To create next Elon Musk continent needs more seed funding says AfricArena head

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Silicon Cape
24 Oct 2017

If Africa is to produce the next Elon Musk and get more such entrepreneurs to stay on the continent, far more money needs to be pumped into the continent’s tech ecosystem, the head of AfricArena Tech Conference Christophe Viarnaud said yesterday.

Speaking at a panel discussion held at the Cape Town office of Invest SA, South Africa’s investment agency, Viarnaud (pictured far right), said Africa may have over a billion people and thousands of tech entrepreneurs but it only attracts one percent of the seed funding worldwide. “Clearly, that’s a massive problem,” he added.

The panel discussion was hosted by Wesgro in partnership with Silicon Cape and the French Consulate ahead of the first AfricArena 2017 Confrerence which will take place in Cape Town next month between 6 and 7 November at the Century City Convention Center. The conference will be hosted by Silicon Cape in partnership with La French Tech.

The panel also featured Startupbootcamp Cape Town head Zachariah George, Wesgro CEO Tim Harris and Silicon Cape CEO Ellen Fischat.

Viarnaud stressed that there was an urgent need to bridge the funding gap, which he said was the biggest challenge facing African tech.

“We all know (investment) is better than donor money or any grant money that you can have. It’s the best way that you can create sustainable jobs on the continent and solve some of the problems that we have on the continent,” he said.

Turning to the conference, Viarnaud said the event would feature several open innovation challenges, with the aim of connecting startups with several international investors.

“It turns out that the big corporates have realised that the best place for innovation is not inside their research and development departments only, it is also by collaborating in innovation with startups.

“More and more large companies in Europe and the US are adopting open innovation protocol, where they basically interact with the startups to actually find their next best products, next best services and ideas and so forth,” he said.

Viarnaud pointed out that African innovations like mobile money and the development of Amazon Web Services cloud computing technology in Cape Town is evidence that African entrepreneurs are “capable of developing great technology, great concepts and scaling them up”.

“The problem is to find the money to scale up. We talk about Fundamo and M-Pesa but how many of these startups died because they couldn’t access funding,” he added.

Viarnaud also said African entrepreneurs were not “dreaming enough”, echoing a statement innovation strategist John Sanei had made earlier. “We need to get Africans dreaming more about scaling up, they are not dreaming big enough, they are too humble in a way,” added Viarnaud.

He said it was important to work towards producing another Elon Musk in the next decade and making sure that they stay in Africa.

“For that to happen we need to have more money pumped into the system, we definitely are going to have a local market. Two billion people in the next two to three decades, four billion at the end of the century, this is your next Asia. We are right on the biggest, most dynamic market,” said Viarnaud.

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