Three trends linking Silicon Valley to Africa’s startup ecoystem

West Africa

Africa Map

There is simply no denying that tech entrepreneurship in Africa is on the rise, and the dedication and passion of community leaders across the continent has resulted in a strong pool of technology-driven investment opportunities. From our vantage point high in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, we’ve been watching three trends that seem to be bridging the ocean between Silicon Valley and the so-called Silicon Savannah. Below are three trends that demonstrate these connections.

The rapid growth of accelerator programs

Going through an accelerator program today, some would argue, is equivalent to past generations getting their MBAs. The key benefits from an accelerator program are real-world experience, learning the most current best practices in an industry and a golden Rolodex of contacts.

According to a regularly-updated map of accelerator programs and incubators across the US, there are now over 120 such programs supporting tech innovation. According to the BBC, there are something like 50 accelerators and incubators in Africa.

This illustrates a more rapid per-capita growth in tech startup support in Africa than we’ve seen even in the US. This rapid learning, lean startup and “proof of concept” approach to pre-funded, pre-revenue businesses that was developed in the U.S. years ago has been embraced in Africa, and so far so good.

Bridging the gap: How can companies participating in accelerator programs best engage with their peers across the ocean? Will there ever be the equivalent of “studying abroad” while at an accelerator or incubator?

Adaptation of U.S. Business Models for African markets and vice versa

Called the “Uber for Africa”, Cape Town’s Zapacab is currently incubating at 88mph in Cape Town. Zapacab aims to transform the current model of taxi ordering, where group affiliated drivers are obliged to operate through a centralized dispatch system.

Both Uber and Zapacap couldn’t have happened without converging tech trends. First, arrival at scale of smartphone use by both travellers and drivers. Second, the critical mass of both riders/customers and drivers (to ensure a car is close to you). In markets like Africa where mobile drives the bulk of innovation, from payments to travel, entrepreneurs have the unique ability to rapidly develop and test new business models.

Bridging the gap: Innovation is happening in parallel between the US and markets like Africa. As a startup community we must work to maintain open dialogue and communication between markets and startup communities to enable business model adoption and innovation in new markets. What other startups have been successful in the US with business models that could work in Africa? And vice versa: what startups have been successful in Africa with business models that could work in the US? How can startup communities share such learnings most efficiently?

Transitioning Aid Industry Solutions into Scalable Technology Ventures

In Africa, aid has long been big business. We’ve seen a few interesting examples of aid organizations supporting technology and innovation that is in line with development cooperation objectives.

One of my favorite recent examples is GeoPoll from Mobile Accord. GeoPoll is a new company who has built an open mobile polling platform that conducts surveys through the mobile phone. This Denver-based company’s primary market is aid organizations, but they quickly realized the potential from a marketing perspective for businesses worldwide as potential clients.

GeoPoll mobile surveys can target a broad range of respondents while segmenting respondents based on demographics and location. With a reach that ranges from an entire country to remote villages in a growing number of countries across Africa, survey respondents answer a variety of questions through web applications, voice or SMS. Responses are collected, analysed and distributed to GeoPoll clients quickly and accurately.

Bridging the gap: Originally targeted to aid organizations looking to gain accurate stats from third world countries, the market research potential from a business perspective is limitless. What other business models or technologies traditionally used in the aid industry can be re-purposed for business ventures? What traditional aid organizations might be interested in supporting or funding such business ventures?

This article by co-founder Sarah Fazendin originally appeared on VC4Africa, a Burn Media publishing partner.



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