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Steeds meer Nederlandse ondernemers ontdekken Afrika

Yesterday evening VC4Africa board member Jasper Grosskurth, Director of Research and Strategy at Research Solutions Africa, was featured on Dutch national news channel NOS. The report gives a nice look into Kenya and the growing opportunities in East Africa and Africa as a whole. Indeed, with N. America and Europe struggling economically, and increasing competition in markets like India and China, Africa is increasingly the investment destination of choice. Now that’s an argument I like:)

VC4Africa and the emergence of an African startup culture

Want to know more about VC4Africa and our work to support starting entrepreneurs? Here is a presentation we recently recorded. I outline some of the recent trends and developments we are witnessing in the space and some of our thinking on how we can do more to support the emergence of an African startup culture.

Fast Moving Targets: Africa as promising investment frontier

Here is an interview I did last week with Fast Moving Targets, a new series dedicated to showcasing innovation in media, technology and communications. They are very much tapping into Amsterdam as a creative media lab and the beginnings of a promising startup culture here in the city. Importantly, they ask the question, ‘what’s going on, what does that mean for whom and how do you actually get new trends and technologies to succeed?’

It’s great to see initiatives like this come online. It adds to The Next Web (many people do not know they are based in Amsterdam) and Hackers and Founders Meetups as important platforms for engaging the community, identifying key developments and highlighting protagonists in the space. Fast Moving Targets is an initiative of ‘The Crowds‘ and hosted by Erwin Blom and Roeland Stekelenburg. They have a great production team and it was nice of Johan Schaap, the founder of Probaton, to make the connection.

The show is filmed live which gives it an interesting character and streamed via the site. They film the chit chat before and after the actual show (so be aware:) and take questions from people watching via Twitter. The show has an interactive and relaxed feel to it. Mostly because of the Palm beer. It was also great practice for my Dutch!:) Here is the description as posted on the site: ‘Ben White van VC4Africa probeert werelden bij elkaar te brengen. Investeerders en ondernemers. Europa en Afrika. Omdat hij ziet hoe groot het talent in laatstgenoemd werelddeel is, omdat hij overtuigd is van het zakenlijk potentieel, maar ook omdat hij een idealist is die van Afrika houdt. VC4Africa gaat over geld, maar nog veel meer over netwerken. Met al duizenden aan boord. Een aflevering van Top Names van Fast Moving Targets.’

The Rise of a Startup Culture in Africa [Video Presentation]

Technology + Entrepreneurs + A vision = Startups in Africa in need of Venture Capital.

This is a one line summary of the presentation I recently gave at the 1% Event in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. In the presentation I talk about the rise of the techprenuer in Africa and the cheetah Generation that is now empowered with the knowledge and tools they need to change the world. This presentation builds on a lot of the ethnographic research I did in Kampala, Uganda and my experiences working on the ICT Entrepreneurship program at Hivos. I also talk about AfriLabs as a network organization connecting technology incubators in Africa and VC4Africa (Venture Capital for Africa) as a platform for crowdsourcing network, information and capital via the web.

Cameroon’s leading techpreneurs [video]

I am pleased to share this video from my recent trip to Cameroon and the time spent with the team at the African Center for Technology, Innovations and Ventures (ActivSpaces). It was great to spend time with so many promising entrepreneurs and meet VC4Africa members in the country. I especially want to thank Valery, Fua, Al, Ebot, Benyella, Fritz and Mohamed for all of their insights and constant inspiration.

I look forward to going back soon and can’t wait for my next plate of Ekwang 🙂

Time to celebrate African success stories!

What better way to support SME development in the African space than by celebrating the entrepreneurs who have already achieved remarkable success. This is exactly what the Africa Awards program is doing and VC4Africa is pleased to partner and support this effort again this year. Recently I had the chance to connect with Hamish Banks, one of the key champions behind the program, and ask him a few questions about this year’s competition.

Why was the AfricaAwards program created?

The Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship program was created to promote the value of entrepreneurship; as we are all aware, SMEs and the entrepreneurs who lead them are the lifeblood of any economy and major contributors to any nation’s prosperity. In sub-Saharan Africa, over 90% of business operations are conducted through SMEs and they contribute around 50% of GDP.

Simply put, the more we can encourage entrepreneurship, the better off we all are. By focusing attention on the amazing stories of these entrepreneurial leaders and creating a platform to tell their stories we want to set them up as role models for aspiring entrepreneurs; these leaders demonstrate the level of business excellence that helps to negate the more negative stereotypes of business in Africa. When we showcase these leaders and the fact that their businesses are the match of any around the world, we create a picture of Africa as a continent of opportunity and an attractive destination for investment capital.

Furthermore, there is a lesson here for policymakers: it is their responsibility to legislate wise policies that make it easy to establish a new business and to ensure a level playing field for all business that encourages growth, free from bureaucracy and corruption.

Lastly, the Awards will support networks of business people that will benefit from improved collaboration, the sharing of best practice and the realization of fresh opportunities – and while every winner has told us that the prize money of $350,000 is attractive, of course, they also tell us that the networking, connections and prestige from being a winner is even more important to their future business growth.

Can you reflect on last year’s event?

