The changing face of African innovation


“African innovation” is getting a facelift as tech startup ecosystems across the continent become more developed, but innovative businesses still need help in scaling effectively.

That is according to panelists debating the “state of innovation” at last week’s Africa Tech Summit Kigali.

Barbara Birungi is director of Ugandan hub and incubator Hive Colab, and she said there had been a noticeable change in the approaches of the startups she had worked with since the hub launched in 2010.

“When we first started people were reacting to the lack of jobs. Now innovators are challenge-driven. For me that is very exciting. We are moving away from creating jobs to identifying challenges and solving them,” she said.

Birungi’s views were shared by other panelists, who agreed innovation was becoming more problem-focused, and finding ways of developing innovative solutions.

Abdihakim Ainte, managing partner at the recently launched Somalia-based iRise Hub, said innovation to his company meant doing something “outside of the box”.

“Where I come from we have a completely different set of challenges. We are trying to create innovative solutions that can have an immediate impact in getting young Somali youths into the market,” he said.

Challenges remain, however, with Birungi saying one of the major ones was ensuring startups had access to funding to scale their businesses.

“One of the gaps we have is that investors come in with set minimums and most of our innovators are not there. Who fills that gap? We need local investors, we need Africans investing in Africa,” she said.

Help may be at hand in terms of becoming more attractive to investors from the corporate space, at least according to Oswald Jumira, group head of innovation partnerships at Liquid Telecom, which has been supporting a host of hubs and incubators across the continent in recent years.

Jumira said Liquid had realised as a company that telecoms needed to evolve in terms of their business models, with Liquid choosing to do that through partnerships with startups rather than attempt to innovate internally.

“We believe the guys sitting there have some of the best ideas, but they may be lacking in things like skills, access to market, and funding,” he said.

“Most people have been complaining about scalability, but we need to unbundle that and say “I can launch a business in Zimbabwe while sitting in Uganda”. We want to help startups scale so investors can see value.”


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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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