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Can Africa’s tech start-up scene rise to the next level?

Ganesh Rasagam's picture
Pitch competition at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Johannesburg. Photo Credit: World Bank


In the decade since mobile money first sparked international interest in African innovation, hundreds of tech hubs have sprung up across the continent; global giants like GE have rushed in to build innovation centers; and the venture capital industry has steadily grown. Nevertheless, the continent’s tech scene continues to face challenges.

The rise of African innovation has inspired thousands of new start-ups, and this trend will continue into the foreseeable future. Existing acceleration programs, however, still leave growth-stage companies in need of additional support to secure investment and scale their businesses across borders. With many of the continent’s acceleration programs lacking in quality, we hoped to introduce an innovative post-acceleration program, XL Africa.

After infoDev launched its mLabs in Kenya, Senegal, and South Africa in 2011, they introduced incubation programs that successfully supported the creation of over 100 start-ups that raised close to $15 million in investments and grant funding, and developed over 500 digital products or services. As these ecosystems and start-ups have matured, more needs to be done to improve the marketability of these companies to global and local investors.

A new generation of CEOs: Running a business in West Africa as a woman

Alexandre Laure's picture

Also available in: Français

What is it like to set up and run an incubator as a woman? The answer, much like anywhere else in the world for working women, is that it’s complicated.

In many countries, it’s still unusual to see women working in certain sectors. Regina Mbodj, CTIC Dakar CEO, knows very few women in Senegal who studied ICT. “When I came home and told people about my studies, a lot of people responded, 'I thought only men did that!'"

Mariem Kane, an engineer by training and now president of Mauritania’s incubator Hadina RIMTIC, said that career development can be difficult for women who have been trained in hard skills. “It’s tough for women to find opportunities in these sectors and, because we’re considered more suited to softer skills, we aren’t given the opportunity to prove ourselves.”

A new generation of CEOs: Businesswomen in Africa discuss gender inclusion in the private sector

Alexandre Laure's picture

Also available in: Français

As we saw in our second blog, entrepreneurship plays a critical role in promoting sustainable growth. Yet, in many West-African countries, long-standing stigmas against the private sector are still big obstacles for women and young people who aspire to become entrepreneurs.
 
Family support, in particular, remains critical for women’s career choices, and the private sector doesn’t always enjoy a good reputation among parents. “It’s very hard for them [parents] to understand why we want to do this instead of getting a steady government job,” says Binta NdiayeMakeSense Africa CEO. “My mother is an entrepreneur, but she did that on top of her regular job and raising a family in France, so it’s not seen as a career in-and-of-itself.”
 
“Entrepreneurship is inherently risky, so if you don’t have that support and encouragement, or even your family’s blessing to go for it, I can understand that it could be extremely challenging for some women,” says Mariem Kane, founder and president of Mauritania’s incubator Hadina RIMTIC.

Ndiaye for one, though, is not deterred: “It’s up to us to educate them on this potential and to have the resolve to follow-through. If you can convince skeptical parents, you can convince any investor.” 
 
Considering that these incubators are run by women, do they make special efforts to recruit women entrepreneurs?
 
Lisa Barutel founder and CEO of La Fabrique, acknowledges that even though La Fabrique received a huge response to a recent call for proposals targeting women, far fewer apply to general calls that do not have a specific focus on women entrepreneurship. “Normally we don’t go out looking for candidates, as we can be inundated with applications, but when we noticed this discrepancy, we did launch a program to identify women with potential,” she says.

A new generation of CEOs: Six businesswomen discuss entrepreneurship and start-ups in West Africa

Alexandre Laure's picture

Also available in: Français

Across West Africa, it’s very difficult to find a workplace as innovative and diverse as business incubators. Known for their young, energized, and often gender-balanced staff, these organizations are an encouraging indication of what’s in store in the coming decades, as the region presents a younger, more open, and increasingly female workforce to the world.

In francophone West Africa—where there was not a single incubator at the beginning of 2011—six young women are currently leading major incubators, some of which have World Bank Group support.   

With backgrounds in computer science, engineering, finance, logistics, project management, and social entrepreneurship, these women have profiles that are just as varied and impressive as the start-ups they support. Given the World Bank Group’s commitment to promoting gender equality, as laid out in the Gender Strategy, our team talked to them to learn more about their work and leadership experience.   

It takes an ecosystem: How networks can boost Africa’s incubators

Alexandre Laure's picture
Also available in: Français
 
 Bond’Innov
Dynamic entrepreneurs supported by the North-South incubator Bond’Innov. Photo Credit: Bond’Innov


Across francophone Africa, incubators are emerging rapidly to support a new generation of young entrepreneurs. Despite their huge potential, however, incubators are just one of many players in a typical entrepreneurial ecosystem.  So it is increasingly important that incubators — in addition to allocating the necessary resources, services and funding to worthy start-ups — provide them with a platform to share and transfer knowledge across the ecosystem, not only with each other but also with the investors, research centers and industry experts upon which their businesses will ultimately depend.

