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Africa’s entrepreneurial explosion: a space ripe for the taking

“Africa’s current environment is ripe for gaming to take off,” says Michael Szymanski, the Director of Business Development for the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), an incubator that manages the MEST seed fund in Accra.

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Of course Szymanski would say this to a room full African entrepreneurs and geeks at Net Prophet. What’s interesting is one of the companies that MEST looks after actually plays in Africa’s mobile gaming space.

MEST provides training and mentoring for aspiring African software entrepreneurs with the goal of creating wealth and jobs locally in Africa.

According to Szymanski, most MEST entrepreneurs look to the trends to see where the market is headed and innovate based on those trends.

This market, he reckons, is being driven by mobile phone manufacturers. He says that big global players are rolling out smartphones that are targeted at Africa and looking to capitalise on the “last frontier” in mobile.

In a continent where it is not just mobile first sometimes but mostly mobile only all of the time, it’s easy to see where he is coming from. Africa is the fastest growing mobile region, littered with internet enabled devices.

Africa is leading in mobile money race, he says with 36% of global transaction value and 30% annual growth. The continent has upwards of US$61-billion in mobile transactions versus the US$30.5-billion that North America sees. Interestingly, more than 33% of Kenya’s GDP passes though mobile money — now that’s pretty impressive.

But where does this gaming business come in?

What’s more sexy than mobile right now? Mobile gaming and localised content.

“People say that you can’t build the future while clinging to the past,” says Szymanski. “What I’m seeing is that Africa’s makers and doers are leveraging African traditions and cultures with a renewed sense of pride and giving these traditions a modern twist.”

Enter Leti Games, a MEST company that is turning African folklore into mobile entertainment. The company is building cross-platform experiences on mobile devices and digital comics for an engaged African audience with internet enabled devices.

“Players want localised content to show off features, drive demand and be relevant.” Szynmanski says.

The growth of mobile payment, Szymanski reckons, increases consumer demand for content and also the decrease in text message revenue as people are now interested in data rich content. There is a need for localised content portals that need to be differentiated from competitors.

Mobile gaming and African themed games are not just limited to Ghana and the work that the good folks at Leti are doing. Companies like Afroes Games are developing uniquely African content and games for young people to help them learn better.

Build for Africa, build for the world

“More than 1000 entrepreneurs have been screened from over 30 African countries, 13 in fundraising mode, about 50% are tech companies and another 30% on a social mission,” Szymanski. He argues that it is key to start serving global markets from the beginning. Understanding the fundamental belief in the talent that Africa has allows the continent’s players to compete for the world’s GDP — but that effort is often limited by aspirations.

African entrepreneurs are also limited by the exposure they get or don’t get. The antidote for this, he feels, is thinking big from the outset. Connecting and cross pollinating will lead to success on the global stage.

In the last few years, Africa has been pushing its tech industry with passion-infused fervor. The continent currently has more than 45 tech hubs and co-creation spaces dedicated to budding tech entrepreneurs that are not just solving Africa’s problems but also building scaleable companies.

“At MEST we are trying to build the Michael Essions of tech. Africa tech entrepreneurs don’t have heroes like Essions. So we want to build successful tech entrepreneurs they can look up to,” Szymanski.

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