Why African tech startups can be the engine room of the world

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Iyinoluwa Aboyeji knows a thing or two about scaling African businesses globally, and he believes almost everything is in place for more businesses born on the continent to take on the world.

Aboyeji is co-founder of Andela and Flutterwave, and now an angel investor with future.africa, and was delivering a keynote at the third annual AfricArena event in Cape Town yesterday (November 11).

Though he has built a strong reputation for building and scaling businesses, he says there is no reason others cannot follow his lead, which is why he is now financing startups to help them scale.

The reasons for this optimism are the high levels of both talent and innovation present on the continent.

“Africa is special because of its human resources. The talent in Africa powers a lot of global businesses. That was a secret that we tapped into building Andela,” Aboyeji said.

“Because Africa has these challenges that constrain it in terms of access to capital and resources, it has to go about everything with innovation. Innovation is the primary weapon for solving its problems. A major example is mobile money. And there are other major examples of African innovation and design that have overcome the constraints we face as a people.” 

What African startups have lacked thus far, however, is the infrastructure present in ecosystems such as, say, Silicon Valley that helps them grow.

“Africans are not too poor to build solutions to their own problems, you just have to back their solutions and scale them. People seem to believe there is some lowering of standard when there is an African startup, but the fundamentals of business are the same globally. Are they delivering value to clients, and capturing value from clients? Without that they are not going to scale,” Aboyeji said. 

“What makes a company from Africa go global is the same as elsewhere. Talent, design, and distribution and scale. We have talent and design, but we have not quite achieved the third yet. There needs to be a network of people that are actively supporting African businesses that want to go global. That want to leave the self-limiting myths behind and build businesses that can dominate in France.”

It is, in fact, vitally important that Africa develops this infrastructure to help startups succeed.

“The world is at risk if you cannot build the future in Africa. Sixty per cent of the world’s population growth is going to come from Africa,” said Aboyeji. “If this population is not going to be the engine room of the world, it will be the atomic bomb of the world. The digital economy offers the best opportunity to do this.”

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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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