Startup Ecosystem Event Sparks Hope For Africa’s Tech Startup Future

Written by Tom Jackson

This week I was given the opportunity to chair, speak and participate in the AHUB, the startup ecosystem-focused leg of AfricaCom, the continent’s biggest tech conference.

Every year, the great and the good of African tech converge on Cape Town to network and discuss the key trends within the sector. Until 2014, startups were barely featured at AfricaCom, but that all changed with the launch of the AHUB that year.

Now in its third year, the event is bigger than ever, drawing more and more startups and investors from across the continent. I was lucky enough to present the data we at Disrupt Africa produce every year on the amount of funding raised by African tech startups.

The data is very positive, showing that more startups are raising more money each year. The subject is a key one, with little information available until recently, and the “whirlwind” tour of the key numbers drew a big crowd. Startups across the continent are desperate to raise funds, and interest in where they can do so is high.

Aside from funding, entrepreneurs are also keen to hear about the experiences of their peers. I was fortunate enough to introduce Rapelang Rabana, founder of ed-tech company Rekindle Learning and a woman who has been featured on the cover of Forbes Africa. She took the audience through her story and shared key lessons she has learnt over the course of her entrepreneurial journey.

The audience also heard about the success story of food delivery app OrderIn from its founder Dinesh Patel, but the event is not all about inspirational stories. There is also plenty of nitty gritty.

Chika Uwazie of Talentbase discussed the importance of finding product-market fit, Lexi Novitske of Singularity Investments offered excellent advice on how to deal with investors, and Antoinette Prophy of the 88 Business Collective discussed what needs to be done to get more female, lower-income individuals involved with entrepreneurship.

Africa’s startup ecosystem gaining in quality

The event also saw pitches from the 20 startups taking part in the World Bank’s XL Africa accelerator programme.

Whereas in previous years, the quality and breadth of startups on display at the event had been low, given the difficulties of funding the travel for such companies, the chance to experience companies of such quality was refreshing, and no doubt a boon for the investors present.

All in all, the event painted a positive picture of Africa’s startup scene, which is certainly growing. Yet challenges remain.

Keith Jones of Sw7 took the audience through the great difficulties of doing business with corporates, with the likes of Jamii Africa’s Lilian Makoi and Sendy’s Malaika Judd sharing their own experiences of working with big business – not all of them good.

Skills also remain a challenge for the development of the African tech scene.

Representatives from Facebook and Google laid out what their companies were doing to develop digital skills on the continent, but a far more gloomy picture was painted when it came to the political will of governments to encourage tech-savviness from an early age in schools.

The future is bright for African tech, but the challenges are real. More productive discussions between multiple stakeholders, such as those that took place over the course of this week, can play a part in overcoming these issues.

Tom Jackson is co-founder of Disrupt Africa, a news and research company focused on the African tech startup ecosystem.