DEMO Africa Recap: Entrepreneurship key for Africa’s prosperity, freedom

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The international community emphasized the need to tap entrepreneurial energy among Africans at the DEMO Africa event held in Lagos last week.

The event, which brought together players in the technology scene, provided a critical platform for discussions geared towards fast-tracking prosperity and growth in Africa with entrepreneurship being cited as the key to Africa’s freedom and prosperity.

In a video message to the participants, the US Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized the need to groom Africa’s young population to tap the entrepreneurial energy. He reminded Africans that places where people are free to trade and transform ideas are on the right track to growth and prosperity.

“You can count on the United States support as you take on this journey to transformation through entrepreneurship,” said Secretary Kerry.

To thump its support, the US State Department – through the LIONS@FRICA partnership – will this year sponsor five DEMO Africa start-ups for a 10-day trip to pitch at the DEMO US. The five startups which were picked from the forty that pitched on the DEMO Africa platform, include Jifunza (Rwanda), Nerve (Nigeria), Paysail (Ghana), Chura (Kenya) and Spacepointe (Nigeria).

Players within the African technology scene seem to have heeded to the call to secure Africa’s freedom. This was evident as they converged for the first pan-African Angel investor’s forum at DEMO Africa. Here, the need to work together in a pan-African Business Angel Network was reiterated. The investors present, both local and international, included angel investors, impact investors, venture capital funds, and corporate venture capital actors; all focused on early stage SME investing in Africa. VC4Africa’s CEO and founder Ben White notes: “We see angel networks emerging across the continent. Now is the time to bring them together in a shared conversation about how best to move forward.”

The interest around the business-technology scene in Africa is on the rise. Notable influencers including Baybars Altuntas, VP, European Business Angel Network (EBAN), was present at the DEMO Africa forum representing the interest and views of over 20,000 angel investors across Europe. Baybars confirmed that indeed, the majority of EBAN members want to learn more about African startups and the ecosystem, this being their new source of investment pipeline. “To fully engage European angel investors we seek our counterparts across Africa. This is key for co-investing into opportunities on the ground. The European Business Angel Network could support an African Business Angel Network with incubation,” said Altuntas.

In line with this new found interest of the international community, VC4 Africa’s Ben White confirmed that VC4Africa will rally a delegation of angel investors from African countries to participate in the European Business Angel Network to be held in Helsinki, Finland in November which will see among other things a roadmap developed for the way forward for Africa.

Microsoft, another key player, announced a new ‘Collaboration Challenge’ with AfriLabs to increase knowledge sharing across the hub network in Africa and spur innovation. The challenge, officially launched at this year’s DEMO Africa event, is tasking hub members with proposing and delivering an activity, process or tool that fosters collaboration within the AfriLabs network.

AfriLabs’ core function is to facilitate collaboration, which requires the right platforms, mechanisms and incentives for hubs and their teams to share information and dialogue. The winning solution will receive US $15,000 from Microsoft and technical support to develop it. The hubs within the AfriLabs network will be provided with a more efficient way to learn from each other’s best practices and build more sustainable models.

This year’s event had been organized in collaboration with the LIONS@FRICA partners (Microsoft, Nokia, US State Department, DEMO, USAID, African Development Bank, VC4Africa among others) and Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies.

The DEMO Africa 2014 event was sponsored by Nigeria Information and Technology Development Agency (NIITDA), Microsoft, USADF, Department of State, Evernote, SWELL, Airtel, Bank of Industry, Nigeria Interbank Settlement System, Accenture, MTN, Oasis Management Company, Tony Elumelu Foundation and Main One.

(The writer is the Project and Communication Manager, DEMO Africa)

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