Highlights from 500 Startups welcome dinner in Accra, organised by…
Editor-In-Chief Akosua Annobil explores the impact of the continent’s growth on Britain’s investors and emerging entrepreneurs.
Earlier this year, around the times when Lenny Henry was calling for a TV diversity fund, and Chuka Umunna launched (then redrew from) his race to become Labour’s first black leader, I was witnessing another notable moment quietly unfolding amidst the UK’s Africa diaspora.
For the past six months, I’ve investigated the so-called ‘Africa Rising’ narrative, which stems from reports that the continent is undergoing dramatic change; bolstered by strong economic growth, a growing population, abundant natural resources, increasing business opportunities, a dynamic youth sector, and strengthening democratic institutions. I discovered that this imminent revolution is having a profound, ripple effect on savvy individuals living in Britain.
The UK diaspora has been relocating, sending money and making sporadic business moves back home for years. But now it seems there’s a mounting cohort of forward-thinking entrepreneurs, trailblazers and investors making it their long-term business to participate in Africa’s growth story, both socially and economically.
‘The dramatic changes in the political and economic landscape of the continent in the last few decades, from the death of apartheid to the rise of mobile telephony as examples, now make the continent an attractive destination for those of us in the diaspora,’ says Tomi Davies, President of the African Business Angels Network (ABAN), which aims to develop the early stage business ecosystem across the continent (particularly Nigeria), and works with its UK counterpart to advise policymakers and educate business angels and startup entrepreneurs.
‘Africa is starting to thrive and business has been quick to be of service. Such activity is creating a solid economic foundation, which, allied to a more stable political environment, makes Africa’s risk profile lower than it has ever been and therefore extremely attractive to UK investors.’
Africa is no longer solely based on traditional activities like mining, oil or gas, Tomi points out. Most of the continent’s development is driven by fast expanding demand from increasingly wealthier consumers. And, over the next 20 years, it’s primed to become a leading destination for the growing global market in offshoring and outsourcing services.
‘Africa’s risk profile is lower than it has ever been and therefore extremely attractive to UK investors.’
Tomi Davies, Futurist Techpreneur
In addition, many technological changes, such as broadband access and the penetration of smartphones, alongside the proliferation of initiatives in e-education, e-commerce et al, are contributing to Africa’s digital revolution. Subsequently, new opportunities in the UK’s tech ecosystem are abound.
‘I’ve been a tech entrepreneur in Africa and it was really tough,’ says Eunice Baguma Ball, founder of the London-based Africa Technology Business Network (ATBN). ‘When I moved to the UK [from Uganda], I found the tech ecosystem here to be much more advanced in terms of the skills, resources and support available to tech startups. So I thought if I could get talented entrepreneurs here looking at Africa as an opportunity, and encourage them to create Africa-focused solutions while tapping into the London tech support system – then they could create solutions that can solve some of those complex challenges that are hindering entrepreneurs, businesses and economies in Africa from realising their full potential.’
Innovation and advanced technology will no doubt play a key role in Africa’s future. The continent is home to a youth population of 200 million (aged between 15 and 24) – a number set to double by 2045, creating the world’s biggest workforce. But 27-year-old Londoner Alieu Fofanah, founder of GoGetters, believes entrepreneurship is also imperative to this demographic:
‘By 2030, one in every four young people will be African,’ Alieu says. ‘I see it as vital that Africa focuses on cultivating a thriving entrepreneurial system for its youth and addresses burgeoning levels of unemployment amongst the growing young population.’
GoGetters is a network of UK entrepreneurs who aim to support their peers in Sub-Saharan Africa with building successful businesses. Following the launch of their pilot project two years ago, which explored entrepreneurship in South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, GoGetters now aims to create one million jobs in Africa through their network by 2020.
‘The Africa rising narrative is depicting a picture that is appealing to the diaspora [and my generation] .’
Alieu Fofanah, GoGetters
‘We are operating in a time of start-up enthusiasm, people want to do something meaningful and something that will have an impact,’ says Alieu. ‘Further, the Africa rising narrative is depicting a picture that is appealing to the diaspora [and my generation] as the economies in the West are growing at a much slower pace.’
He adds: ‘The African diaspora can play an essential role in this development story. When they go back home, they take with them knowledge, networks and help to connect Africa’s economy with the world and most importantly with the rest of Africa, promoting pan-African trade.’
Eunice agrees: ‘Some of the largest, pan-African startups at the moment have been created by people from the diaspora or foreigners. It’s not that they have better ideas, it’s because they have the access, and the diaspora should really be thinking about how to use that to help drive Africa forward.’
The African Foundation for Development (AFFORD) has been a pioneer of ‘diaspora development’ for over 20 years. Looking to the future, Enterprise and Capacity Manager of the organization, Unisa Dizo-Conteh believes opportunities for business collaboration between the UK and Africa are endless: ‘There is no doubt that countries in Africa provide enormous possibilities for UK entrepreneurs – particularly in areas such as telecommunications, infrastructure and financial services,’ Unisa states.
‘Clearly, a strong and growing interest in commercial exchanges between the UK and Africa will be mutually beneficial going forward.’
‘There is no doubt that countries in Africa provide enormous possibilities for UK entrepreneurs.’
Unisa Dizo-Conteh, AFFORD
Another optimist is Dentaa Amoateng, founder of the Ghana UK Based Achievement Awards (GUBA), which held its fifth annual event earlier this month. ‘There has been a great upsurge of business interest in Africa,’ Dentaa says.
‘Last year we held our first GUBA Expo, which aims to help SMBs expand and improve their businesses. The overwhelming interest from business owners in the diaspora is a positive sign for future business relations.
‘Trade and business is imperative for economic growth, so it is a positive movement,’ she adds. ‘We all have a role to play, and I hope in the years to come we are all actively contributing to the African economy.’
I agree with Dentaa. The diaspora does have a role to play (if we chose to), including those of us in the media and PR industries. Hence why I’ve decided to invest in and create this platform – AB2020 (an abbreviation for Africa Business 2020).
Starting out as a multimedia newsletter and website, AB2020 highlights, informs and motivates UK entrepreneurs and investors wanting to take productive action on the continent. After many months of preparation, the site’s launch has mystically fallen on the same weekend President Barack Obama hosts his Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Sub-Saharan Africa for the first time.
As Barack said in Nairobi, ‘Africa is on the move’ and entrepreneurship is changing the way the continent is doing business, not just on the ground but across the world – as this article shows.
AB2020 aims to contribute to and capture this exciting journey as it continues to unfold in the revolutionary years to come. Hope you sign up (below) and join the ride.