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.
3-1-0 Three minutes to complete the online loan application, one second for approval and with zero human touch for SME loans. This is the marketing slogan used by Ant Financial, one of China’s largest online lenders with more than 400 million active users.
Digital finance is a cost-effective route to financial inclusion for many unbanked and underserved consumers in emerging markets. But digital finance is also still developing and maturing, with many open questions on the impact it will have. One of the most important of these is whether digital finance will ultimately help consumers to make better financial decisions over time.
October 31 is World Savings Day, a day which emphasizes the importance of savings to economic development, and provides a good occasion to look at how fintech may help solve the challenge of savings.
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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.”
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As we saw in our second blog, . 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 Ndiaye, MakeSense 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.
“What can we do today to prepare students for the labor force in 20 years?” the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Finance, Shai Babad, asked. At an Annual Meetings event last Friday, Babad was asked for his thoughts about successful government policies to enable start-up ecosystems. However, he answered the question with one of the many questions that policymakers continue to wrestle with in the new digital economy.
In recent years, many of the World Bank Group’s country partners have posed similar questions. As Trade & Competitiveness Director Klaus Tilmes commented, “Many clients are now less interested in our money, and more in our knowledge around best practices and effective incubator models. They’re asking ‘How can we create our own start-up ecosystems?’ So we are trying to become more systematic and leverage tools to expand our programs and build them into our lending projects.”
No state is more renowned for its success in building such ecosystems than Israel. The small country contains the highest number of start-ups outside of Silicon Valley and receives the most VC investment per capita. With a population of only 8 million, Israel has over 6,000 start-ups, and 1,000 new start-ups are launched every year. In 2016 alone, Israeli start-ups raised over $4.8 billion.
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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, . 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.
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.
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Babah Salekna El Moustapha, co-fondateur de la Société Mauritanienne pour l'Industrie de Charbon de Typha (SMICT) avec Mohamed et Moctar Abdallahi Kattar. Photo Crédit : Moussa Traoré, HADINA.
« Innovez pour le climat. Travaillez de manière durable. » Ce slogan a lancé l'appel à candidatures de la dernière initiative de soutien à l'entrepreneuriat du Groupe de la Banque mondiale en Mauritanie, le Marathon de l’Entrepreneur – un concours à l' échelle nationale qui permettra d'identifier et d' accompagner une nouvelle génération d'entrepreneurs. Cette compétition est une initiative du Groupe de la Banque mondiale, en partenariat avec le Ministère de l'Economie et des Finances, et avec Hadina RIMTIC qui agit comme véhicule central par lequel le soutien du bailleur et du secteur public peut être transféré aux aspirants entrepreneurs mauritaniens.
Annoncée en avril, la compétition accompagne 21 nouvelles ou jeunes entreprises, leur fournissant des services de formation, d'encadrement et d'autres services d'incubation pour les aider à élaborer un plan d'affaires final et, fondamentalement, à tester les hypothèses qui sous-tendent leurs idées d'entreprise.