Innovation spreads like wildfire in Africa

Nairobi has really worked to claim its position as an innovation hotspot. See for example the plans for the $7b Konza Technology City. The activity there is remarkable and the progress is really a result of an active community and increasingly a combined effort. The platforms like the iHub, m:lab and Nailab help bring the local network together and make entrepreneurs and their projects visible for a wider audience. Nairobi is friendly for journalists, the labs have improved access to resources and increasingly stories of entrepreneurs reach the pages of newspapers and websites around the world. Government responds and acts to support the growing sector, telcos and other multinationals look to get involved and donors and non-profits seek to further propel these efforts. Investors keen to tap into the African opportunity buy plane tickets to see what all the noise is about and unknowingly pressure local investors to stay closer to home. To a great extent this growing momentum builds into a self fulfilling prophecy. Can similar gains be achieved elsewhere? Can similar clusters and communities mobilize and become accessible in Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Botswana, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda or Ethiopia?

PIVOT25: East Africa’s Biggest Mobile Tech Event from Pivot25 Conference on Vimeo.

The next big thing in African Tech has arrived. Pivot 25 is here! The region’s top 25 mobile tech startups pitch against each other June 14-15 in Nairobi, Kenya at the Ole Sereni Hotel.

From my recent trip to Cameroon I was blown away by the entrepreneurial activity. I spent my time in Buea, a young university town that lies at the foot of Mt. Cameroon (otherwise the highest peak in West Africa) and the HQ for ActivSpaces, a budding technology incubator. The mountainscape is lush and green. The backside of the volcano runs down into Limbe, a coastal town lined with black volcanic beaches. Seafood is plentiful and nothing tastes better than BBQ bone fish with pepe (local chiles). Avacados, fresh fruits, yams, the list goes on. The main highway runs into the commercial capital and port town of Douala. The traffic is busy, the streets are bustling and there is an undeniable magnetic energy. It’s hot and sweaty. People are moving fast and ready for business.

From my short trip I would say that Cameroon is a complex country you could spend a lifetime trying to understand. But a few things were clear for me. Being next to Nigeria is a major strategic advantage. Next door access to the continent’s most populous country is an incredible opportunity. Many entrepreneurs cut their teeth in Cameroon but keep Nigeria on their radar. Many have already travelled to set up shop and they only lower the barriers for others to soon follow. The French and English combination is another key asset as Cameroon bridges cultures. I think there is even a saying that Cameroon combines all aspects of Africa into one country. Buea specifically has a wonderful university and a well educated and youthful population. People are glued to their radios and information seemed to travel faster than a mosquito on a six pack of red bull.

ActivSpaces is a buzzing hub with about 10 entrepreneurs currently hammering through projects. Its a great team of people located in the Fakoship Plaza, which is likely to be the premier commercial complex in Buea. Its a really nice location and the facilities are perfect. The day I arrived I witnessed the launch of KmerBlagues, an innovative startup looking to connect brands with 365,000 Cameroonian users on Facebook. I also had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop on business models and filmed video pitches we look forward to integrating into the venture profiles on and the ActivSpaces website. With Bill and the ActivSpaces crew we travelled to Douala to see about expanding to a second location. Bill, Valery and crew also have exciting news in the works that will see Cameroon quickly competing with her colleagues over there twiddling away in Nairobi 🙂

We also hosted two VC4Africa meetups. The first was in Buea and the second was in Douala. Both meetings brought together interesting networks and it was great to see so many entrepreneurs working on projects. Few people outside of Cameroon might know there is such an incredible amount of entrepreneurial activity. This is one area where a project like VC4Africa can really offer its support. Just making these individuals and projects visible is a big step. But wow, so many projects in the works and everything from mobile banking to 100% organic soap. French entrepreneurs using translators to explain their business plans into English and AirBnB demos for the African market just wowing the crowd. Being with all of these entrepreneurs just blows my mind and really drives home this idea that we aren’t just looking at Nairobi anymore. We are witnessing a tidal wave that spreads across the continent. Youthful entrepreneurs are working on their ideas in every internet cafe across Africa.


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About zia505

The world is changing right before my eyes. Sometimes I don't know how I will ever keep up. There are so many ideas floating around on this internet. If only I had the means to collect them....

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