On 7 and 8 July, our team was invited to participate in the 2018 edition of Afrobytes, which gathered a mix of African start-ups, investors, tech hubs and large corporate entities with a focus on the continent. Beyond the highly relevant sessions and panels, the two days provided an opportunity to network with some of the ecosystem’s key stakeholders. We’d like to share our takeaways.
1. ‘Afrobytes is not a conference, it’s a marketplace’
As we were invited to speak in a panel on the first day, we – and all speakers at the event – received a clear message in an email from Afrobytes’ founders Haweya Mohamed and Ammin Youssouf, ahead of the event:
“This is not a conference. This a marketplace. People in the room don’t need to be convinced to do business in Africa, they need to be convinced to connect and do business with you.”
Throughout the event, emphasis was put on quality networking, which was made easier by the calibre of people the Afrobytes team was able to gather. On our side, we had the opportunity to hold meetings with two of our Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund portfolio start-ups (Optimetriks, Biscate), talk at length with the teams of several mobile operators (Orange, Safaricom), connect with large corporate organisations (Google, EDF, Axian Group), and exchange respective updates with investors (Singularity Investment, Chanzo Capital, DiGaMe).
2. Africa venture capital space still lacks exit ‘success stories’
Funding is definitely increasing in the African tech ecosystem and that’s good news, however, several investors stated that the lack of successful exits (through acquisitions or IPOs for instance) across Africa’s different markets is still limiting the attractiveness of tech start-ups in the continent, especially for foreign VC funds.
3. The mobile-first continent? No, the mobile-only continent
Ammin Youssouf, founder of Afrobytes, highlighted this point in the panel we contributed to: “Mobile economy paving the way for the rise of the African tech industry”. According to GSMA Intelligence, there are currently more than 625 million unique mobile subscribers across the continent and all the African start-ups present at the event were using mobile enabled technologies to deliver their services (USSD, Mobile Money, SMS, mobile apps, M2M etc). As an illustration of this central role played by mobile in Africa, the founder of the popular media brand, Trace, shared that they had recently launched an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) in South Africa with an associated media package, in order to better reach their local audience.
4. Mobile operators are strengthening their game in the Africa start-ups ecosystem
There are more than 200 active mobile operators today on the continent and for most of them, collaborating with local start-ups is getting higher on their agenda. This is one of the messages we carried across during our panel (find out more about our latest insight on the topic here). Demonstrating this point, Safaricom’s Njoki Jacqueline Gichinga shared some updates on ‘Safaricom Alpha’, the group’s new innovation center which – among others – will launch a call for applications by the end of the year. Similarly, Marc Rennard, CEO of Orange’s CVC arm Orange Digital Ventures, also shared some news about the Africa-dedicated €50 million part of the fund announced just a year before at the previous edition of Afrobytes and which recently closed a first investment.
5. Women investors are leading the way
By putting together a main-stage investor panel made of almost exclusively women, Afrobytes’ team have sent a strong and positive signal to the ecosystem. And beyond this session, featuring Kenza Lahlou (Outlierz Ventures), Eline Blaauboer (Africa Tech Ventures) and Patricia Chin-Sweeney (I-DEV International), it was very promising to see women in almost all panels and sessions throughout the event: Investors, founders, journalist and corporates.
6. Blockchain use cases beyond cryptocurrency
Testament to the interest for the topic, not less than three sessions were dedicated to blockchain and its uses cases this year. As the technology is reaching a certain degree of maturity, new use cases are emerging for blockchain in Africa: From identity and access to finance to energy.
7. Could A.I.-based voice assistant support digital inclusion in the continent?
In April 2018, Google launched its voice assistant, ‘Google Assistant’, in India where, according to Google’s Adama Bari Diallo, it has experienced tremendous take-up since then. A reason behind this, says Adama, is that it was made available on simple feature phones with very low price tags. According to Olivier Laouchez, Co-founder of CEO of Trace, voice assistants will be key in the way people access content in the future.
8. $15,000 to produce a movie in Nollywood
According to Iroko’s Chief Commercial Officer, Nikhil Patel, $15,000 to 20,000 is what you need these days in Nigeria’s ‘Nollywood’ to produce a complete movie or series. A production cost that makes the industry very dynamic but also very competitive.
9. A growing Africa tech scene in Paris and London
Africa-focused tech events in Paris or London are becoming increasingly popular. There may be various angles, speakers and formats but they are always around Africa tech. Just over the past month, our team has had the chance to participate in not less than four events in Paris (Vivatech’s AfricaTech, Afrobytes) and London (Africa Tech Summit London, Oxford Africa Conference). This is another positive illustration of the dynamism of the ecosystem.
10. Thank you
We wanted to end this blog by congratulating Haweya Mohamed and Ammin Youssouf for delivering this quality event gathering stakeholders from truly across Africa (Francophone and English-speaking regions) and thanking them for offering us to join and contribute. See you next year!
The Ecosystem Accelerator programme is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Australian Government, the GSMA and its members.