African startup ecosystems take time to develop and will not be built overnight, according to Alexandra Fraser, former Silicon Cape chair and director of Fraser Consulting.
Fraser was speaking at the recent African Angel Investor Summit in Cape Town last week when she said the average startup ecosystem in Africa is only 4.7 years old, pointing to the nascency of the scene in general.
“We need to remember that when we are creating entrepreneurship ecosystems it takes a lot of time, they are not built overnight,” she said.
“Even in Cape Town, there was nothing 10 years ago. We had no accelerators, no incubators, no angel investors, very few co-working spaces. We didn’t have a cohesive community. A lot has changed but we still have a long way to go.”
There are many ways in which the growth of African startup ecosystems can be sped up, with there being a significant need to continue to invest in and retain human capital.
“If we support high growth entrepreneurs they can have a tremendous impact on the ecosystem,” Fraser said.
“Mentors play a vital role in the ecosystem. We need more mentors on the ground sharing advice on how to build businesses in developing economies. You can have really fantastic mentors and really bad mentors. We need to build a pool of really good ones.”
The reaction of policymakers to the growth of tech startup ecosystems across Africa has been mixed, but Fraser said it is inevitable governments will support local scenes once they develop further.
“We see policy really catching up to ecosystems when they start to mature. As soon as we have a bit of traction and proven growth we see policymakers come to the party,” she said.
Key to growth is ensuring access to funding is better and easier.
“The capital that is available to early stage entrepreneurs is not well distributed. How do entrepreneurs in countries like Liberia and Mali access capital? That is something that still needs to be developed,” said Fraser.
“We need to also think about diversity in capital. There are very few women in the investing ecosystem, and that needs to be addressed. We need more successful female entrepreneurs to participate in investment initiatives, and mentor and coach.”
It is important that stakeholders manage to connect the dots between different programmes and different levels within the ecosystem so entrepreneurs have access to support and capital at each stage of their development.
“There are programmes that focus at different stages, we need to build a pipeline of support for entrepreneurs as they grow,” Fraser said.
She also called for more collaboration across the continent, especially between Francophone and Anglophone Africa.
“Often there are fantastic things happening on both sides of the continent and they don’t know about each other when they could collaborate and grow,” said Fraser.
“The more successes we can produce from the continent will attract more outside investment. It is also important that we are open about our failures, because we learn a huge amount from it.”