Emerging Africa: Unleashing Africa’s Innovation Potential

By Kris M. Balderston, US Special Representative for
Global Partnerships

Emerging Africa: Unleashing Africa’s Innovation Potential

By Kris M. Balderston, US Special Representative for Global Partnerships

In the last week, I’ve travelled from Johannesburg to Cape Town to Addis Ababa. Along the way, I’ve been struck over and over again by the ingenuity, entrepreneurship and innovation of the people I have met from townships to capital cities, from villages to major metropolises. Innovation parks take their place next to factories, investment banks next to mobile phone banking kiosks, and internet startups next to mom-and-pop store fronts. As I touched down in Ethiopia for the World Economic Forum on Africa, I was struck by the thought: Africa is emerging.

Buoyed by a decade of growth and bullish predictions for the future, Africa is on track to become the next big investment destination. The Economist indicates that six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies over the past decade were in sub-Saharan Africa. McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, and the Center for Global Development have all recently released their own reports or surveys supporting the case for Africa’s emergence into the global economic landscape.

Information technology in particular seems to be taking off. In today’s hyper-connected society, it is hard to believe that only 11 percent of Africans have access to the Internet through a computer or mobile phone. But this is changing too: Internet usage in Africa has grown faster than on any other continent over the past decade. Africa’s information technology sector is ripe for development and ready for growth.

The awakening of the African economy provides an opportunity for global and African entrepreneurs and enterprises to forge partnerships for mutual economic benefits. At the World Economic Forum on Africa today, I had the pleasure of launching a new partnership—Liberalizing Innovation Opportunity Nations— or LIONS@FRICA, alongside the U.S. Agency for International Development, Microsoft, Nokia, DEMO, the World Bank Group’s infoDev, African Development Bank and Global Entrepreneurship Week.

LIONS@FRICA is a new public-private partnership platform aimed to enhance and deepen the startup and innovation ecosystems of targeted fast growing African economies. Modeled after the Startup America Partnership, LIONS@FRICA seeks to bring together key private and public institutions to support and amplify Africa’s budding startup and innovation ecosystem.

Across the continent, startups such as Cobi Interactive, a leading South African mobile software development company that provides mobile technology and strategy consulting for top African corporations; and PesaPal, a payment platform that enables Kenyans to buy and sell on the Internet using M-Pesa, Zap and credit cards, are making waves. What’s more, we are seeing these startups develop from local businesses into multinational entities. Tanzania’s TechnoBrain, and award-winning software development firm, has expanded to 13 countries around the world and has plans to continue its expansion into new markets.

We need more success stories like these. That is why we launched the LIONS@FRICA partnership. LIONS@FRICA seeks to capitalize on this growth and create new opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa by providing a platform designed to inspire and challenge African innovators and entrepreneurs. This partnership will provide African startups with capacity building and training in business development, provide connectivity to global innovation grids, promote access to capital, create opportunities for partnership, and showcase best practices and successes in African-led innovation solutions.

Planned activities for the partnership include a series of programs across the continent featuring promising African startups and entrepreneurs as well as venture capital roundtables and innovation bootcamps, and Startup Weekend events in over 20 African cities. Qualifying startups can join Microsoft BizSpark with access to a range of Microsoft technology for three years at no cost, to the community of BizSpark Network Partners in Africa, and to programs at Nokia’s mLabsin the region.

LIONS@FRICA will also launch the first-ever DEMO Africa, a global platform to connect African startups to the global ecosystem, where the most innovative companies from African countries come to launch their products and announce to Africa and the world what they have developed.

We are very excited about this partnership, and I look forward to meeting the real lions of innovations and we invite more partners to join us in this noble endeavor. Visit the LIONS@FRICA website at www.meetthelions.org for more information. For partnership opportunities, please contact Thomas Debass by email or through Twitter (@debass). Follow us on Twitter (@LionsAfrica) and join the conversation with hashtag #meetthelions.

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