Is an African Silicon Valley a pipe dream today?
YES: The desire to nurture and establish an entrepreneurial ecosystem like Silicon Valley is not necessarily a bad idea, but in the attempt to ‘copy and paste’ a Silicon Valley we ignore what our inherent advantages are in Africa. We need to have the knowledge and understanding of the ‘best practice,’ but we have to build a ‘best fit’ ecosystem.
Silicon Valley has been 50 years in the making. It’s the product of Sputnik-induced competition, a 1960s-induced cultural renaissance and an open-minded, risk-taking approach where failure is accepted.
The advantage of Silicon Valley is the concentration of talent innovators, startups, funders and established technology companies. Africa, on the other hand, has a large pool of entrepreneurs hence the need to capitalise on an existing base and teach growth from survivalist to scalable technology entrepreneurship.
We do not have a large pool of venture capital or angel networks, but in lots of African countries we have crowdfunding in its purest forms. A million people investing one dollar into a company gives the company a million dollars in funding.
We cannot be a ‘cut and paste’ Silicon Valley but we can create entrepreneurial ecosystems that enable a critical mass of entrepreneurs and affect our economies in positive ways.
Ethel Cofie, CEO, EDEL Technology Consulting, founder of Women, in Tech Africa
NO: The African Silicon Valley is a reality. The key is to not compare it to its Californian counterpart because the African startup scene is evolving against a very different set of dynamics.
These dynamics, driven largely by a bulging youth population, have leapfrogged many African economies into the tech era. From Nigeria to Kenya, Egypt to South Africa, we are seeing the emergence of technology-based economies.
The African Development Bank projects the ICT market in Africa to be worth $150 billion by 2016, creating demand for highly-skilled professionals. Kenya in particular is poised to drive these developments and set the bar for an African Silicon Valley, or ‘Silicon Savannah’ as they’re calling it.
As a mobile technology economy, it is fast becoming the continent’s tech hub. Already global heavyweights like Google, Intel and IBM have set up shop here. Sooner or later, by synthesis, these developments will be seen elsewhere in Africa.
Infrastructure-sharing initiatives are reducing the costs of internet access and mobile telephony. International bandwidth and data networks have become more widely available. Unlike the West, where populations are ageing, Africans are less averse to adopting new technological trends, changing the way they bank, trade, farm, learn and consume services. So while there may not be a structure likened to California’s Silicon Valley here in Africa, a hybrid version is well under way.
Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais, Founder, African Innovation Foundation
NO: I believe in the IT industry in Africa because we have been able to address a number of African challenges using innovative technological solutions. This includes access to financial services and information that helps people from both rural and urban areas improve their standards of living.
These solutions cut across different sectors, such as farming, education and the environment. With increase in internet access across Africa and mobile phone usage, there is potential for more innovative solutions across Africa.
Countries in Africa are also investing in IT skills development through training programs in primary, secondary and tertiary levels. This will provide the workforce needed to turn Africa into the next Silicon Valley.
However, there is still much work to be done in improving Africa’s infrastructure and advance the skills we have to support emerging innovations in Africa.
Charlene Nyambura Migwe, Co-Founder, Synacor Consortium
NO: I believe that the essential requirements for Africa’s version of Silicon Valley to become a reality have already started materializing.
The basic requirements for this to happen are the presence of ambitious entrepreneurs with a good eye for technological solutions to implicit and explicit market needs – these entrepreneurs will become founders and CEOS, who will need to be assisted on their path by funding from investors who share the vision.
Africa will need to collaborate within itself and with established tech ecosystems outside of itself to bring itself up to speed on the status quo as far as tech is concerned, and that is currently happening rapidly at an inspiring rate.
I believe that tech founders, companies and affiliates need to treat the knowledge base as an open system, a cistern where no one acts in isolation. Solutions to problems should be shared and everyone should be willing to borrow tech from a different but related sub-sector within the tech industry to fine-tune their own products to spec.
I believe, ultimately, that the building blocks are already being laid. Currently, Kenya is considered the epicentre of the ‘African Silicon Valley’ due to its interesting gravitation towards a mobile-based economy, and South Africa has shown great promise as well.
In Nigeria, we are seeing the upsurge of a technological boom that can only mean good things for the country and the continent as a whole.
Mark Essien, CEO, Hotels.ng