Yann Le Beux – Dakar, 6/04/2012 –
In recent years, Africa as a whole has experienced an incredible boom in tech startups. While a lot has already been written on English-speaking countries like Kenya and Ghana, we should not forget the potential and the impact of IT entrepreneurs in Francophone Africa. The first Startup Weekend in the region, hold from March 30th to April 1st in Senegal, is a concrete example of this booming and connected ecosystem.
A Startup Weekendis an intense 54 hour event that brings together people from various backgrounds – engineers, software developers, graphics designers and business people – to build web and mobile applications which could form the basis of a credible business over the course of a weekend. The teams are mentored by local experts and entrepreneurs and have to pitch in front of a jury on Sunday night.
With more than 150 active participants and many officials and corporate partners, the first Startup Weekend Dakar which took place at the Incubator and Accelerator CTIC Dakar , was a real success. Interestingly enough, the organizers decided to focus the event on IT innovations dedicated to agriculture and the arts, two of the most important sectors of Senegal’s economy.
At the opening in Friday evening, more than 54 people presented their idea in one minute. The community then chose their favorite and 11 teams where formed. During the entire weekend, they were advised and challenged by local entrepreneurs and experts like Abdoulaye Mbaye, founder and CEO of the successful startup Neurotech, Chams Diagne, CEO of Viadeo Africa and Omar Cissé, Director of CTIC Dakar. Karim Sy of Jokkolabs and Joeri Poesen of Bantalabs, two of the most active coworking spaces in West Africa, were also present to support the teams.
Most of the participants stayed working late and some of the more addicted even did not sleep at all for two nights. You can imagine their eyes on Sunday night when they had to pitch in front of a crowd of 200+ people and a jury not less impressive: Cheikh Tidiane Mbaye, CEO of Orange Sonatel, Tidjane Deme, Lead for Google Africa or Antoine Ngom founder and CEO of GSIE, one of the most successful IT company in the region. All were impressed by the applications and web sites that were created in such a short time, a proof that IT entrepreneurs do not need much more than being together, good mentors and a challenging context to produce a first proof of concept.
The Winner of this first edition of the StartupWeekend Dakar is the project My African Touch, a virtual art village and e-commerce platform that enables foreign African art lovers to purchase rare and unique pieces like statues, clothes, painting, etc. The second team Innov’Atif, developed a mobile app that helps farmers manage their production and increase their yield. The third team, Smart Pagel, created a mobile market place where land buyers and owners can interact and share reliable information.
Outside of the tablets and smartphones offered by Orange-Sonatel, the three winners will receive a 3 months acceleration program within the incubator CTIC Dakar and management training from Microsoft along with the access to their platform Bizpark Plus. These three organizations are the major sponsors of the event along with the SME Support Program of the German Cooperation (GIZ).
While this experience was a clear success and a reflection of the booming Senegalese startup scene (See vc4Africa, March 27th) there is still a lot to do to maximize the impact of IT entrepreneurs in the region. Banking institutions being far to understand IT business models, there is a need for experienced and visionary equity investors, particularly at the seed stage. Francophone Africa and the large UEMOA market represent a tremendous opportunity for startups and for angel investors that have not target it yet for unknown reasons. The cultural aspect is sometimes mentioned, saying that the French-inherited mentality goes against entrepreneurship and capitalism but you only need to spend one afternoon with entrepreneurs in Dakar or Abidjan to see that the stereotype is somehow obsolete.
This exciting and “buzzing” StartupWeekend is therefore only the emerged part of the iceberg, many successful startups being already in activity in Francophone Africa. The promising projects that bloomed out of the event should not be a final result but only an incentive to gather investors, mentors and public stakeholders around talented young entrepreneurs and develop a better support for them. Let them grow and you will see how fast an economy can develop.
Find all the photos and films of the 1st StartupWeekend Dakar on www.facebook.com/swdakar
Yann LE BEUX – Catalyst at CTIC Dakar – @yannlebeux – Yann.firstname.lastname@example.org