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Overview of the African Tech: Africa, the new border of the digital revolution

01
Dec 2018

Plenary 1 of the 20th of November 2018 - Led by Samir Abdelkrim Palais du Pharo - Emerging Valley

Panelists :

  • Othman El Ferdaous, Secretary of State for Investment, assistant to the Ministry of Industry, Investment, Trade & Digital Economy (Morocco)
  • Bosun Tijani, CEO & Co-founder of CcHub (Nigeria)
  • Omar Cissé, CEO & Founder of InTouch, (Senegal)
  • Fatoumata Ba, CEO & Founder of Jaango (Ivory Coast)
  • Cedric Atangana, CEO and Co-founder of WeCashUp (Cameroon)
  • Stephen Ozoigbo, CEO of DEMO Africa (USA / Nigeria)

Specificities of African digital entrepreneurs: the role of tech

“In Africa, tech is used for improving the living conditions of citizens, for the real economy, the inclusion and the common good.”

CEO and founder of Jaango, Fatoumata Ba opened the plenary by underlining three crucial features of digital entrepreneurship in Africa :

  • The urgency of the problems it tries to resolve, with the aim of improving the living conditions of the African population and to offer them a regular and decent income
  • The double concern of economic performance and social and inclusive impact
  • Tech as a true opportunity for forgotten economic actors who suffered from the digital gap (such as SMEs)

“It’s not about copying Silicon Valley but looking for unique opportunities where tech can change the society for good.”

Bosun Tijani supported Fatoumata’s intervention and underlined the fact that tech is intrinsically for good in Africa. According to him, an entrepreneurial African project is successful when tech can leapfrog challenges of the continent, in the fields of education, health etc. He recalled Co-creation Hub’s ambition to help create businesses using technologies to solve crucial African problems.

Public authorities and big companies, key startups’ allies

Regarding the structural challenges that entrepreneurs meet in Africa, Othman El Ferdaous highlighted the significant role of public authorities in the “most disparate continent in the world”. As a State representative, he listed four key pillars that need to be implemented in order to give volume and economies of scale to entrepreneurs, in Morocco notably :

  • A policy of regional and national high-speed, with notably the issue of the 5G
  • The development of fintech and mobile payments to fight against the market fragmentation, and the importance of big data and artificial intelligence in structuring those markets
  • The digitalization of the status of “self-entrepreneur”
  • The promotion of women entrepreneurship

Likewise, for Omar Cissé, collaborations between entrepreneurs and big companies are also crucial in the “conquest of opportunities”. He explained that startups should develop solutions and technologies by themselves, then scale them thanks to the network and security of a major group, as with InTech and Total.

Opportunities of the African market: the example of fintech

“Today, Africa is a land of contrasts. And many opportunities emerge from those contrasts.”

Described as the “champion of African fintech” and holding a record for fundraising last year, Omar Cissé recalled the numerous opportunities to take in the field of fintech in Africa. As an example, his society In Touch, currently composed of 230 people throughout the continent, manages one million euros of transactions per day and has the ambition of covering 38 countries in the three-four next years.

A “bridge between Europe and Africa” and a “city full of History”: Cedric Atangana came back to his choice of establishing his startup in Marseille. He defined himself as a “product of association between Europe and Africa” and has developed his operations on the African continent. He explained the opportunity he took with WeCashUp: combining payment solutions and integrate them on e-commerce websites in a very shattered market. Here are some meaningful figures of this undeveloped potential at the time: an internet penetration rate above 50%, an attractive and growing market for online merchants but more than 155 different payment solutions. Covering currently 36 countries, Cedric Atangana is strongly convinced that the African market is “the most attractive in the world” and that “world innovation is in Africa” today.

Developing and scaling one’s African startup beyond the continent: good practices

“What Silicon Valley brings is access to capital, to global opportunities, to market landscape, to technologies, but in terms of technology themselves, the context of Silicon Valley applies to bring unique African solutions”

Contrary to the other members of the panel, Stephen Ozoigbo engaged in African entrepreneurship from an international standpoint. He notably makes the link between Silicon Valley and the continent by organizing, with DEMO Africa, meetings between African startups and North-American, and international, investors. He declared that five pillars have advanced the development of entrepreneurship between Africa and the rest of the world :

  • Government as an enabler
  • Institutions
  • Corporates and investors
  • Entrepreneurs themselves
  • African diaspora

On this last point, he recommended to the diaspora’s members to give attention to the African context and to bring mentorship, advice, and capital to African entrepreneurs. His final key takeaway: to think Africa from a Pan-African and global standpoint.

Conclusions

“There is a real culture of entrepreneurship and startup in Africa, but the African entrepreneur has to make two hundred times the effort than an entrepreneur from Silicon Valley”.

Othman El Ferdaous concluded on the importance of partnership between African startups and big companies, especially regarding the exit strategy. When markets cannot enable the exit of investors, a large venture can offer entrepreneurs an exit or investment. According to him, the government here has his role to play as an enabler and creator of “bridges” between these two actors.

Finally, he recalled to entrepreneurs the existence of specific barriers to African market entry and the significance of working upstream on R&D to adapt their product or services to the market conditions.

Summary

This panel highlighted the key idea that African entrepreneurship differs from other innovative ecosystems in the world, and especially from Silicon Valley, with its tendency to be intrinsically “tech for good”-oriented. Indeed, technology appears to be nothing more than a catalyst for a better society and an ally for forgotten economic actors, such as SMEs. Although there are numerous opportunities to take advantage of, in the field of fintech for example, startups are facing multiple obstacles that prevent them from developing and scaling up. In response to those difficulties, some major recommendations should be considered by African entrepreneurs : to target several markets, by adopting a Panafrican and international approach, to develop the capacity to build partnerships with big companies on the continent, by thinking about the entry and exit strategy, and to invest in R&D in order to limit the numerous entry barriers to the African market. Finally, the State needs also to act as a facilitator and a bridge between startups and big companies. In this manner, he will enable the achievement of economies of scale through public policies dedicated to implementing efficient market structures.

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