Why Morocco Is Hosting This Year’s ‘DEMO Africa’ And What It Means For The North African Startup Ecosystem

By  |  June 25, 2018

Come October 2018, all roads will lead to the Kingdom of Morocco for the latest edition of what could be regarded as Africa’s very own ‘Ludus Magnus’ for budding startups; DEMO Africa. This flagship initiative is the brainchild of Lions@frica, a public-private alliance founded with the vision of enhancing and furthering the startup and innovation ecosystems of targeted African economies that are on the rise.

Over the years, the DEMO initiative has been at the forefront of promoting and commercializing some of the world’s most promising products – from modest beginnings in the trenches to successful launches in the global market. One of the adaptations of the initiative, DEMO Africa, is the launch pad for African technology and trends. Having garnered a decent following through the years, the initiative is geared towards exposing some of the finest African innovations as they venture into the markets. This is done by introducing selected startups to an esteemed audience which includes investors, corporate acquirers, strategic partners and global media practitioners.

As reported on the DEMO Africa website, the initiative is touted to have connected over 3,000 African startups to the global innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem, helped create more than 2,000 high-paying jobs, and mentored over 250 startup teams across the continent over the last six years. Such is the influence of the initiative which also claims to have paved the way for over 30 of its past winners to venture into Silicon Valley through the Lions@frica innovation tour – leveraging deep knowledge exchanges and engaging the global innovation ecosystem in the process.

Why Branch Into North Africa At This Time?

As reported in an African Funding Report put together by WeeTracker in 2017, the Moroccan startup ecosystem is understood to be only second to Egypt in the Northern Africa region. It also ranks 6th in Africa and 65th in the world having scored 29.2 points in the 2018 Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEI). An earlier publication by the same group on Morocco’s developing startup ecosystem indicates that the kingdom witnessed the injection of about USD 3.2 Mn in the form of investment funding for startups in the past year – a feat which gives some credence to the notion that startup investment is making a comeback to North Africa, with Morocco and Egypt leading the charge.

Having witnessed successful spells in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa in the past six editions, this annual pan-African technology showcase will be heading to North Africa for the first time ever – and the Kingdom of Morocco is playing host for the next two editions. It is almost perfect-timing for both the locals and the region at large, as there has been something of a renaissance in the North African startup ecosystem in recent times. As a nation, the Kingdom of Morocco appears to be going through an interesting phase in the form of an upward surge in enterprising innovations and the country seems to be on the right track in its bid to become one of the major innovation hubs in the region. Throw that in with the idea that the Moroccan ecosystem has been the subject of renewed interest from targeted stakeholders and investors in recent times and it becomes clearer why branching into North Africa at this time is a no-brainer. Now, here is why this year’s DEMO Africa is at home in the Kingdom of Morocco and what the rest of the region might take home from hosting this year’s edition of the competition.

Development Of The Ecosystem

It’s raining cash for Moroccan startups at the moment as funds seem to be aplenty. Amongst stakeholders, there has been something akin to a jostling for places in the startup community as almost everyone is looking to get in on the act by grabbing their own piece of the pie. As such, the ecosystem seems to be flooded with funds and the numbers give credence to the widely-purported trend. As pointed out in a recent GSMA report which focused on tech hubs across Asia Pacific and Africa, Morocco plays host to as many as 25 accelerators, incubators, co-working spaces, or tech hubs of other kinds. Casablanca, one of the kingdom’s major economic centers, reportedly accounts for over 50 percent of these startups. This makes the country one of the centerpieces of DEMO Africa’s initiative which is geared towards providing a growth platform for startups.

The Moroccan startup ecosystem boasts a healthy population of incubators/accelerators, ecosystem builders, funds, media, and startup communities. With considerable support from Microsoft 4Afrika, one of the founding partners of the DEMO Africa initiative, Lion@frica’s ecosystem engagement program have culminated in the unearthing of such vital enterprises as LaFactory, Outlierz Ventures, Technopark, OCP Foundation, H7 and Maroc Numeric Fund. These firms have set their sights on scaling startups across the African ecosystem with a view to helping them go global and even become potential world-beaters. In firms like H7 and the OCP Foundation, the country in particular and the region at large are assured of leaders in the pan-African ecosystem with affiliations to Morocco, and a vision that is in tandem with the ideals of the DEMO initiative. All these should lay the groundwork for the development of the ecosystem.

