African startups are afraid to fail – Seedstars World founder

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African startups are afraid to fail, and prefer to have checklists instead of developing the kind of mindset that they need to scale and succeed, according to Seedstars World founder Alisee de Tonnac.

Seedstars World is currently hosting a number of pitching events across Africa in order to select finalists for its main event in Switzerland next year, and de Tonnac last week told the Africa Technology Summit (ATS), hosted by the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), the company saw great opportunities in the market but also great challenges.

“There are opportunities, talent, however raw, and also access to market. The bad is the culture. People are afraid to fail,” she said.

“People also like to have checklists instead of developing the kind of mindset that they need to scale and succeed. The environment is also tough in terms of ease of business, the complications of doing the most basic things on a day-to-day basis.”

The Seedstars World founder made these comments during a panel on accelerators and incubators at the event, which saw a number of panellists discuss the present and the future of the African tech startup space.

Chika Nwobi, managing partner of Nigerian firms L5Lab​ and 440.ng​, said the success of longer-established startups and the increasing number of incubators and accelerators would serve as a springboard for future generations.

“Most of the people trying to start a company now are mostly fresh out of school. There is momentum and willingness, but not enough experience yet. It will grow,” he said.

Nwobi said there was a need for a better quality of founders. “We need a format that can attract more senior people – it could be more money – to bring more experience into the space and reduce the risk on talent,” he said.

Jessica Colaco, director of partnerships and community at Kenyan incubator iHub, told the conference there was an abundance of talent in Africa, but that people were becoming brainwashed by what is happening in the West and Tel Aviv.

“Some are also in a hurry to make billions in unrealistic timeframes. The mentors too, who come on sometimes give options, and the founders, now need to align themselves with the best mentoring for them. We need to keep ourselves accountable and we need to build for the good of the entrepreneur,” she said.

Jess Williamson, director of the Techstars and Barclays Accelerator, said it was important to encourage entrepreneurs to get their ideas to “gel” and tell their stories well to attract the best talent and the right investors.

“Opportunities are huge – markets, collaboration is something we need to build and leverage over time,” she said.

She also said there was a need for corporates to be excited and challenged to dedicate sufficient resources to supporting startups.

“They need to be sufficiently worried that these startups could take over their jobs so that they can start charting the path for these startups to grow,” Williamson 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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