East Africa’s thriving tech ecosystem

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By Maryam Mgonja, associate for East Africa at Seedstars

Africa, home to more than 1.2 billion people, of whom over 60 per cent make up the youth,  renders it a great continent with a lot of potential manpower. Despite its diverse culture and economies, it is technology that has managed to unite the continent. It is undeniable that technology entrepreneurship in Africa has proven that African startups are creating impactful and investable ventures to solve the challenges of the continent.

In the past few years, Eastern Africa in particular, has proven to hold one of the most dynamic landscapes for technology. According to Disrupt Africa, Kenya ranks third, just after Nigeria and South Africa for funding opportunities. With startups like Bluwave Industries providing varsity insurance products in Kenya, to Benefactors which provides its clients with tailored working capital solutions in exchange for their unpaid invoices, Eastern Africa is like an African Silicon Valley for a variety of innovative tech solutions. In Tanzania, NALA, a solution that ensures the smartest and safest way to make payments has won several international awards and funding opportunities in 2018 and has helped to raise the profile of  East Africa in the tech world.  

Culture: Mindset & Community

Most of the entrepreneurial efforts in Eastern Africa are mainly influenced by innovation hubs. There has been a rapid growth of innovation hubs, accelerators and incubators in the region in the past few years.

As the Human Development Innovation Fund (HDIF) report on the mapping of the innovation ecosystem states, in Tanzania for example, more than 25 new spaces have been opened.  

This is a positive indicator of the ecosystem, showcasing the efforts of investment-led hubs like Seedspace Dar es Salaam which was launched in 2018 and manged to host the Seedstars African Summit 2018 bringing over 300 participants from Africa and hosting winners from the Seedstars World Competition from across Sub-Saharan Africa. The case was the same in Rwanda where the newest hubs include Westerwelle Startups Haus which provides a co-working space and creates an entrepreneurial hub for the community to exchange ideas and develop their business plan, while promoting entrepreneurship, social-economic growth, and job creation in developing countries.

Business-Friendly Environment?

Places like Dar es Salaam have recently been privileged with the opportunity to host the World Business Angels Investment Forum (WBAF), the first of its summits in Africa, as interest and efforts of angel networks like  the Tanzania Angel Investors Network.

This is no different to Uganda where the government has embarked on plans to create an ecosystem village where all the innovation spaces will have an opportunity to work together, regardless of the differences in their areas of focus. This will also be the right platform for the startups and investors to meet as they will receive exclusive benefits in this specific zone.

“Whereas governments are keen on supporting entrepreneurship and innovators as reflected by a series of activities directly targeted to realise the potential of the sector, it is important to note that, the choice of approach could deter rather than promote the ecosystem,” says CK Japhet, founder of the Innovation Village Kampala in Uganda. “A direct government involvement could compete with already existing platforms instead of ensuring and enabling the environment to allow them to flourish. As a natural convener, the government should focus on catalysing the ecosystem’.”

There is so much happening in the region right now, with diverse technology solutions, from financial technology, agritech, health, insurance and more that investors, entrepreneurs and other ecosystem stakeholders might want to have a closer look.

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