New $76M Startup Fund Promotes Marseille Region As Innovation Gateway Between Africa And Europe

Written by Peter Pedroncelli

Innovation gateway
French president Emmanuel Macron discussing tech with Rwandan president Paul Kagame. Photo – Quartz

Digital Africa, a French government-backed initiative and $76 million fund to support African startups through investments, aims to promote France’s Aix-Marseille region as an innovation gateway between Africa and Europe.

The first event is scheduled later this year.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced the launch of the initiative at the VivaTechnology conference in Paris. The first event, branded “Digital Africa,” will take place in November in Marseille, according to Aptantech.

Emerging Valley, a summit on African entrepreneurship and innovation, will take place from Nov. 19 to Nov. 21, 2018 at Palais du Pharo in Marseille and at Aix-en-Provence, a university city in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of southern France.

Founded in 2017 by Samir Abdelkrim and co-produced by StartupBRICS and MCO Congrès, the event will serve to attract European companies that wish to expand into Africa, and African startups with an eye on Europe, says Samir Abdelkrim, founder of Emerging Valley and StartupBRICS.

Aix-Marseille an ‘innovation gateway between Africa and Europe’

“The region and especially Aix-Marseille have all kinds of legitimacy – historical, geographical, cultural, human – to become the preferred African gateway to Europe, and vice versa,” said Abdelkrim, according to AfricaBusinessCommunities.

“It’s also the only French region claiming this position with Africa on the digital challenges, and it wants to assert itself as a magnet for the companies in the world willing to enter the African market from Marseille. Now, there is a real opportunity to emerge as a double gateway Europe-Africa, and Marseille can naturally claim it. Emerging Valley is part of the ambition,” he added.

As part of the Digital Africa initiative, incubators and innovation hubs from the Aix-Marseille region of France have pledged their support for African startups willing to develop their activities in Europe in the hopes of attracting businesses with high-growth potential, according to Techmoran.

The Digital Africa program will make around $76 million available for investment in African entrepreneurs, with amounts ranging from $35,000 to $59,000 to be paid from the French Development Agency (AFD) to African startups, according to Techpoint.

Digital Africa says it will be far more than a funding vehicle, providing a platform to promote African startups and the entrepreneurs behind them through collaboration and knowledge sharing, providing an online database of resources, hosting events, and providing access to funding.

France backing African startups

The French president, elected in 2017, has been an advocate for startup culture and entrepreneurship in his country, and is now interested in supporting the tech ecosystem in Africa.

Macron has visited a number of African countries over the past year, with a trip to Burkina Faso, Ghana and Ivory Coast in November and a visit to Tunisia in February illustrating the importance of Africa in his foreign policy, according to News24.

At the VivaTechnology conference in Paris, Macron spoke about the need for supporting African startups and the digital ecosystem.

“There is an increasing unity across Africa, which provides the basis for the launch of a comprehensive strategy aimed at collectively supporting the growth of digital ecosystems across the continent,” Macron said, according to PCTechMag.

“I call on all African entrepreneurs, from all the countries on the continent, to join this Digital Africa initiative, and to join the platform,” he said. “Because when you speak about innovation, when you speak about digital, it’s by providing services for people to learn, to be able to be educated, to work, to get access to energy, and so on. But you speak as well to job creation for people.”

Startups interested in the program can apply for support through Digital Africa, with relevant businesses set to be considered for the first event in November.

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