can really make a difference,” said Aissoutou Fall, E-Cover’s treasurer.

So far, the team has used donated and collected tires to develop the eco-friendly tiles, which can be used on playgrounds, in restaurants, at hotels, and in a variety of other green spaces. But despite having a number of interested clients, E-Cover has been unable to mass produce the tiles to meet potential client’s demands because of a lack of financing to purchase equipment and more materials.

Bits of tire ground by the E-Cover team before tile molding.

Bits of tire ground by the E-Cover team before tile molding.

In a report by infoDev, a program from The World Bank Group that assists entrepreneurs in gaining early-stage financing, financing for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) in Senegal almost always comes in the form of contract loans. Loans for investment purposes are difficult to obtain for new entrepreneurs and the collateral requirements for these loans can be excessive for early stage startups.

The E-Cover team said they have studied other startup success stories in Senegal and begun boot strapping their company rather than relying solely on seed funding. The team said that although they recognize financing issues are common to most all startups world wide, starting up in West Africa is especially challenging.

“Its only recently that they [the Senegalese government] began putting in place structures geared at financing entrepreneurs. Before, it was up to them [the entrepreneurs] to look for competitions, like what we’re doing, or have friends or family that can contribute, or go to the banks for loans – which is the worst,” – Aissoutou Fall

Since launching in early 2014, The National Agency for the Promotion of Employed Youth (ANPEJ), remains the only government institution in Senegal designated to provide funding for small businesses and young entrepreneurs. E-cover said they do, “do not wish to see someone else benefit from the hard work they’ve already put into creating the business and solidifying their idea.”

Local incubators and investment groups like CTIC, CONCREE, and RENCJES provide entrepreneurs with tools and resources to develop their business model and find funding, but at a cost that many SMEs like E-Cover may be unable or unwilling to pay for. E-Cover said they are still seeking financing and will launch an online crowd funding campaign later this month. They said their goal will be to raise enough money to purchase the machines required to mass produce the tiles as well as a more efficient production space.