Between 4 and 6 April 2018, we ran our second start-up bootcamp in Singapore, almost a year after the first one in Tanzania. This year, the closed-door event gathered a total of 21 start-ups from our two cohorts. Investors and our mobile operator partners were also present.
The goal of the event was to strengthen our newly expanded community of start-ups by providing them with an avenue to meet and connect. The event was a perfect occasion to acclimatise our newest cohort with our programme and more broadly, the GSMA. It also served as a platform to connect our portfolio start-ups with the GSMA’s mobile operator partners, as well as the investors we invited. Here are some highlights from the event.
1. Collaboration between start-ups and mobile operators: When a cohort learns from another
Since the inception of the Ecosystem Accelerator programme in early 2016, we have heavily advocated for collaboration between mobile operators and start-ups in emerging markets. Our rationale is simple and remains the same – mobile operators have touched the lives of billions and reached impressive scale across the global population while emerging market start-ups are vital forces in both the innovation ecosystem and the wider economy. The combination of scale (mobile operator) and innovation (start-ups) can help scale up impactful mobile solutions and generate strong socio-economic impact.
With the bootcamp marking a year since the announcement of our first start-up intake, some of our first cohort start-ups were able to reflect and share experiences and lessons with our newest cohort on their respective partnerships with mobile operators over the last year:
- eSewa became the largest distributor of airtime and SIM cards in Nepal;
- Raye7 now works with Vodafone Egypt and Orange Egypt to expand its ride-hailing solution across the country;
- Ruangguru now works with Telekomsel Indonesia’s youth brand Loop to offer students affordable access to Ruangguru content;
- Optimetriks has broadened its mobile operator clientele with its crowdsourcing data collection solution that helps operators better understand their distribution and/or mobile money agents networks; and
- Biscate continues to work with Vodacom Mozambique to connect skilled workers from the informal sector with customers.
The teams of Ruangguru and Optimetriks spoke on a panel with the management teams of two start-ups from our second cohort, Jamii Africa (Tanzania) and Joonaak (Cambodia). All four opened up about how they initiated, forged and continue to sustain partnerships with their respective mobile operator partner(s).
The general consensus from the bootcamp was that although seeking partnerships with mobile operators does not always come easy, operators’ brands, customer base, as well as their payment, communication and distribution channels position them as critical enablers in emerging markets’ start-up ecosystem. Hence, these partnerships are worth pursuing.
2. Start-up partnerships continue to rise to the top of mobile operators’ agendas
The case for partnering with start-ups has never been stronger for mobile operators. Gone are the days when operators strictly sought internal sources of innovation. Increasingly, many are turning to external partners such as start-ups to help fuel their innovation engine. Operators are leaning toward start-up collaborations as they seek to stay relevant in an industry where core revenue sources (voice and text) have been under significant pressure.
The above points were echoed in a closed-door roundtable featuring key representatives from Axiata Group, Dialog Axiata, MTN, Orange, Telenor Group, Grameenphone and Telkomsel. The half-day discussion was also used to highlight respective best practices on open APIs, Corporate Venture Capital (CVC), mobile operator tech hubs, or cross-mobile operators collaborations. The key points of the discussion were then shared and reflected with the broader audience of start-ups during the last day of the bootcamp. All the start-ups also had the opportunity to individually meet with each mobile operator present during our closing speed-networking session.
3. Africa and Asia Pacific start-ups can borrow a leaf from each other
While the start-up ecosystem on both continents have made significant strides over the last decade, they continue to face similar battles and challenges. In both continents, most countries face infrastructure deficit, immature distribution channels, inadequate access to capital and talents, among others. For this reason, we earmarked two sessions to allow start-ups to learn from each other on how they circumvent or solve similar challenges. The first session was on vertical-specific challenges where we had five clusters:
- Agritech – eFishery and Twiga Foods;
- ‘Public’ services – Sehat Kahani, Prepclass, Ruangguru, Raye7 and Tootle;
- Fintech – Ensibuuko, eSewa, Jamii Africa, Sudpay, LipaMobile and MaTontine;
- Retail and Logistics – Field Buzz, Joonaak, Kargo, Optimetriks and Musanga Logistics; and
- Jobs – Biscate, Lynk and Neh Thit.
The Agritech start-ups touched on some of the challenges that arise in educating farmers, eliminating middlemen and dealing with post-harvest losses. The ‘Public’ services group conversed on the use of mobile technology to overcome infrastructure deficit in their respective sectors. The Fintech cluster shared their approach for educating customers on the merits of their solutions, recruiting talents and handling futuristic competition. The Jobs cluster shared their respective approach to verifying and vetting job seekers, balancing the demand and supply of jobs, and maintaining quality while trying to scale their job platforms. During the session, Retail and Logistics start-ups revealed their approach to handling cash and the role of technology in reducing the cost of cash. This group also shared how they build customer trust and incentivise workers on their platforms.
After the above session, start-ups were grouped into sector-agnostic clusters with each group rotating every 20 minutes to discuss five major themes – funding, monetisation, expansion, regulation and talents. This section was an opportunity for start-ups across both continents to discuss and compare the challenges they are facing locally, but more importantly to exchange solutions and workarounds.
We would like to conclude this blog by extending our sincere thanks to the start-ups that travelled to Singapore for the bootcamp, as well as to all our stakeholders who helped make the event a success.
The Ecosystem Accelerator programme is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Australian Government, the GSMA and its members.