ActivSpaces hunts business sponsorship in quest for sustainability

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Cameroonian startup incubator ActivSpaces is seeking increased sponsorship from businesses as it looks to lessen its dependence on donor funding.

ActivSpaces was launched as Limbe Labs in 2010, before rebranding and relocating to Buea in 2011. It opened a second office in Douala in 2013.

The incubator this year launched six-month accelerator programme Activation Bootcamp, the first of its kind in Cameroon, offering each selected startup funding, mentorship and support valued at XAF4.6 million (US$8,500).

The launch of the accelerator is part of a wider quest for sustainability, an issue facing many hubs across Africa currently. Disrupt Africa reported last year on a warning from Tayo Akinyemi, director of AfriLabs, that African tech hubs are fragile and have no clear path towards long-term sustainability.

Ryan Yoder, executive director of ActivSpaces, told Disrupt Africa ActivSpaces was funded through a combination of grants and corporate sponsorship, but was looking to wean itself of the former.

“We are currently more dependent on donor funding than we would like and are looking to see how we can increase sponsorship by the business sector,” he said.

Yoder said how hubs could become sustainable was the “million dollar question”.

“We believe that through a combination of corporate sponsorship and an innovative financing, we will be able to reach sustainability. But I wouldn’t dare claim I knew the answer,” he said.

Activation Bootcamp is, however, one piece of the incubator’s model to make itself sustainable and boost Cameroon’s tech startup ecosystem.

“The basic thinking behind what we do is that Cameroonian startups have difficulty producing startups that are fundable. At the same time angel investors have several difficulties investing in Cameroon, for a number other reasons,” he said.

“We are looking to narrow this gap, by making our startups more investible. We do this in several different ways. It begins by nurturing and supporting the tech community. At the same time we encourage members of the community to consider techpreneurship. We support tech entrepreneurs in building their ideas with co-working space and business coaching. Finally, Activation Bootcamp is an intensive six-month acceleration programme targeted at tech startups that have a solid product and business model. One small piece of Activation Bootcamp is investing funds into our startups without taking equity. This helps align our interests with those of our startups without negatively effecting the appeal of the startups to future investors by reducing the amount of available equity.”

Yoder said the Cameroonian tech scene was still quite nascent but growing rapidly.

“Tech is becoming much more accessible thanks to falling internet and hardware prices,” he said.

“But the ecosystem definitely needs more support. The lack of a developed tech scene negatively affects almost every other sector in Cameroon. Finding qualified IT staff is difficult for every business. It’s even more difficult for startups who are looking for developers. The ecosystem is also quite fragmented, despite its limited number of actors. ActivSpaces is looking to play a central role in the community by coordinating and facilitating communication.”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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