As with Impact Hub Bamako, incubators can be part of broader international franchises, while others are anchored by academic, public or private bodies (or some hybrid of the three) and may already be associated with other incubators. Bond’innov, for example, is an incubator that promotes entrepreneurship cooperation between the global North and the South and that is headquartered in Paris and located on-campus with the Institute for Development Research, a large multidisciplinary research organization operating in more than 50 developing countries.

Start-up from scratch? How entrepreneurship can generate sustainable development and inclusion in the Sahel

Alexandre Laure's picture

Also available in: Français

In a first for Africa’s Sahel region, entrepreneurs from Senegal to Chad assembled in Niamey, Niger, for the SahelInnov Expo last month to showcase their businesses and exchange ideas. From livestock to drones, all sectors were on display as a new generation of entrepreneurs and start-ups emerges with bold and innovative ways to address the challenges facing their countries and communities. Increasingly recognized as a strategic path to economic growth, supporting SMEs and entrepreneurs has a key impact on development and is generating more interest from governments in the Sahel. 



Michaëlle Jean, the Secretary General of the International Organisation of La Francophonie, His Excellency Mahamadou Issoufou, the President the Republic of Niger, and Almoktar Allahoury, the CEO of CIPMEN.
Photo Credit: CIPMEN


Hosting the event was Niger SMEs Incubator Center (CIPMEN) whose CEO, Almoktar Allahoury, lauded the initiative. “This is the first time all stakeholders have come together: entrepreneurs, public officials, investors, academia and development partners in one place to discuss the many opportunities and remaining obstacles for the private sector — this is just what we need to take the region to the next level.”

Indeed, entrepreneurship could be especially important for this extremely poor region, with half the population living below the poverty line. Burkina Faso and Niger, for example, are among the fastest-growing economies in the world, yet their GDP per capita are just $395 and $652 respectively, compared to the Sub-Saharan African average of $1,647. A vibrant and active entrepreneurial ecosystem would therefore not only boost economic diversification and improve productivity, it also could prove the vital lever to tackling two of the Sahel’s biggest challenges: youth unemployment and climate change.

The devastating combination of climate change, mass migration, trafficking and the rise of violent extremism has resulted in recurring humanitarian crises and massive food insecurity, affecting more than 20 million people across the Sahel in 2015. Enduringly high birth rates, furthermore, will require millions of jobs to be created to respond to the needs of a rapidly growing and increasingly young population. Institutional reach remains weak and a state of protracted insecurity has taken root over vast swathes of territory.

Development finance frontline: Senegal’s Strategic Investments Fund

Håvard Halland's picture

 

Amadou Hott
Amadou Hott 

“The only way to achieve the sustainable development goals is to use more public capital strategically for unlocking private investment, particularly for infrastructure,” says Amadou Hott, CEO of the Senegalese Fund for Strategic Investments.

The Senegalese Strategic Investments Fund (FONSIS, for its acronym in French) is part of a rapidly expanding network of state-sponsored strategic investment funds (SIFs) now emerging in countries at all income levels. The World Bank Group and its partner, the Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility, work with FONSIS in an advisory role, and FONSIS provides input to the Bank’s research on SIFs. In the World Bank Group’s recently issued Climate Change Action Plan, SIFs feature as one of the tools to crowd in private capital to climate mitigation and adaptation projects.

Mr. Hott was in Washington last week for the Spring Meetings, and we caught up with him during a break in his schedule. Mr. Hott represents a new generation of African financial sector professionals and leaders, who have returned to opportunities at home after earning degrees at leading global universities and gaining extensive experience on Wall Street, in the City of London, and in other global financial centers. He was also nominated a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

Q. FONSIS has been doing some very interesting projects. Could you tell us about some of your signature investments?

 POLIMED (Pôles d’Infrastructures Médicales)
Pôles d’Infrastructures Médicales

One project that I think is innovative is our building and commercial operation of the POLIMED (Pôles d’Infrastructures Médicales) diagnostic center within the public hospital of M’Bour, a coastal city 70 kilometers from Dakar. The hospital itself couldn’t afford to buy the required advanced technological equipment, and we were asked to build and run the diagnostic center as a commercial operation, with the public doctors and technicians of the hospital providing the medical services to keep down patient fees. Since operations started at the end of December 2015, more than 4,000 patients have been diagnosed, and the financial results are looking good so far. We intend to replicate this model all over the country to upgrade our medical infrastructure.

