FbStart: Facebook’s startup drive gathers local steam

Facebook has made a concerted effort to court mobile-based startups with its FbStart initiative.

The programme offers qualifying app developers year-round support, access to a global community of startups and a suite of tools to the value of up to US$80 000. These tools include MailChimp, Dropbox, and Stripe.

FbStart is divided into two categories, namely Bootstrap and Accelerate.

The former category is for apps that have just launched, while the latter is for “thriving” apps that need to grow even more.

The initiative made its way to the African continent a while back, so what has the progress been like? How are they catering to the local market? Ventureburn interviewed Chukwuemeka Afigbo, strategic products partnerships manager at Facebook.

FbStart targets mobile startups, offering a suite of tools and developer support

Those looking for seed investment and other forms of monetary support in this programme will be disappointed though. But are there any future plans in this regard?

“Not at this time. Right now, the preferred approach is to partner with people who are doing that and bring what we know best to the table,” Afigbo answered.

The Facebook representative said that the company was teaming up with local tech hubs to expand the FbStart footprint.

“We’ve seen a lot of tech hubs and incubators that have done great work, in terms of… working with startups,” Afigbo explained, saying that startups accepted into these programmes have undergone a lot of “vigorous” vetting and assessment.

Afigbo says that startups in participating tech hubs will have access to FbStart benefits too

“We can now work with these tech hubs and incubators and say okay, once we’ve assessed that you’re doing great work in bringing these startups into your space or programme, then you can have access to FbStart.”

The tech hubs and incubators are effectively middlemen between startups and FbStart then, Afigbo concurred.

The initiative has seen notable growth on the continent too.

“In about the space of a year or so, it has grown by almost 200%, right? So from 100 or so apps that were accepted… about a year ago, now we’re looking at almost 302 or thereabout,” he explained.

“In terms of success stories, there are a number of people who’ve done well with the programme. One example is Tress,” the FbStart representative said.

Another example cited by Afigbo was Sokka, a pan-African sports community and media company. The company has managed to increase its audience by five fold by using Facebook ads.

Plans for expansion?

Of course, internet connectivity is a big obstacle for many businesses on the continent. But are there any plans to zero-rate FbStart access, be it via the Free Basics service or in partnership with a network?

“So there’s no plan around zero-rating access for FbStart material at the moment, but all our initiatives are connected,” Afigbo was quoted as saying.

The representative explained that Android and iOS apps are still the only major mobile platforms supported, but added that the programme has also been expanded to developers working on Messenger bots.

Update: correction on Sokka.

Hadlee Simons


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