Africa is experiencing a technology boom: the rapid penetration of Internet and mobile technologies make this region more and more interesting for IT entrepreneurs, despite the specificity and heterogeneity of the market.
IT in Africa
The African continent is a large market, as well as a source of direct access to a large audience with smartphones and a wide range of resources. The region is rich in coal, oil, ferrous metal ores, graphite, aluminum, and phosphate and consists of 54 countries, extremely diverse in terms of population, digitalization, economy, and purchasing power. Since January 2021, the continent has had a free trade zone between the countries of the African Union.
The market entry threshold is low, there is no fierce competition, and the potential for growth and demand for technology projects is enormous: the region has many problems that can be solved through innovation.
The continent has a crazy rate of Internet development and a native love of smartphones. You can buy bananas on the street and pay with your mobile account.
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By 2025, experts predict Africa’s Internet economy should reach 5.1% of GDP – about $185 billion. FinTech, AgroTech, eCommerce, InsureTech, HealthTech, and CleanTech are considered the most in-demand areas.
According to research firm Briter Bridges, venture capital investment in African startups totaled $1.31 billion in 2021, most of which came from fintech projects. Kenya, Nigeria, and Egypt are considered to be the drivers of the region’s venture capital ecosystem: projects from these countries have received the most investment over the past few years compared with their neighbors on the continent. More than 30% of the continent’s technology hubs are concentrated here.
“The GDP of the entire region is $6.8 trillion. If Africa were a single country, it would be fourth in the world after China, the U.S., and India. Undoubtedly, the economic power of the region is still small, but in the next 30-50 years, it is predicted a stable growth in the range of 6-12% per year, and this process will be accompanied by the creation of new industries and businesses.
GDP per capita in terms of purchasing power parity in Africa is $5.2 thousand, for comparison, in the Russian Federation – $29.4 thousand, in the USA – $68.3 thousand, in Europe – about $41 thousand. However, in the top 20 fast-growing economies of the world, six lines are African countries: Benin, Ghana, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Cote d’Ivoire. The main technological hubs on the continent are concentrated in South Africa, Nigeria, and Egypt.
The level of development of the IT market in Africa is 5-10 years behind other countries. Until now, only 28% of the continent’s population has access to the Internet, but in the last few years, the situation is gradually changing. Now the digital industry in Africa is actively developing, and the international market is noticing this trend.
African Accelerators & Incubators
There are more than 600 technology centers in Africa, among them incubators, gas pedals, and co-working spaces for companies. One of the most famous technology centers is the CcHUB. It is located in Yaba, Nigeria’s Silicon Valley. CcHUB boasts a rich network of 650 startups across Africa.
CcHUB partners with Amazon, and Google for Startups, Visa, and other international companies. The incubator focuses on projects in health, smart transportation infrastructure, fintech, education, and cybersecurity.
Another major center actively developing a technology and innovation startup environment is the MEST incubator in Ghana. Assistance from the Meltwater Foundation allows MEST to target startups from all over Africa at the earliest stages of development, train entrepreneurs for free, and help with product prototyping and hypothesis testing.
MEST is an educational program for IT entrepreneurs, an internal seed fund, and a network of incubators for technology startups in Africa. The hubs are located in Accra, Lagos, Cape Town, and Nairobi. The organization has been active since 2008, actively supporting programmers and engineers. One of the programs lasts a year, is designed for 60 start-ups, and is completely free. MEST has many famous partners, such as the acceleration program for fintech startups supported by the French bank Societe Generale.
In Ethiopia today, three private business incubators are systematically working with technology startups: BlueMoon, iceAddis, and iCog/Solve. The first has more AgriTech, the second has eCommerce startups, and the third has programming, including AI projects.
The iCog/Solve gas pedal hosts Ethiopia Hacks, a series of 12 hackathons in which 600 people have already participated. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, with Google Developers Group (GDG) and the Center for Accelerated Women’s Economic Empowerment (CAWEE) as partners.
Here, with the support of Kenya’s Ministries of Health and Transport, the famous MSafari service was created to monitor the passenger flow of public transport.
The Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTi) is the oldest technology business incubator on the continent. Located in Cape Town and founded in 1999, it focuses on the development of IT projects. During its existence, it has helped three thousand entrepreneurs to create more than two thousand companies and continues to be actively involved in the Cape Town technology community.
iHub – each year the gas pedal supports 450 startups. The gas pedal has a wide range of programs for business startups. One of them is aimed at the development of IT projects run by women.
Startupbootcamp Afritech – runs several accelerator programs, including ASIP Accelerator Program and iNovo. Project recruitment happens all the time, and there is a virtual and offline passing format. The program is supported by Amazon, Nedbank, PwC, and other large companies. Participants have a chance to receive an investment of 15 thousand euros.
The most specialized technoparks are presented in South Africa – Technopark Stellenbosch, Highveld Techno Park, and The Innovation Hub. Notable technoparks exist in Senegal (Dakar Technopolis), Rwanda (Kigali ICT Park), Madagascar, and Zimbabwe at NUST University.
Africa, with a population of 1.35 billion, could overtake China and India in the next decade. McKinsey estimates that by 2025, the region will have 360 million smartphones and 240 million computers and laptops, and digitalization will increase GDP by $140-320 billion. Not surprisingly, such a large – and still technologically untapped – market is beginning to play an increasingly prominent role in the economic arena.
Thanks to the serious penetration of smartphones and the large percentage of the young population, the African market is becoming a convenient environment for launching and developing technological projects. A large number of fragmented states at different stages of economic development makes it difficult to create a unified startup industry in the region but does not prevent the effective functioning of individual technology hubs with which large international companies are willing to cooperate.
Localization of foreign projects in Africa is complicated by a large language group, corruption, and the specific mentality of the population, but the potential growth opportunities and lack of serious competition more than offset the possible risks.