Global tech companies are increasingly seeing the opportunities available to them in Africa, establishing larger presences on the continent in search of digital’s “final frontier”.
But this isn’t necessarily bad news for African tech startups, as many of these major global players are keen on developing the continent’s tech startup ecosystem, for a number of reasons.
Here are seven major tech players that are, in many different ways, playing their part in encouraging the development of Africa’s tech scene.
Where to begin. Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative has been a pioneer when it comes to corporate engagement with Africa, with a focus on increasing connectivity and encouraging entrepreneurship. The company is of course building a market of Microsoft customers, but its initiatives have proven beneficial to African startups.
To list but a few, the company has launched a fund for startups focused on internet access, partnered ALN Ventures, AMPION and DEMO Africa, extended the frontiers of its BizSpark programme for startups, worked to bring Kenyan SMEs online, launched a cloud initiative in Nigeria, and signed a strategic partnership with a Tunisian startup. Likely to get busier.
Most of Facebook’s activity in Africa has been around its Internet.org project, which by working to make internet access more affordable to more Africans is in itself a major bonus for the continent’s tech startups. But the company is working on having a more direct impact too.
The company is working on building strong relationships with a number of hubs across the continent, and was a co-sponsor of the Hack for Big Choices event in Ghana. Its major play is the recently-launched Internet.org Innovation Challenge in Africa, which looks to recognise African developers working on apps, websites and services for learning and economic empowerment, and rewards winners with US$150,000.
Has long been active in Africa with its Umbono and Google for Entrepreneurs programmes, but seems to have gone quite quiet. Yet Google is still relatively active within the continent’s tech ecosystem, backing a couple of hubs across the continent and partnering some startups.
Initiatives in Africa include training in digital skills, running an exchange programme, offering marketing bootcamps, running digital workshops for women, and rewarding hubs. Remains quietly influential and has the infrastructure to play a big part.
Not as “cool” as Facebook and Google, Cisco is nonetheless quietly getting on with a couple of initiatives serving African tech startups, in the acceleration and financing spaces.
The company has partnered Intel (see below) and Deutsche Telekom to launch Challenge Up!, an Internet of Things (IoT) accelerator for startups from the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Meanwhile, Cisco Capital has launched easylease, a low-rate financing programme, in South Africa, in a bid to help SMEs invest in next generation technology.
A key partner in the IoT accelerator mentioned above, Intel has a direct impact on African startups through its work in the acceleration space across the continent.
The company has partnered the University of Nairobi’s C4DLab to launch a tech incubation programme for Kenyan startups, while it also partnered the Lagos-based Co-Creation Hub (CcHub) to run the Growth Academy accelerator programme. Has also launched Developer Zones in Lagos and Johannesburg.
The company is best known in Africa for its SmartCamps, which take place in Cairo, Casablanca, Johannesburg, Nairobi, but IBM is gradually scaling up its activities within the startup ecosystem.
It has begun partnering with startups, notably software development startup Digijiz, located at the SEDA Nelson Mandela Bay ICT Incubator (SNII) in Port Elizabeth, while its focus has also shifted to innovation spaces. It launched one such space at the iHub in Nairobi last year, and will invest US$61 million over the next ten years in a new laboratory at the University of Witwatersrand’s Tshimogolong Precinct tech hub in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.
Active in development and support primarily, SAP has gradually spread itself across Africa when it comes to assisting the growth of the startup ecosystem.
It has offered product development support to South African startups, and taken East African startups to Silicon Valley as part of its fellowship programme. It has focused on skills development in the same region, while it has also launched a startup support programme in North Africa.