How Tech Startups Can Fit Into Africa’s Development Plan
Here’s one question to mull over: What do tech startups really have to do with Africa’s development? If Africa did produce the next Apple or Amazon, would it necessarily imply widespread development and an improvement in the lives of the millions on the continent? Hold that thought.
Well for starters, it just might. Africa is the repository of immense opportunities, and tech startups form a viable medium through which those opportunities can be explored with a view to imparting all-inclusive growth.
The continent is currently being swarmed by both local and foreign investors whose postures and gestures could be interpreted to imply that the western markets are becoming increasingly saturated and shifting attention to Africa seems like a no-brainer on account of the untapped potential which the continent boasts aplenty.
In many ways, Africa does represent something of the last frontier. In recent times, the ecosystem has been thronged by a multitude of “African entrepreneurs,” as well as “entrepreneurs in Africa,” who have contributed to the founding and growth of a number of startups that can be thought to have a positive impact on societal development.
While African startups who spring up now and then with business models that somewhat mirror a westernized system cannot exactly be faulted for their approach, it does place a premium on the need to create innovative enterprises that have their sights trained on fostering continent-wide growth and development.
There is very little doubt that, in the grandest scheme of things, revenue is all that really matters when it comes to the existence of for-profit institutions. But that takes a little away from the notion that businesses can operate in a manner that supports a healthy mix of both aspects – that is, the generation of revenue and societal development.
Thus, this informs the need for African startups to look beyond the mere idea of mirroring their business models with what is obtainable from Silicon Valley and San Francisco without any regard for the needs of their respective immediate societies.
Africa remains an evolving continent – one that is still bedeviled by a number of socio-economic and political problems – and a lot the continent’s challenges are yet unsolved. There still exists a lot of needs that are yet to be met. Issues like extreme poverty, poor or total lack of education, inadequate health facilities, poor agricultural facilities, politics and leadership turmoils, piracy problems, and bottlenecks associated with transportation, logistics, and communications, are just a few mentions of areas of distress that are rife on the continent.
So, in lieu of tailoring solutions to meet the needs of the advantaged few, African startups might want to return to the drawing board and adopt veritable strategies through which they can significantly weigh in on Africa’s development. Only then can they be considered truly successful.
What Are The Business Opportunities Available?
For millennials and visionaries who can look beyond Africa’s lingering problems, there exist ample opportunities for business ideas and solutions. In the midst of all the ashes, there is always a phoenix looking to emerge.
Some of Africa’s most daunting challenges can, in fact, be the springboard for breakthroughs and success; a valid in case in point being the well-known M-Pesa. In any case, coming up with models that have the potential to become major empowerment and income driver for many of the continent’s middle and low-level workers is not exactly a walk in the park.
In Nigeria for instance, it is generally agreed that the biggest obstacles to creating a tech-based mass empowerment startup are the bottlenecks associated with the lack of finance and infrastructure. And while a number of other African countries may be faring better on this front, it does call for concern when thought is given to the number of dreams that have died prematurely as a result of those challenges.
The onus is therefore on entrepreneurs to develop new age ways of empowering the average skilled worker so as to release ourselves from the shackles of the mindset which dictates that a talented software developer in Nairobi has no way of affecting lives outside his/her locality. Shifting from the current paradigms will by no means be an easy feat but with the right approach, the hurdles can be surmounted. Agriculture, skills training, and other small-scale business models are media through which ideas can spring up to solve, say, the poverty problem.
In any case, this piece is intended as a way of triggering Eureka moments, stirring up imagination, and sparking up ideas – and not necessarily proffering solutions. And here are some ideas that might just come in handy for African startups and consequently do a solid to the development of the continent.
Many African countries are still plagued by the dearth of access to quality healthcare and health information facilities. These problems may, indeed, have a lot to do with poor infrastructure and failure on the part of the government to formulate working policies, but there may be a way out of the mire.
Where adequate healthcare facilities have failed to reach, mobile phones have penetrated with relative ease. And as such, they represent one way of curbing the problem. In areas that are not privy to healthcare resources, the reach of mobile phones can be leveraged to bring about timely dissemination of critical information that can serve to prevent ill health to rural dwellers and the large percentage of the population who cannot access health information.
With that in mind, African startups can do more to explore the idea of creating tools and apps that check and report on such important health parameters as blood pressure, blood sugar, stress levels, and the likes. Applications that deliver a wide range of health information will also thrive in the African setting.
A number of African startups are already making significant strides on this front and we can only hope for more platforms that afford access to health information, as well as infrastructure and tools for creating products and technologies for the wellness and fitness industries especially in the underserved regions of Africa.
There can be no illusions that governments will ever be able to build enough schools or provide enough quality learning tools for the education of millions of Africans. And this is where African developers and entrepreneurs can step in to bridge the gap.
Africa needs more edtech startups that can develop ideas which extend beyond curricula and the walls of classrooms. Just as it is with the health illustration, mobile technology can also prove useful for this purpose. With the increased penetration of mobile internet in various parts of the continent, education can take a whole new form. Collaborative educational tools and intuitive earning can serve to help enlighten people in the remotest parts of Africa.
In a good number of major African societies, the transport system is chaotic and inefficient – and this begs for improvements. With a number of ride-hailing, logistics, and travel-tech startups popping up in recent times, it does look like better days are ahead. But this sector still provides ample opportunity. There might be some truth in the assertion that governments have their work cut out for them in the areas building quality transportation systems, but African entrepreneurs can as well get in on the act by bringing in game-changing ideas. And these ideas ought to be tailored to meet the demands and capacity of the average African.
Africa’s romance with Agriculture has blown hot and cold over the years and it is only until recently that renewed efforts are beginning to be mobilized to grow a sector that can be described as Africa’s surest path to all-inclusive economic emancipation. While a number of African tech startups have been making significant headway in the agritech sector, there is still room for more players in the sector. From smallholder farmers to large commercial agriculturalists, the sector does hold potential. Information dissemination to smallholder farmers, provision of loans and inputs, as well as supply-chain and distribution of produce, have been identified amongst a number of other new age ways in which African startups can take advantage.
There was a time when a significant number of people in various parts of Africa will be contented with sitting on the fence and letting the government reign as they deemed fit, but not anymore. Africans are becoming increasingly aware of their power and role in bringing governments into power and holding them accountable. This is evident in Nigeria where the recently-concluded voter registration exercise witnessed a record number of registered voters in preparation for next year’s polls.
This presents an opportunity for the development of people-centered ideas for participatory governance, effective monitoring, and awareness, including access to information. These ideas can serve to create the responsible and responsive government that has been sourly missed in various parts of the continent.
There already exists startups like Nigeria’s BudgIt which provides information and data access to the public about the country’s fiscal planning, and Kenya’s Ushahidi; a non-profit tech startup that specializes in developing free and open-source software for information collection, visualization, and interactive mapping. With more innovators exploring this front, we might just be able to keep tabs on our governments, and in the process, finally, create the enabling environment that is required for African startups to truly become world-beaters.