Last year, a diverse crowd of 30 Africans and Europeans embarked on an unusual adventure: they hopped a bus leaving from Harare, Zimbabwe to build startup prototypes in five days, and present them during the South Africa's Global Entrepreneurship Week’s finale, in Cape Town.
This year, the hackathon-on-wheels switched gears. It has left the international NGO Startup Bus and developed its own organization, AMPION (for AMPlifying PIONeership) tailored for the African continent. For this second edition, four buses, three more than last year, will be driving around different parts of the continent, this time including North Africa. The team will also be adding a pre-acceleration program to help participants make the most of their entrepreneurial journey. So far, says AMPION founder Fabian Guhl, there’s been strong interest on the part of both local entrepreneurs and foreigners looking to learn more about African markets.
We chatted with Guhl about what participants stand to gain from this program.
A hackathon on wheels
The concept of the Venture Bus is quite simple: once on the bus, participants pitch ideas, split into teams of three to five, and start working on the best ideas. Each evening, the bus stops at a new tech hub, to introduce participants to local players, let them get back to work on solid ground, and get a couple of hours of sleep. At the end of those five days, the bus reaches a regional event, where the best teams pitch their prototypes in front of investors and other ecosystem players. (Last year I went along for the ride on the European Startup Bus. Here's what I learned.)
Advantages for the participants are many, says Guhl. Just like stationary hackathons, the Venture Bus helps participants learn how to build a startup, network, meet potential cofounders and developers; but his event also allows participants to discover African markets, and meet entrepreneurs from all around the world.
Each bus should count 20 local entrepreneurs, and 20 international entrepreneurs, coming mostly from other African regions and Europe. This will enable participants to confront with different mindset, and perhaps get an understanding of new markets.
The last bus will go from Algiers to Tunis, departing December 14th. The destination event will be coorganized by AMPION and Tunisia’s best coding school ESPRIT. Another bus route may be added to tour Morocco in early 2015.
Those interested can apply to participate up until one week before the bus leaves.
A pre-acceleration program
To ensure that participants are equipped to continue their entrepreneurial journey after the bus, this year the team is launching the AMPION Fellowship Program, a program offering online and offline mentorship, supported by a partnership with the Mara Foundation, vc4africa , and independent mentors in each different tech hub. The program will also provide fellows with free access to work spaces across the continent, mostly through the Afrilabs network, as well as a financial scholarship.
The fellowship program will be open to teams with at least one Venture Bus alumnus, looking to develop an impactful project (not necessarily the same one that was developed on the bus).