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.
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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.
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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.
Start-ups are transforming cities. Entrepreneurs are inspiring creative communities and transforming the social and economic landscape of the neighborhoods where they cluster.
What drives entrepreneurs together and creates these communities? To answer this question, we looked at catalysts of entrepreneurial communities in cities around the world. The team found that a range of spaces — such as innovation hubs, incubators, maker spaces and fab labs — are at the core of these communities. They represent the main link between entrepreneurs and the broader economic and social fabric of the city. We call these “Creative Community Spaces” (CCS).
How are these CCS helping transform our cities? We compiled a set of case studies from around the world and analyzed their impact. There are more details in this report.
The corporate world is at the forefront of the tech-led transformation of the economy. The democratization of technology, whereby exponential cost reductions have allowed almost anyone to produce tech-based innovations, is disrupting core sectors of the economy.
Technology disruption is not confined anymore to the digital world. Data analytics, artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, robotics, sensorization, and an ever-evolving list of technology platforms have blurred the boundaries that once-protected physical ("brick and mortar") sectors, such as the hospitality, automobile, construction and manufacturing sectors.
Business as usual has not served companies in these sectors well. Traditional innovation models to create products and services do not match the pace and agility of competitive disruption from tech actors (e.g., large technology platforms with unbeatable access to data access and capital, such as Google or Amazon, and small and agile local startups). Thus, a new corporate innovation model, “Corporate Innovation 2.0,” is emerging.
The main characteristic of this new model is that it’s open by nature, as opposed to having a closed R&D process. Established companies tend to offer good structures for marketing, distribution, processes, scaling up products, etc., but, compared to start-ups, they often have a weakness in generating and rapidly applying creativity to develop new products and services.
Using open innovation techniques, corporations are trying to address this weakness by absorbing start-up innovation. We have seen three main types of mechanisms in this emerging model: corporate accelerators, competitions to generate new ideas, and co-creation with startups of new products and services.
Both Malaysia and India are countries steeped in innovation with a strong desire to foster new, innovative start-up enterprises.
With a global focus on providing more support to Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) – and recognizing that – Asian countries are keen to learn from each other’s experiences. These efforts have taken on a greater priority in India under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi and his “Make in India” and “Start-Up India” campaigns.
, which is one of the most widely recognized impediments to SMEs, particularly for start-up enterprises. Through the $500 million MSME Growth Innovation and Inclusive Finance Project, the World Bank supports MSMEs in the service and manufacturing sectors as well as start-up financing for early stage entrepreneurs. The start-up support under this project ($150 million) is for early stage debt funding (venture debt) which isn’t well evolved. (Unlike India’s market for early stage equity which is considered to already be reasonably well developed.)
As part of this project, the World Bank and the Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI), recently held a workshop in Mumbai to allow market participants to learn from one another, and particularly about Malaysia’s successful support for innovative start-up SMEs. The workshop’s participants included banks, venture capital companies, entrepreneurs, fintech companies, seed funders and representatives from the Malaysian Innovation Agency (Agensi Inovasi Malaysia – AIM).
A market in Ramallah, West Bank. © Arne Hoel/The World Bank
Snapchat made its historic initial public offering this month with a market valuation of $33 billion, which qualifies it as a decacorn (a firm valued at least $10 billion, compared to a unicorn, which is valued at a mere $1 billion). Snapchat, once the bane of parents as a teenage distraction, overtook Alibaba’s record of raising $22 billion in 2014 and has spawned two 26-year-old multi-billionaires.
It is tempting to be dazzled by the likes of Snapchat, Uber, Facebook and Airbnb and to conclude that the start-up scene is dynamic and thriving. However, the reality is rather different, and perhaps even somewhat grim: U.S. Census data released in 2016 show that new business creation is near a 40-year low. According to a number of researchers, the rate of business start-ups and the pace of employment dynamism in the U.S. economy have fallen over the past decades.
A critical factor in accounting for the decline in business dynamics is a lower rate of business start-ups and the related decreasing role of dynamic young firms in the economy. For example, the share of U.S. employment accounted for by young firms has declined by almost 30 percent over the past 30 years. This statistic has significant implications given that the churning effect of new firms is an important means of reallocating capital and labor from low-productivity to high-productivity activities, which in turn is required for long-term productivity-led growth.
If this were not worryisome enough, the data also shows that since around the year 2000, there are far fewer high-growth young firms being created in the United States. Most start-ups fail, but a very small percentage (between 1 percent and 5 percent, based primarily on data from OECD countries) are innovative and dynamic, grow rapidly and create the most jobs and value, thus making a disproportionate contribution to overall productivity growth.
The likelihood of a start-up in the United States becoming a high-growth firm is now lower than before the year 2000, which is counterfactual in the age of digital disruption. No one is quite certain of the economic, social, and demographic factors behind these trends of declining start-up activity and the dearth of high-growth firms in the United States, but there are a number of theories, including the effects of the Great Recession, generational cultural changes and changing risk appetite of young people, a burdensome regulatory environment, and the increasing importance of large, innovative firms that have adapted many of the appealing features of startups.
A World Bank Group team is exploring the topic of high-growth entrepreneurship in developing countries to examine whether there are similar patterns and trends as in the United States and OECD countries. This study looks at the prevalence and characteristics of high-growth firms in various economies, the attributes of the firm and the entrepreneur, the business environment, and other factors such as the role of foreign direct investment and spillovers/linkages and agglomeration effects. The focus of the study will be also to assess the policy instruments being deployed and how effective are these in providing targeted support to high growth firms.
The Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) this week in Johannesburg, South Africa provides an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas and deepen insights on the challenges of identifying and nurturing high-growth firms. This year’s GEC theme is “Digital Disruption.” More than 4,000 disruptors — entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers and ecosystem builders from more than 160 countries — are coming together to exchange market-specific insights on how to identify and nurture the most innovative high-growth entrepreneurs from across the world to create high-quality jobs, drive productivity-led sustainable growth and find solutions to global challenges.