Support From The Public Sector

By design of the Moroccan Ministry of Finance and Economy, October 2017 witnessed the launching of the country’s ‘Innov Invest Fund’. The intent behind the creation of the fund by the Moroccan government is hinged on serving up real opportunities in the form of support and financing set aside for startups and innovators of novel enterprises. The stipulations of the investment fund has since been implemented by the Moroccan government with the move reflecting a genuine commitment on the part of the country’s executive council towards legitimizing and buoying the efforts of this class of entrepreneurs who may yet be at the heart of future economies.

More so, the country’s Central Guarantee Fund (CGC), a new instrument which is fostering this entrepreneurial revolution, is expanding its scope to include more entrepreneurs and thus linking both sides of the chasm that exists in the funding chain for green businesses. Further reports from the ministry indicate that the CGC has already put pen to paper on four agreements with the management companies of four selected seed funds. Essentially, these posturing and relationships are expected to prove vital especially as the African Business Angels Network (ABAN) seems poised to reach further into North Africa through DEMO Africa.

Innovation And Input From Corporate Firms

Data available from the most recent GSMA report suggests that the recognition of the mutual benefits that are in the offing for both parties is a key factor in the increase in partnerships between mobile operators and startups that have made headlines in recent times. With the continent boasting over a billion mobile subscribers across the continent, leveraging the market opportunity that exist by means of innovative programs with telecommunication companies is a good way to get off the mark for a number of enterprises.

The same report also suggests that over 14 percent of the active tech hubs identified across Africa are supported or run by mobile operators. Such programs as Inwi’s annual Impact Camp and Orange’s StartOn are reported to be front-runners in Morocco’s growing tech ecosystem, supporting startups in the region and playing admirable roles in furthering their growth through strategic partnerships.

The Francophone Dimension

Africa’s technology ecosystem is diverse as it is embodied by multilingual and multicultural innovation hubs that cut across countries, states, cities, and provinces. In the past editions, DEMO Africa’s content (both presentations and trainings) have been rooted in English. In a bid to encourage broader participation, the initiative looks set to expand its horizons this time around by making provisions for other widely-spoken languages, having awarded hosting rights for the next two editions to the Kingdom of Morocco. In view of that, the 2018 and 2019 editions of DEMO Africa is expected to incorporate francophone networks and hubs by allowing for startups to pitch in both English and French. Delivery of content in both languages will also be facilitated.

This is coming as a coup for the kingdom and other French-speaking countries in the region who may have legitimate reasons for having felt marginalized and hard-done by the language-barrier in previous editions. And a look at the numbers may indicate that this ‘French connection’ should have even happened sooner. Referring to data available from OIF Researchers would reveal an estimated 200 million French-speakers worldwide and nearly half of them (about 96.2 million) being Africans. Further excerpts from the report forecast an estimated 700 million French-speakers worldwide by 2050. Following from that premise, the next two editions of DEMO Africa will give special attention to promising and viable enterprises from some of the French-speaking regions of the continent – Yet another win for Morocco and the rest of the region.

The ‘Fourth’ Coming Of The Industrial Revolution

In recent times, there has been a novel approach to technology which has culminated in a flurry of activities into such nascent fields as Artificial Intelligence, Data Analytics, Blockchain and Robotics technologies. In view of this, the next two installations of DEMO Africa will be bracing up in anticipation of the impact that will accompany the introduction of these new startup verticals. Africa might come across as a continent that is better-suited to frugal and locally-sourced solutions in this journey to globalization, but what is now being regarded the 4th Industrial Revolution might yet prove instrumental to the transformation of the content.

The combination of technological advancements in realms that are both physical and digital is shifting the paradigm and giving the continent a whole new perspective. From massive data to machine learning, those emerging fields are transforming the most basic tools, techniques, and human interactions, ultimately. In the grandest of schemes, the emergence of those novel technologies is expected to have a profound effect on the African continent – of the likes obtainable in any developing market. In that regard, DEMO Africa is poised to provide the platform for the continent’s millennials and visionaries to leverage their expertise and serve up solutions to some of Africa’s nagging problems while strutting into the reckoning of the global tech community. And how fitting it is that Morocco, one of North Africa’s main innovation hubs, will be the stomping ground for the next two years of this tech revolution!

The latest edition of DEMO Africa is scheduled to be held from 18th to 19th October, 2018. Interested African startups who are looking to make the most of the opportunity can get more information or submit entries via www.demo-africa.com.

Applications close July 15th, 2018.

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