Incubators in Africa don’t prepare entrepreneurs for the realities of operating in African markets, and need to stop trying to clone Silicon Valley-models of incubation, according to Paul Cook, managing director at Silvertree Internet Holdings.
Speaking at the fourth annual African Angel Investor Summit held in Cape Town last week, Cook said all too often, incubators and accelerators in Africa rigidly follow a Silicon Valley style of incubation programme which is premised on the existence of numerous ecosystem elements – such as co-working spaces, incubators, and a pool of investors.
These various elements together form a unique value chain, with entrepreneurs flowing along the chain: incubators in Silicon Valley are preparing entrepreneurs to step out into the pool of investors waiting for a pipeline.
This model is misaligned with the realities of operating in African markets, Cook says. African markets don’t have the same value chain in existence as Silicon Valley, and as such incubators aren’t preparing entrepreneurs for the right market.
“We don’t have the whole ecosystem. We have pieces of it – the ones that don’t cost a lot,” Cook said.
“We’re now starting to see hubs doing some great work. There used to be hubs prepping startups for the supposed Silicon Valley-like pool of VCs who are ready to invest. Which just doesn’t exist here. That doesn’t help.”
Incubators in Africa need to go through some “introspection” to be able to offer real value to local entrepreneurs, Cook says, and this process is already starting to happen.
“Now is the time for real Africa-focused models,” he says.
“We can’t copy the ecosystems, and we shouldn’t try to.”