Incubators, accelerators and technological hubs have proliferated in Africa over the past 5 years to support early-stage African entrepreneurs. But many of these organizations remain relatively new and isolated, with varying levels of professionalism and limited means and tools at their disposal.
“Without the necessary efficiency, effectiveness and scale, incubators’ efforts will not be reflected in their beneficiary entrepreneurs’ ability to overcome the binding constraints in the ecosystem and scale up; and their impact in terms of business growth, disruptive innovation and job creation will remain limited,” said Christian Jekinnou, coordinator of Afric’Innov at the launch of the recent Conference on Innovation: International and Global South (Rencontres de l’Innovation International & Sud). “This is exactly why Afric’Innov was set up, aiming to professionalize these institutions supporting entrepreneurship, and why events such as the Conference on Innovation are crucial, enabling us to deploy our tools,” he added.
As part of its strategy to support growth entrepreneurship, the World Bank joined Afric’Innov’s steering committee as an observer member. This role will allow the Bank to analyze pilot schemes that support Africa’s incubators through training and interest-free loans, as well as by certifying mature incubators and conducting feasibility assessments to scale up projects.
Some of these pilots from Afric’Innov were launched at the conference. Also, a new training program for some 20 incubators supporting innovative entrepreneurship in Francophone Africa was rolled out.
International experts, including World Bank staff, conducted training sessions using case studies and tools that can be applied to the real world. Topics included strengthening service offerings, consolidating business models and identifying the needs and expectations of international institutions. In this latter session, participants had an opportunity to understand the role that international development institutions, such as the World Bank, play in supporting growth entrepreneurship in Africa.
“I really appreciated the spirit of the workshop, which pushed incubators to position ourselves as the engines that will implement the policies to support entrepreneurship that have been embraced by international institutions and African governments,” said Radia Garrigues, director of the JA Gabon incubator.
Indeed, the World Bank’s workshop emphasized that like their counterparts in developed countries, African policymakers have the chance to seize on the emergence of incubators and similar organizations to decentralize their entrepreneurship policies. Giving incubators a central role to implement these polices avoids establishing new, costly public agencies and instead builds on existing best practice while limiting costs. These incubators can adapt to realities on the ground in local ecosystems, as well as to the evolving needs of their beneficiary entrepreneurs, providing long-term, continuous support that international firms can only offer in a limited capacity.
The World Bank is in fact adopting this approach as it deploys various instruments to support entrepreneurship in Africa, as the following examples of Bank projects suggest. In terms of business plan competitions, the Entrepreneur’s Marathon in Mauritania was organized and implemented by tech incubator, Hadina RIMTIC. For entrepreneurship training in Mali, workshops have been designed and conducted by local incubators CREATEAM and Impact Hub as part of the Skills Development and Youth Employment project. Jambar Tech Lab and Traction Camp meanwhile, are getting entrepreneurs in Senegal and Kenya ready to scale their businesses by partnering with incubators on the ground, CTIC Dakar and iHub. Finally, open innovation programs like the Mali-based hackathon organized by DoniLab, CREATEAM, Jokkolabs, Teteliso and Impact Hub led to the design of a new urban mobility app for a large local firm.
[Excerpt from the comic strip developed by the Malian incubators Impact Hub Bamako and CREATEAM for entrepreneurship training as part of the World Bank's Youth Skills Development and Youth Employment Project. Credit: Impact Hub Bamako, Dragan Rokvic / CREATEAM]
The success of this new approach in Africa — much like for the incubators themselves — will depend on the success of the growth and social entrepreneurs they support.
The following incubators attended the conference: Etrilabs (Benin), UAC Startup Valley (Benin), La Fabrique (Burkina Faso), 2iE (Burkina Faso), ActivSpaces (Cameroon), Le Boukarou (Cameroon), Incub’Ivoir (Côte d’Ivoire), MakeSense (Côte d’Ivoire-France-Senegal), I&F Entrepreneuriat (DRC), Entreprenarium (Gabon), JA Gabon (Gabon), Saboutech (Guinea), TeteLab (Mali), CIPMEN (Niger), Incubons (Madagascar), Habaka (Madagascar), CTIC Dakar (Senegal), Jiguene Tech Hub (Senegal), Innov’Up (Togo), EcoHub (Togo), Centre Urbain de Business et d’Entrepreneuriat C.U.B.E. (Togo).