Entrepreneur

African startups sprint off on silicon safari

As Mufasa said in the Lion King, everyone has a place in the Circle of Life. In the animal kingdom, as in startup land, a dynamic, highly functioning ecosystem is necessary for its residents to flourish.

LIONS@FRICA is a partnership of public and private organization working together to keep energy flowing through the African startup and innovation ecosystem. The initiative launched at the World Economic Forum on Africa in May. Partners include the U.S. State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, MicrosoftNokiaDEMO, the World Bank Group’s infoDevAfrican Development Bank, and Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Participating entrepreneurs will receive business development training and capacity building through a series of programs and events. They will have the chance to attend venture capital roundtables and innovation bootcamps around the continent and to learn from experts.

In addition to education and mentorship, growing a powerful network is also a priority. Members of LIONS@FRICA will have greater connectivity to global technology hubs, capital, partnership opportunities, and international support.

LIONS@AFRICA will host the first ever DEMO Africa from October 24-26 in Nairobi, Kenya, where the most innovative African startups can launch their products and tap into the global technology ecosystem, Thomas Debass, the director of Global Partnerships Initiative, a division of the State Department responsible for economic growth, global finance, and entrepreneurship, announced today.

“Africa is growing in leaps and bounds in terms of its economy, and there is a tremendous amount of opportunity for innovation and investment,” Debass said. “At DEMO Africa, there will be 40 companies presenting for the first time, bringing solutions not only to the continent but to the world. It will demonstrate how powerful technology is in connecting the world in a meaningful way. It is a historical moment.”

Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing rapid growth of its economy and Internet usage. The Economist found that six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies over the past decade were in sub-Saharan Africa, a conclusion supported by other groups like McKinsey & CompanyBoston Consulting Group, and the Center for Global Development.

Internet usage in Africa is also growing faster than on any other continent, and a Wireless Intelligence study identifies Africa as the world’s fastest growing region in terms of cellular connections. With 700 million mobile subscriptions, Africa has passed the Asian Pacific region for first time in terms of growth.

This environment, combined with high youth unemployment rates and the State’s Department commitment to nurturing the African economy, set the stage to spark Africa’s tech revolution.

“Tech companies created in Africa, by Africans, to address local and global problems have untold potential to change the world,” said USAID Communications Specialist Stephanie Grosser. “Turning a great idea into a viable and profitable business model is difficult, but DEMO Africa is helping move Africa’s startup tech sector closer to ignition.”

Fire may be dangerous in a savanna ecosystem, but it is useful in a startup one, and for African entrepreneurs, LIONS@FRICA is lighting the match.


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