Geeks On A Plane: Building The Bridge Between Africa And Silicon Valley

Geeks On A Plane: Building The Bridge Between Africa And Silicon Valley

Demo Africa has sent 20 African startups to Silicon Valley over the last four years. Where are they now?

Twelve of them are still alive and breathing, about four of them on life support, and four of them “are just dead and done,” said angel investor Stephen Ozoigbo in a Black Enterprise interview.

Ozoigbo is the CEO of the African Technology Foundation. Demo Africa is the foundation’s flagship program, launched five years ago by the U.S. State Department with the goal of helping African entrepreneurs build global companies.

Failure is part of life, Ozoigbo said. “It’s like you come into play and you got to succeed. But if you don’t, you find a good job.”

Demo Africa is the African edition of a bigger group of events that include Demo U.S., Demo Russia, Demo Europe, Demo Brazil and Demo China.

The Demo-brand launchpad has been the place where big-name startups such as Adobe got early exposure. These events are meant to help tech entrepreneurs find a platform where they can come and launch their products in front of investors. “It’s an opportunity for every entrepreneur in the tech space to show up and show what they’ve got,” Demo Africa executive producer Harry Hare said in a May Forbes report.

From an online application process, Demo Africa gets hundreds of submissions each year. The top 40 African entrepreneur applicants get to pitch in front of investors and entrepreneurs in an African city. Then the top five are sent to Silicon Valley each year for further incubation and immersion.

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Read more of the Ozoigbo interview from Black Enterprise. Interview by Sequoia Blodgett.

What are some of the successful companies that have come out of Demo Africa?

Ozoigbo: We’ve had Selco—this was one of our Demo alumni for 2012. It’s a jewelry platform that is looking to empower many of the artists of East Africa, with a focus on Kenya. They want to work with the United Nations and with Hollywood celebrities, who are looking at cost-related activities for empowering women. They’ve raised quite a bit of money.

Two years ago, we had Space Point, a point of sale e-commerce system that allows small SMEs in Africa to get online. They just raised about $1.5 million in the last year.

I’m only talking about the final folks I brought to Silicon Valley. I have had 20 of them over the last four years. We have about 12 of them still alive and breathing, about four of them on life support, and then four of them are just dead and done. And that’s what it is—it’s part of life. It’s like, you come into play, and you got to succeed. But, if you don’t, you find a good job.

Do you have a fund, specifically?

Ozoigbo: No. So, I’m an angel investor. We didn’t have to put a fund together because the foundation was set up to not do that. However, for most of the portfolio companies on the advisory side, the foundation does the advisory practice.

Where are you currently in your program? Are you guys looking for a new cohort?

Ozoigbo: We just came back from South Africa. Right now, we are in the process of preparing for the five (finalists) who are coming over. In the spring of next year, with 500 startups, we’re doing something called Geeks on a Plane, which we are program partners for. We’re going to do four African cities: Lagos, Accra, Johannesburg, and Cape Town.

We want to take those five startups and make sure they become program investors for all of the geeks and everything we do, because they’ll be interacting with the Silicon Valley VCs.

Because we are tied to the State Department, our programs are notable across U.S. embassies in Africa. So, we’ve actually had inbounds come from the embassy. A lot of the folks in D.C., through the African embassy and consulates here, come to us and talk about integration. Some of these folks sometimes get on the plane and come over themselves—they get to SFO. I’ll get a text like, “I’m the mayor of Cape Town. I’m in town. I want to meet with you. I heard about you.”

Is there anything that we should know that we don’t know?

Ozoigbo: It’s the fact that, from the storytelling standpoint, Africa is owning its own storylines now. Guys like me are making sure that the narrative is genuine—it’s the good, the bad, and the ugly—but we want to talk about the good.

Read more at Black Enterprise.