What makes a successful African accelerator?

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Incubators and accelerators in Africa do not prepare entrepreneurs for the realities of operating in African markets, and need to stop trying to clone Silicon Valley-models of incubation.

So says Paul Cook, managing director at Silvertree Internet Holdings. But what does make a successful African incubator or accelerator? And what do programme managers need to do to ensure they run one?

Players at hubs and incubators across the continent came together to discuss this subject at the recent African Angel Investor Summit (AAIS) in Cape Town. Here are some takeaways on what it takes to build a successful programme.

Obtain a strong and diverse mentor network

According to Kola Aina, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Nigeria’s Ventures Platform, programmes need to ensure they build up a strong and diverse network of mentors for their startups.

“Our biggest strength is the ability to attract operators themselves or people that have domain expertise. That’s what we like to call our “not-so-secret super sauce”. Partnerships with these people have been the engine room of growth for companies we have worked with,” he said.

Find great founders

It sounds simple, and it is. For Yossi Hasson, managing director of Techstars Africa, which runs the Barclays Accelerator in Cape Town, identifying great founders is the primary goal of accelerators.

“The difference between a good founder and a bad founder is the utilisation of what you put in front of them,” Hasson said.

Be plugged into the community

Putting yourself at the heart of your local tech startup community is vital if you are to ensure a flow of good startups, says Helen Anatogu, CEO and programme director at iDEA Nigeria.

“You don’t get founders and mentors just waiting to be found. You need to be embedded in the ecosystem. I would say spend a lot of time getting to know the community and the ecosystem,” she said. “Then you get referrals, and by the time you have done a few things yourselves, run a few events, have got to know people yourself, you build up a reputation, and then people start coming to you.”

Get in early

Simunza Muyangana, co-founder and director of entrepreneurship at Zambia’s BongoHive, said incubators and accelerators can use their resources to identify and support potential founders at a very early stage.

“We have invested into university programmes, and hopefully the solutions they develop will turn into businesses and they will knock on our door,” he 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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