One could feel the ‘buzz’ at the Open Innovation Africa Summit² in Nairobi. Enthusiasm was teeming, lots of energy displayed in animated discussions and business cards eagerly switched hands at the event, organized by the World Bank’s infoDev and Nokia, which brought together more than 150 inspirational people from across the continent. Sleepy summits come and go, but these three days of sharing, debating and mapping out action plans across four discussion streams all dealing with entrepreneurship gave everyone something tangible to go home with; tools and networks that can create and grow better companies, foster better business environments, and link entrepreneurs to capital.
You could feel the pulse of the African mobile technology sector at the summit’s demo lounge area. The winning exhibitor was Umuntu Media from South Africa (whose founder Johan is now the happy owner of the newest generation smart phone by one of the event’s sponsors). His product, Mimiboard, is a virtual notice board that anyone can create, in any location, and on any subject. New notes can be added to notice boards via Web, SMS or mobile application and can then be embedded into any site (Facebook being a popular one), as well as printed out as a “daily newspaper”. A quick tour at the demo lounge led to a chat with Bankole who is running WetindeAPPs, a Nigerian open source platform that integrates social media tools on a single web platform to live stream information on development issues, like election monitoring, violence prevention, security, local governance and budgeting.Another impressive booth was the one of Don and Peter, who created the M-Shop mobile marketplace, which lets consumers purchase goods and services from partnering merchants without having to leave their home. These are examples of companies nurtured by infoDev’s network of business incubators and mobile laboratories (mLabs) across the continent.
The innovation ecosystem was represented by veritable African thinkers and shakers – from policymakers to technology entrepreneurs, private financiers to incubator managers and academia. It is critical to have each group around the same table to build sustainable solutions that drive entrepreneurship in Africa. And at the summit, more importantly, each group came to the table with vision and commitment.
The four discussion streams were Ecosystem for Innovation, eTransformation, Technology Financing, and Mobile Information Society. Participants chose their stream based on their background, passions and skills. The final outcome was a set of action plans per stream, with concrete timelines to take the work forward by stream participants. A few examples:
In the Ecosystem for Innovation stream, the group proposed a number of initiatives including StartUp Heaven, a series of events that seeks to increase investment in entrepreneurs across East Africa. This idea was particularly viable due to the existence of key infrastructure in markets like Uganda and Kenya.
Ideas in the Technology Financing stream, linking to infoDev’s work program on Access to Markets and Finance, included an online portal for closing the information gap in the entrepreneur’s ecosystem. The group also presented an idea to create a network of local and regional investment readiness programs to get SMEs prepared to pitch their ideas to funders.
Mobile Banking Services for All was one of the bold ideas that came from the eTransformation stream, intending to create a mobile banking mechanism that enables incumbent banks, money transfer providers and new entrants to provide banking services through mobile channels. This stream also presented the Open Climate Change Data Platform, which proposed using ICT applications and solutions to address environmental challenges in Africa.
The ideas coming out of the Mobile Information Society stream centered around connecting many of the distinct projects that are underway on the continent. It set the scene for the final presentation which was simply titled “connecting the dots”, aimed at establishing a simple communication channel between thevarious hubs and labs that exist across Africa.
Unlike most summits I witnessed, participants committed to track agreed activities and plans in the coming months. The organizing partners (infoDev, Nokia, the government of Finland) will continue to identify, match and showcase African entrepreneurial solutions for Africa and the rest of the world. So stay tuned!