Strengthening ties

Beyond Trade: Indian & African Tech Are Due For An Intersection Point

By  |  June 15, 2022

According to a fresh report from the stables of Endeavor Nigeria, the African tech startup ecosystem has finally reached an inflection point, much closer to a takeoff point. The next and perhaps last frontier with an untapped vastness of potential, the continent’s digital market is now positively responding to investments-driven cultivation. 

Some 5,851 kilometres away lies the tech startup ecosystem of India, a country with demographics starkly similar to that of Africa. Long past its inflection point, however, the Indian digital market has become the uncontended tech capital of Southern Asia.

India and Africa share more commonalities than geographics and demographics; both regions have shown positive economic growth patterns post-pandemic and attracted the attention of global investors. At present, both jurisdictions are fast becoming a salient part of the global startupping industry with entrepreneurs solving some of the most challenging problems. 

Building on the well-documented trade ties between both regions, an upcoming event known as the India-Africa Entrepreneurship Forum (IAEF), which will be held on July 1st and 2nd July in Nairobi, Kenya, seeks to create a meeting point between the Indian and African entrepreneurial ecosystems. The conclave’s chief aims are catalyzing collaboration and the exchange of mutually beneficial value. 

In this exclusive interview with WeeTracker, Baljinder Sharma, a Mauritius-based veteran investor who is one of the IAEF’s founders, talks about why the event is a crucial and timely effort in creating an intersection point between the Indian and African entrepreneurial ecosystems. 

Baljinder Sharma

Within and outside the IAEF, the talk about connecting Indian and African tech is starting to build momentum of late. Why now?

Baljinder: At the India Africa Forum, we host panels to solve problems, find solutions, nurture the entrepreneurial spirit and experience the sheer joy of connection. There is no other agenda. Only magic. We are building a cross-border community, and [even] a connection to our past.

Two million years ago, the ancestors of modern Indians left Africa. They have been coming back ever since—as adventurers, as traders, as professionals, and as entrepreneurs.

I do not talk about the Ethiopian Malik Ambar, who ruled Ahmadnagar—the South Indian sultanate—or the community of Muslim merchants from Gujarat who monopolized trade in the Indian Ocean for seven centuries. 

Neither am I talking about the Indian struggle against colonialism, which inspired most African nations to rebel and win peaceful independence. Also, it is not [even] the USD 70 B trade between India and Africa. Those stories are best left for historians, politicians, and businessmen to recount.

Ours is a more creative endeavour. One with the passion, energy, and opportunity to unroll a whole new world. 

This upcoming event is perhaps the largest gathering of Indian and African entrepreneurs and investors. What exact purpose does the platform serve?

Baljinder: As a fitful evangelist of the India Africa Entrepreneurship Forum, I am often asked this question. 

I am of the belief that getting entrepreneurs together in a room can lead to miracles, but does not cut much ice. Inviting entrepreneurs from across the border for a get-together for no apparent reason or clear agenda may be too far-fetched.

And yet, true entrepreneurs recognize the creative energy such spontaneous congregations unleash. The agendas emerge as ideas surface and are put to debate. It is the only place where a failed entrepreneur can feel as respected and as dignified as the widely successful one—battling the same highs and the same lows.

That was quite the take. Can you tell us more about the kind of atmosphere the event is trying to create? This is the IAEF’s second edition. 

Baljinder: This is something that I have learned from my long association with TiE, perhaps the only organization of entrepreneurs in the world that has managed to deliver such energy, simply through the mechanism of networking; although, it does much more than that. 

I also contrast TiE [also known as TiE Global] with many other entrepreneur associations that come with a structure, demand time and insist on protocol and a certain order that is antithetical to the spirit of entrepreneurship itself. 

The best networking is one that is unintended and unpredictable—like an everlasting love affair. At the end of the day, our urge to connect with other human beings is natural and intuitive even when it appears to be, sometimes, selfish. 

Again, a rich view. Does that mean you think gatherings like this are, to some degree, inevitable?

Baljinder: Why belabour something that is inherent and intrinsic to us all? Entrepreneurs do businesses for the same reason mountaineers climb mountains, musicians create music, and painters… paint. 

There is an element of art and adventure in an entrepreneur’s life, something that militates with the demand for order and organization.

And how boring it is to meet people who are constantly trying to obtain business from each other, second-guessing each other’s needs and justifying their returns from such attendance. 

Then imagine singing in an opera, being part of the symphony – enjoying the sheer pleasure of being together in that group. It is an altogether different feeling.

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