Africa’s millennials have caught entrepreneurship bug

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Africa’s digital natives and millennials have caught the entrepreneurship bug and are using their creative abilities and leveraging mobile web technology to address market bottlenecks and pain-points.

This is according to Eric Osiakwan, managing partner of Chanzo Capital, an early-stage micro-VC firm investing in high-tech, high-growth ventures in Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa, the “KINGS” countries he says are leading the emergence of Africa’s digital economy.

“There is a paradigm shift from seeking employment or the opportunity to leave the continent to creating our own future with the opportunity presented by mobile web technology,” Osiakwan said.

The interview comes after Disrupt Africa reported Osiakwan had told the recent Africa Technology Summit (ATS) hosted by the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) that Asia had had its time, with Africa the next big destination for investment and innovation, most specifically in the continent’s tech space.

Backing up this comment, Osiakwan told Disrupt Africa the continent’s millennials were going to create the next generation of SMEs as they attract capital and mentorship to help them advance through the startup phase.

“Some of these SMEs will become great companies and multinationals, and one of them will be the greatest company in the world from Africa in the 21st century, the same way Alibaba emerged in the 20th century as the greatest from Asia,” he said.

Tech, he said, had been crucial to Asia’s development in the 20th century, but that wave has now moved to Africa. As evidence of this, he used Mark Shuttleworth’s Thawte, which was sold to Verisign in 1999, Vodacom’s innovation in “prepaid airtime”, and Safaricom’s M-Pesa.

However, he said these famous innovations were “the tip of the iceberg”.

“The foundation of this is how Africa leapfrogged the world from no landlines to become a mobile first and mobile only continent culminating in being a mobile web continent. This has given the youth population who are digital natives and millennials the sense of manifestation in technology – this is what I call the urbanisation of entrepreneurship – the youth who should be seekers of jobs are now the creators of companies,” Osiakwan said.

The “Africa Rising” narrative, he said, is underpinned by an “Africa Tech Rising” narrative, which was jumpstarted by the mobile revolution on the continent. Investments in the telecom, media and technology (TMT) sector in Africa over the last decade made 19 per cent annualised returns, higher than oil and gas sector.

“This suggests that while most of the African growth story is focused on natural resources, the TMT sector made more than double the return,” Osiakwan said.

There are still challenges the continent must face, however, such as the lack of enabling environment, infrastructure deficits, insufficient academic and human resources, slow and expensive broadband, the unavailability of experienced mentors and role models, and limited capital at all stages of company growth.

“However “necessity is the mother of invention”. With all these constraints we are seeing this level of innovation, so what would happen when there is improvement?” Osiakwan said.

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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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