Another interesting project is the 30 megawatt, €41 million, solar energy power plant Santhiou Mékhé, and a 9 km transmission line to the grid. We closed that deal this past February. We were approached by the project’s initial developer, and our role was to structure the financial side of the project, help finalize the power purchase agreement with the off-taker, reach out to potential investors, and negotiate the debt and equity contributions. We also put down about €1.0 million of our own capital as a cornerstone investor, to give the project credibility at the initial stage. We expect the plant to be producing electricity in late 2016. I think we’ve achieved a good result: about €40 of external equity and debt co-investment for every euro that we ourselves invested. In general, we aim to achieve a multiplier of around 10 on our own invested capital, but we achieved an exceptionally high multiplier in this case, as we managed to secure a debt/equity ratio of 80/20.

The reforms behind the Doing Business rankings

Cecile Fruman's picture



In Mozambique in 2003, it took an entrepreneur 168 days to start a business. Today, it takes only 19 days. That kind of transformation has major implications for ambitious men and women who are seeking to make a mark in business, or, as is often the case in Africa, seeking to move beyond a life in agriculture. In economies with sensible, streamlined regulations, all it takes is a good idea, and a couple of weeks, and an entrepreneur is in business.

This week, the World Bank Group launched its annual Doing Business 2016 report, which benchmarks countries based on their progress undertaking business reforms that make it easier for local businesses to start up and operate.

For the second straight year, Singapore topped the list, with New Zealand, Denmark, the Republic of Korea, and Hong Kong SAR, China, coming in closely behind.

In the developing world, standouts included Kenya and Costa Rica, both of which rose 21 positions; Mauritius, Sub-Saharan Africa’s top-ranked economy; Kazakhstan, which moved up 12 places to rank 41st among all countries; and Bhutan, which topped South Asia’s list of reformers. In the Middle East and North Africa, 11 of the region’s 20 economies achieved 21 reforms despite the challenges caused by a number of civil and interstate conflicts.
 
The reforms tracked by Doing Business are implemented by governments, but the results show up most in the private sector, which is critical to driving a country’s competitiveness and to creating jobs. Ensuring an enabling environment in which the private sector can operate effectively is an important marker of how well an economy is positioned to compete globally. 
 
For those of us working with governments to help improve their investment climates – and to create a policy environment in which business regulatory costs are reasonable, access to finance is open, technology is shared, and trade flows within and across borders – the real work begins long before the Doing Business rankings are published.

In the World Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C), our mandate is to work with developing countries to unleash the power of their private sector for growth. Much of this work involves reforms in the very areas measured in the Doing Business report: starting a business, dealing with construction formalities, or trading across borders, among other factors.

Our experience working with clients confirms one of this year’s key findings: Regulatory efficiency and quality go hand-in-hand. A good investment climate requires well-designed regulations that protect property rights and facilitate business operations while safeguarding other people’s rights as well as their health, their safety and the environment.

Partager les expériences pour renforcer l'égalité hommes-femmes en Afrique subsaharienne

Paula Tavares's picture



Le 27 Février, un atelier régional de haut niveau a débuté à Lomé (Togo), avec la participation des ministres en charge de la promotion de la femme et des représentants de 11 pays d'Afrique de l'Ouest et Centrale. Le thème principal de l’atelier était le rapport du Groupe de la Banque mondiale, « Les Femmes, l’Entreprise et le Droit 2014 : Lever les obstacles au renforcement de l’égalité hommes-femmes ». Un dîner de bienvenue précédant l'ouverture officielle de l'événement a révélé le dynamisme des ministres participants - toutes des femmes -, de même que les réalités et enjeux communs à leurs nations. La plupart se réunissaient pour la première fois et cette occasion unique a permis le partage des expériences et des points de vue sur les lois, les normes culturelles et les rôles traditionnels au sein de la famille.

Les discours d'ouverture de l'atelier reflètent bien l'importance de l'égalité hommes-femmes pour la région. En accueillant l'événement, Monsieur Hervé Assah, Représentant Résident de la Banque mondiale au Togo, a noté que : « Sous-investir dans le capital humain que constituent les femmes est un véritable frein à la réduction de la pauvreté et limite considérablement les perspectives de développement sur le plan économique et social ». Ces préoccupations ont été reprises par la Ministre de l'Action Sociale, de la Promotion de la Femme et de l'Alphabétisation du Togo, Mme Dédé Ahoéfa Ekoué, qui a souligné l'importance de la participation des femmes dans la société et dans l'économie, à la fois au Togo et dans le monde. Le ton était donc donné pour cet événement de deux jours, qui visait à la fois à mettre en évidence les récentes réformes adoptées par les pays de la région et à promouvoir le partage d'expériences, les défis et les bonnes pratiques entre les participants pour promouvoir l'inclusion économique des femmes.

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