Last Thursday’s Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) panel event, part of their The Next Frontier event series, brought out expert panelists from large tech companies: Google, IBM, and Microsoft. All three of these companies have a presence in Africa (indeed, around the world) and are actively developing strategies for offering their products and services in African countries and other developing nations. The panelists, top executives who specialize on African growth opportunities and Africa’ technology and innovation challenges, were asked “What Is Your Africa Strategy?”
That complicated question—which seeks to better understand exactly how they and their partners anticipate offering products and services to the more than 1 billion citizens of Africa—prompted interesting answers that highlighted why Africa is prime for growth, innovation, and success.
Africa’s massive economic growth, large working-age population, rapid urbanization and acceleration toward mobility and connectivity, are arguably all important factors for determining a strategy for success in African markets. Given these factors, the panelists shared their insight and unique perspective on how they’re approaching Africa:
Wendy Lung, of IBM’s Venture Capital Group, discussed the vast opportunity in Africa. She noted how the prevalence of mobile phones throughout the continent is an indication of how Africa has been able to leapfrog from PCs to mobile devices in a non-linear way. She also discussed the growing need for local entrepreneurs to build local solutions, and how her team is focused on skill building in the local startup community.
Ivan Lumala, CTO for Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative, shares Lung’s view on the importance of African entrepreneurs building local solutions for their communities and regions. For companies like IBM and Microsoft, one particular strategy is not only get Africans to “consume technology, but to also build relevant solutions.” Lumala said that Microsoft’s initiative focuses on enabling “Africa to be competitive, because it can be.”
Kendra Commander of Google agrees that there are great business opportunities for Africa as it becomes more fertile for technological growth and innovation. Google’s strategy focuses on connecting more Africans to the internet. Commander also discussed how Africa serves as a great model for emerging markets to test solutions: if critical issues can be solved in African nations (such as reliable connectivity), it can be replicated in other emerging markets.
Africa is a hotbed for opportunity and innovation and it’s no longer a question of whether the tech space in Africa is significant—few deny the magnitude—but how we best develop, tap, and nurture the space.
What was perhaps most important, revealing, and inspiring theme of the conversation was the universal recognition of Africa’s capacity for local entrepreneurship and innovation. The road to realization of the Africa opportunity is to enable local businesses and organizations to thrive on their own terms.