Last year was our third year of the competition and by far the most successful to date: we attracted more than 2,700 entries from all of the 15 participating countries, with our first finalist from Ethiopia. We received entries from 18 different industry sectors with a high number from infrastructure development areas – mechanical and electrical engineering, and construction, for example – reflecting the rapid growth in infrastructure projects across the continent. But we also had strong representation for ICT companies (two of which were winners) and an increasing number of entries from business and professional services. We were disappointed not to see more women-owned businesses among the finalists and this year we are making a concerted effort to reach those groups more effectively. The Gala Awards Banquet in Nairobi was a bigger affair than ever before; hosted by Komla Dumor of the BBC’s Africa Business Report and with a keynote speech by legendary Kenyan entrepreneur Manu Chandaria, we brought together entrepreneurs, business people and policymakers in an inspiring showcase of business talent.

What can you tell us about last year’s winner Craft Silicon?

The Africa Awards is about more than just the numbers and last year’s winner, Kamal Budhabhatti of Craft Silicon is a perfect example. In choosing a winner, we look for business excellence – overall profitability, ROI, innovative strategies for growth and flawless execution – but we also place great emphasis on personal leadership, culture and value. Kamal brings all of that together: within Craft Silicon’s core business of customised software solutions for the financial sector, the company’s management is always thinking ahead and has developed innovative solutions in microfinance and Islamic banking, for example, that are fuelling the company’s global expansion.

Craft Silicon is a model of employee engagement both in outreach to university students and in a wide range of benefits to existing employees – such as flexible working hours – and in pushing staff to higher levels of responsibility than they might expect elsewhere. Kamal and his team also demonstrate a deep understanding of the responsibility they share for supporting the communities they serve – from providing free software to microfinance institutions to the computer – equipped Craft Silicon Foundation Bus which travels to Nairobi’s slums and conducts practical training for young people.

It is this complete package that made Kamal and Craft Silicon stand out: a great business run by great people.

This year you take a pan African approach, why was the scope expanded?

It was always our intention to expand across the continent – we just got there a little sooner than we expected, having started with just five countries in 2007 and fifteen last year. The reality is that entrepreneurs are essentially the same everywhere – not just in Africa – and it doesn’t matter the size of your country or the sector in which you compete, entrepreneurs share a DNA that’s hard-wired into their brains. It’s not unusual to hear of a history of start-up, failure, start-up and success and in a sense this defines many of the entrepreneurs we meet: not only are they inspired and inspiring, but they have a resilience about them. And you’ll find that resilience everywhere from Sierra Leone to South Africa to Sudan.

Once we thought about it, not only was there no reason not to expand to the whole of Africa, it is critically important that we did – we want to make the point that Africa is alive with entrepreneurs everywhere, not just in the more developed places you might expect.

How does a program like this help support entrepreneurship development on the continent?

The Africa Awards is built upon teaching by example. One of the reasons we target businesses which fall outside what would be traditionally regarded as being “small” or “medium-sized” is because the leaders of these bigger businesses (with more than $1MM in revenues) have a track record and personal stories that can serve as a practical example and an inspiration. Our first task is to inform and inspire – we will show what homegrown African entrepreneurs have, and can, achieve. On another level we can provide real practical support by brokering connections between the entrepreneur community and the sources of funding which are so critical (and challenging) for them. For example, this year we will organize a one-day conference on entrepreneurship: CONVERGENCE: AFRICA is the platform that brings together the entrepreneurs, investors, policy-makers and businesspeople who will continue to fuel the continent’s burgeoning growth. This one-day conference is designed to be informative, practical, and above all actionable. In addition to headline speakers who are themselves role models of entrepreneurship, the heart of the conference is a series of six Master Classes, conducted by experts in their fields, covering the topics that matter most to entrepreneurs and investors.

The conference will conclude in an exclusive session designed to match enlightened investors and a selection of the brightest entrepreneurs in a series of rapid-fire presentations – what we call Investor Speed Dating – in which we will invite 15 VC and Private Equity firms from across Africa and overseas to hear back-to-back pitches from pre-qualified potential investee companies.

How do you see VC4Africa and its role in the space?

We share the same goals, of course, and see VC4Africa as an energetic and practical resource for entrepreneurs and investors which complements what we’re doing. There’s always a need for a platform for sharing best practice and a space where entrepreneurs can congregate. Like the Africa Awards, such programs are most successful when they become self-sustaining – which happens when members take ownership and see real value in participating. With over 4,000 members, I think VC4Africa is there already- I would just encourage the members to continue to engage in productive discussion and sharing good ideas and experiences as much as possible: this is a great platform for learning.

A final message for all of those entrepreneurs out there?

There’s not much I can say that hasn’t been said much better by the entrepreneurs themselves, so I’ll just encourage them to check the website at www.AfricaAwards.com and submit an entry. Someone asked me the other day why so many Kenyan firms had been finalists and winners in the past, and the answer is pretty simple – they submitted a lot of entries. We want to see applications from every country in Africa – we know there’s a potential winner in every one of them.

Anything else you feel is important to add?

We’ll have a couple of big announcements about the Awards during the course of the next three months, so watch this space. And we’re always open to suggestions and comments as to how to improve the Awards – please let us know.

Great Hamish….. I look forward to seeing this year’s selection come together and to celebrating Africa’s great success stories!