Exploring the incredible growth of the Cameroonian entrepreneurship ecosystem

During the last week of July, Peter Ndichu from the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator team was in Cameroon to provide further support to GiftedMom, one of the Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund start-ups, and to reflect on the progress made since we first funded them back in November 2018. During the week, we supported GiftedMom with various activities by participating in business development meetings with users (both mothers and hospital staff) and potential mobile operator partners. We also used this opportunity to meet with mobile-enabled start-ups, run two workshops on start-up and mobile operator collaboration at both ActivSpaces and O’Botama coworking space, and meet investors, mobile operators, and other stakeholders who provide support to tech-enabled start-ups. Here are our main takeaways from this packed week, immersed in Cameroon’s tech ecosystem.

GSMA, GiftedMom and Interstellar Teams during market visit

GiftedMom plans to reach 1.5 million African mothers in two years

GiftedMom, one of our 34 Innovation Fund portfolio startups, helps pregnant and nursing mothers access quality health information and healthcare in Cameroon. Initially launched as an SMS service, GiftedMom has increased its value proposition to users by launching a smartphone app with richer information and better features aimed at increasing their service quality. With smartphone penetration at 39 per cent of total connections in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), GiftedMom’s dual approach of using both high-tech apps and low-tech SMS and USSD leaves no mother behind.

As the product and service scales across Cameroon, we expect GiftedMom to expand its footprint across SSA, where at least 500 million pregnancies will occur in the next 5000 days, putting additional pressure on limited health resources across the continent.

Workshop on synergies between start-ups and MNOs at ActivSpaces in Douala

Hubs and mobile network operators (MNOs) supporting start-up ecosystem

Our recent blog identified 618 active tech hubs across Africa, with Cameroon accounting for 18 of them. Since 2016, the number of active tech hubs in Africa has nearly doubled, signaling the importance of hubs in driving local start-ups ecosystems.

MNOs have reached the scale that start-ups lack, while local start-ups are developing innovations that MNOs need. Out of the 34 start-ups in our portfolio, 18 have already formally partnered with a local MNO. In Cameroon, GiftedMom integrated with Orange’s SMS, USSD and billing APIs, which enabled rapid scaling by accessing Orange’s customer base and existing infrastructure. As of June 2019, GiftedMom had supported over 200,000 pregnant women and nursing mothers through SMS and mobile app platforms.

We conducted two workshops at both ActivSpaces and the O’Botama coworking space alongside MTN, Orange and GiftedMom. After engaging over 50 innovators, it’s apparent that start-ups and MNOs will benefit from more partnerships, provided there is clear alignment and communication from both sides of the divide. Our start-up MNO synergies framework on “Haves” and “Needs” proved to be an invaluable resource for both MNOs and start-ups exploring partnership opportunities.

Orange Cameroon and GiftedMom during brainstorming session at Orange HQ

Challenges and opportunities remain, but the tide is reversing fast

Access to early stage capital, and markets coupled with limited government support are some of the top challenges that technology entrepreneurs face across the ecosystem. For many entrepreneurs, surmounting these challenges is key to overcoming the proverbial start-up valley of death.

However, a few positive trends indicate that the Cameroonian tech ecosystem will continue to improve in leaps and bounds. Here are a few examples that support these positive trends:

  • GiftedMom’s early success can be attributed to two local angel investors;
  • Interstellar, a blockchain-based decentralised payment platform is scaling by growing a base on international customers; and
  • Cardiac Care, a data driven provider of smart health devices launched in 2009 which against many odds is now working with government hospitals as a technology vendor.

Cameroon is definitely a market to watch closely given the growing support and partnerships between MNOs, hubs, investors and local entrepreneurs. However, as we all know, spectating is never quite as fun, so get involved.

We would like to end this blog post by thanking GiftedMom, Orange Cameroon, MTN Cameroon, ActicSpaces and O’Botama for being great hosts during our week in Benin.

The Ecosystem Accelerator programme is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Australian Government, the GSMA and its members.

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