Commercialise and globalise your innovations, African start-ups told

Friday May 17 2019

Transform Africa Summit

Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta (second left), Rwanda's Paul Kagame (third left) and Mali's Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta at the opening of Transform Africa Summit in Kigali on May 15, 2019. PHOTO | URUGWIRO 

MOSES K. GAHIGI
By MOSES K. GAHIGI
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African technology start-ups have been warned against having a narrow vision for their innovations limited only to their domestic markets.

Speaking Thursday at the Transform Africa summit in Kigali, Rwanda, experts called on innovators to focus on commercialising and globalising their inventions if they are to reap great returns from their innovations.

“I have seen many start-ups in Africa, they are good in technology, but they must put more energy on how to commercialise and globalise. M-Pesa missed a chance to dominate the world, it came first but it only thought of Kenya, it should have made alliances to support globalization of its solutions, now others have adopted their blueprint and are making a lot of money” said Faye Briggs, an IT expert and CEO of Niminq Inc.

Mr Briggs noted that despite most African countries having fast Internet connectivity, the resource had been largely underutilised as majority of people were using if for social media and entertainment with little value created from it.

Regulatory environment

The experts called on governments to develop regulatory environment to support technology innovation and update existing policies that stifle the industry from realising its full potential.

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The number of people in Africa who trade online is increasing and likely to grow rapidly in the coming years spurred by the big size of the millennial population.

However, e-commerce regulation is not moving fast, which is likely to slow down the digital means of transactions in Africa.

Research firm Statista estimates that the e-commerce sector in Africa generated $16.5 billion in revenue in 2017 and forecasts revenue of $29 billion by 2022.

By 2040 it is estimated that 95 per cent of purchases will be made online.

The experts noted that data protection policies has fragmented digital interoperability in many African countries.

“As countries individually regulate their data, they need to understand that this will lead to fragmentation, the way data is regulated has an impact on markets” said Arancha Gonzalez, the Executive Director of International Trade Centre.

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame during the summit emphasised that economic transformation and prosperity of the African continent is hinged on the mastery of technology and that now is the time to build the necessary infrastructure and skills on the continent.

He said that digital transformation does not mean neglecting traditional manufacturing but that Africa should be competitive in both, that the industrialisation and technology agendas should be kept in close alignment.

Mobile subscribers rose by 44 per cent in 2017 smartphone penetration rose by 75%, according to GSMA mobile economy report, mobile broadband is anticipated to comprise 87 per cent of total connections by 2025 across 690 million smartphones.

However despite this growth, experts noted that millions of people in Africa are likely to be left behind if countries don’t invest in digital literacy and broadband infrastructure, which are still low especially in rural areas.

“The cost of data and the cost of smart phones must come down, countries need to come up with easier payment plans” said Faye.

Internet penetration stands at 35 per cent in Africa, according to GSMA.

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