“I should really hire a white guy to grow my business”. The question of how an African entrepreneur comes to this conclusion isn’t really relevant as it took less than half an hour for SeedStars’ African Ambassadors to agree that this was the easiest solution to gain credibility. A more important question to ask is: why? Why does having a white person working for a start-up in a continent where the vast majority of the populations is black is helpful to grow and scale? This article recounts the discussions of the panel on the African ecosystem and highlights its main issues and the solutions they offered.

One cannot talk about technology and innovation without mentioning Silicon Valley. Even though Africa cannot stand comparison with “The Valley”, it can try to understand what makes this place so special. The answer that SeedStars’ Ambassadors settled for is interconnectivity. What makes this place so special is the presence of support: mentors, angels and venture capitals helping start-ups grow quickly. Even though African countries are not cash abundant, they can rely on different networks to connect. But what is the most effective way to activate these networks and use them to spread technologies and create value on the continent?

Using online platforms can be a solution to keep track of what happens in different ecosystems, which is mostly useful to people who want to offer an international value proposition. It allows giving periodic news and sealing strategic partnerships to scale without important investments. However, this kind of initiative is only helpful for closed networks, which is very rarely the case on the continent. For example, VC4Africa’s community counts more than 40’000 members, which makes it impossible to build the powerful networks needed to advance.

Unlike local initiatives, international organizations have both more credibility and more skills to build such networks, allowing knowledge transfer between the different ecosystems. Even though it is helpful to have programs like SeedStars coming to Africa and bringing ecosystems together, it shows how little significance local accelerators have in their own countries. Thus, the only way for them to grow is to leverage this foreign branding. However, the major issue is that international organizations often do not support local programs, which would help the local ecosystems win credibility and value.

Supporting local start-ups and giving more exposure to local partners would help solving the issue of credibility. Co-branding was indicated as a coherent solution. Moreover, setting up mentorship programs would help sustain the visibility and support international organizations brought to the ecosystems through competitions and initiatives. Building up on this new network, it becomes easier for African markets to come together and allow start-ups to show potential growth all over the continent. This showcase is vital as, once again, change needs to come from the outside.

As there is no significant start-up culture in Africa yet, attracting foreign investors is necessary to build the interest of local investors and create a viable ecosystem. “Once they see someone coming from the United States or Europe and making money, they’ll want their share and they’ll start investing”. But when you can’t do that, the easiest way to win leverage and value is to hire a white person because he brings Western credibility with him, however unqualified he actually is. And that is the main challenge Africa has to overcome in order to grow, stop thinking of foreign organizations as superior to its own and start believing in itself.

Last modified: 31 août 2020

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