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“Incubators, Accelerators, Innovation Spaces: Let’s discover African Tech Hubs” (in partnership with Afric’Innov)

01
Dec 2018

Plenary 3 of the 20th of November 2018 - Led by Christian Jekinnou of Afric’Innov Palais du Pharo - Emerging Valley

➢ Jean-Patrick Ketcha, Founder of Le Boukarou (Cameroun)

➢ Max Cuvellier, Manager of the program Ecosystem Accelerator of GSMA (United Kingdom )

➢ Laurence Olivier, General Manager of Marseille Innovation (France)

➢ Larisse Adewui, Executive Director of Youth CDC (Togo)

➢ Emmanuelle Bouiti, Accelerator & Incubator Manager of Etrilabs (Benin)

==> FIND THE VIDEO REPLAY OF THE PLENARY AT THE BOTTOM OF THE ARTICLE <==

Keynote introductive

While not denying the real dynamism of the African tech, Christian Jekinnou invited the audience to go beyond the optimistic figures of Partech Ventures ( for example 560 million dollars raised in 2017) to question the difficulty in identifying real skilled actors on the ground. Today, Afric’Innov is a program of capacity building dedicated to support’s structure for innovative entrepreneurship in Africa. It counts thirty structures coming from about fifteen African countries. Christian Jekinnou was mentioning their four selection criteria, that only ⅓ of the applications received so far are fulfilling:

  • To be legally registered
  • To have at least a team of two people dedicated to the support of the projects
  • To support entrepreneurs on the field and to be able to prove it
  • To have a place dedicated to help those project leaders.

Then he came back on the different tools of Afric’Innov, especially a practical guide to help entrepreneurship in Africa, which has been distributed during Emerging Valley.

Identifying African ecosystems of entrepreneurship

“The best way to source good local projects is to rely on structures that are working with them: incubators, tech hubs, coworking spaces…”

Max Cuvelier intervened to talk about the virtual acceleration program for African startups of GSMA. He reported his arrival within the ecosystem four years ago when he noticed that there was a real gap in the market regarding the knowledge of local actors, their credibility and actions on the ground. They thus created one of the first tech hubs’ data mapping which has become the most popular resource in this area. Regarding the evolution of innovative African ecosystems, he observed three major dynamics :

  • The rapid growth of the number of techhubs (from more than 300 in 2016 to 442 at the beginning of 2018)
  • A difficulty to find a good business model
  • A growing specialization of these techhubs that need also to adapt to market evolution

Creating upstream a favorable environment to support entrepreneurship

The importance of mindset: the example of the Boukarou

“We consider youth as the pivot of this necessary awareness African must put into action in order to live collectively better”

Jean-Patrick Ketcha, fondateur de Le Boukarou, évoquait le long “travail de réveil” auquel a été confronté l’incubateur avant tout travail d’accompagnement. Dans leurs efforts pour construire en amont un environnement propice à la mise en place d’un écosystème innovant, ils ont dû avant tout changer le mindset des futurs entrepreneurs.Il évoquait cet effet de mode qui poussait les jeunes à ce qu’il appelle une “CEOtite aigüe”, soit aspirer à l’entrepreneuriat pour le prestige social. Le Boukarou s’est ainsi engagé dans une mission d’idéation promouvant l’utilisation de la tech afin d’optimiser la manière dont un problème sera résolu. La structure encourage les jeunes à se consacrer aux problèmes dans leur propre quartier au Cameroun.

The role of education: the example of Youth CDC

Beyond a mindset, Larisse Adewui, the founder of YouthCDC, promoted the significance of education. With the multiplication of innovative funding models, entrepreneurs need to open their capital and collaborate with actors sharing a different culture. With YouthCDC’s program, they aim, on one hand, to support entrepreneurs in “growing and raising funds”, and on the other hand, to be a bridge between the youth and founding actors.

Supporting entrepreneurs to develop their projects and raise funds: vision, assets, obstacles, and perspectives

“The real question to ask as an entrepreneur is how to make an idea durable, to transform it into a business and be able to make a living with it.”

Emmanuelle Bouiti was presenting Etrilabs, a tech hub and innovative ecosystem that aims to create a new generation of collaborative entrepreneurs. Their 4-months intensive program Etristars supports tech entrepreneurs to boost their business growth and prepare them to fundraise. She also highlighted this “fashion trend” of creating startups and techhubs. Etrilabs answers this tendency by adopting an approach focusing on funding, profitability, and durability of a startup throughout structured support and strong mentorship.

“For us, using training enables funding actors to share their message and to inoculate the good virus to entrepreneurs through our program.”

Larisse Adewui recalled the difficulty that startups face to access funding but also access markets. In this regard, tech hubs and support structures can be real advocacies with institutions especially. For example, he announced that the Togolese government decided to dedicate 40% of public markets to youth under 40 years old. He denounced also the gap between huge investment amounts raised by funds and the reality on the ground. According to him, while 90% of the private sector is made up of SMEs in Africa, it is necessary to match the market’s need with investment amounts of 30 000 euros for example in the seed stage.

Specific constraints in entrepreneurship’s support in Africa: the example of Cameroon

“In Africa, supporting entrepreneurs is worse than an obstacle course. But there is passion”

Jean-Patrick Ketcha highlighted the specificities of entrepreneurship support in Cameroon, but also in many African countries. In this context of a triple crisis (economic, social and societal), he observed that young entrepreneurs are facing two major issues. Firstly, they met difficulties to respond to their own daily living needs before having capacities to develop a project. Secondly, the educational system is not promoting enough entrepreneurship in its course offering. He noticed indeed a gap between youth expectations and skills and the requirements of entrepreneurship. He mentioned also the lack of legislation and the complexities of the administration that “abandon” startups.

Similarities and differences between African and French innovative ecosystems, and common perspectives: the example of Marseille Innovation

Laurence Olivier from Marseille Innovation came back on this network of four tech and innovative incubators in Marseille that daily supports businesses at an early stage and helps them grow during four years. She noted the similarities between both ecosystems from Africa and from Marseille regarding entrepreneurs behaviors, especially the startup “starification”, but also the difficult access to funding despite a well-provided regional ecosystem. As well as her Africa-based colleagues, she promoted the “common sense” as a major criterion for selecting startups, that is to say, their capacity to answer these fundamental questions: why creating a business, for who, for which needs? Concerning the evolution of entrepreneurship and as a support structure, she noticed the growing tendency for entrepreneurs to not only make money but also create an impact.

She expressed the ambition of Marseille Innovation to create bridges internationally with a special focus on Africa. She reminded also the audience of the coming launch of a structure based in Cité de l’Innovation and willing to become a hub and a bridge to facilitate the exchanges of French and international good practices.

Summary

Despite figures relating the growing dynamism of techhubs and innovation ecosystems in Africa (from 300 in 2016 to 442 techhubs in 2018), it still remains difficult to identify real operational and qualified support structures on the ground. The remaining ones, for their part, are facing difficulties in supporting startups. Indeed, before any technical help, they need to educate and prepare young Africans to the entrepreneurship realities and make sure they choose a real problematic and transform the solution into a profitable business. Regarding their difficulty to raise funds, structures promote the necessity to mobilize investment amounts that fit entrepreneurs’needs, especially in early-stage. Finally, more than a support to an innovative project, the support structure in Africa becomes a crucial pillar for the entrepreneur, who often tackles substantial living problems and is left to his own by the government. The conference shows that these different issues are also frequent in the innovative structures from Marseille, inviting to the creation of synergies between both African and European ecosystems.

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