FROM AFRICA TO SILICON VALLEY - THE INTERNATIONALIZATION JOURNEY FOR AFRICAN STARTUPS
I was in a cafÃ© in Barcelona when I heard the news: Facebook acquires Whatsapp for $19b! The fact that the acquisition story circulated within the same news cycle as the civil unrest in Ukraine was weirdly ironic. Jan Koum, the Ukrainian founder of Whatsapp, had successfully negotiated an acquisition deal with net proceeds representing about 3% of Ukraine's GDP! Jan fully represented the rags to riches story: the immigrant to Silicon Valley who toiled through self-taught programming modules, dropped out of college, got rejected by a few notable Silicon Valley brands, and started his own company while discussing technology pain points of the day with a few friends in the kitchen. These Silicon Valley stories never get old.
Soon after the news broke, I discussed the acquisition with some African delegates at the Mobile World Congress and there was a general consensus that Whatsapp may not have reached its current level of global success if it was an 'African app'. As they provided regional and country specific reasons why the 'African Whatsapp' would not have succeeded on a global scale, I listened for their logic and reasoning, and observed the thought patterns framing their convictions that the great 55-nation continent of Africa was not ready to produce truly global technology companies that would scale and provide global success stories.
A few hours later, I was fully engaged in very healthy debate about the African Technology Foundation, an organization founded in response to the need for globalizing Africa's best technologies and bridging knowledge gaps between African entrepreneurs and their Silicon Valley counterparts. I was cross-examined by my passionate brothers from the continent who queried my inherent confidence that Silicon Valley was ready for African startups. I was challenged further and asked to provide tangible examples of Silicon Valley companies that were willing to engage African developers, entrepreneurs and startups to build innovation bridges that would effectively lead to the creation of world class African enterprises.
I mentioned Evernote as a great example. I had met with the company a little over a year prior, and discussed their internationalization strategies as they advanced in their quest towards becoming the '100 year old startup'. I highlighted the fact that following weeks of strategic discussions on the African developer ecosystem, Evernote 'came to Africa' at DEMO Africa in Nairobi on the first leg of a listening tour to observe and understand the developer ecosystem, and chart a roadmap for market entry and value chain activities. I informed them that following the feedback form the listening tour, Evernote had officially partnered with the African Technology Foundation to Engage Africa through a technology roadshow, which would involve a series of activities designed to expose African developers to the Evernote API and provide opportunities for international visibility to top African app companies.
I assured my brothers-in-tech that the African Technology Foundation was committed to globalizing African technologies and introducing global technologies to the African ecosystem. Across Silicon Valley, there are quite a number of programs and platforms that support startups from emerging markets. However the ATF, with its range of initiatives including the African Technology Landing Pad in Silicon Valley, is positioned to become the premier catalytic platform for internationalizing African startups.
They probed further, and I explained that the ATF works in partnership with many of Silicon Valley's cross-continental innovation actors to help African startups and enterprises start, grow and scale globally through a series of activities that include, but are not limited to, access to global networks, capacity building and diaspora engagement.
The uniqueness of the ATF approach lies in the Foundation's blueprint for internationalization that includes five unique initiatives:
African Technology Landing Pad â€' The Incubation Program
The Landing Pad represents a combined effort with other key Silicon Valley stakeholders to accelerate the incubation and acculturation of African startups and enterprises.
African Connections â€' The Bilateral Initiative
With our stage agnostic support activities, ATF seeks to uncover relevant industry convergences between African and Western actors and build bilateral trade and technology platforms.
Lab2Market â€' The Innovation Program
Through this program, ATF promotes intellectual property and industry research alliances for African research universities and technology labs that are seeking to develop multidisciplinary and turnkey technology solutions.
VenturePATH â€' The 'Knowledgebase'
Through our VenturePATH program, we empower African companies to learn and deliver technology venture plans that are relevant to the Silicon Valley market and the global innovation ecosystem.
African Business Leadership Program â€' The Leadership Program
By leveraging our unique diaspora affiliations, our diverse mentor networks and our rich connections with business leaders in Silicon Valley, our leadership programs will raise the bar on business management in Africa by localizing and contextualizing leadership best practices from the most innovative regions of the world.
These initiatives will serve as proper building blocks for the ATF's internationalization program. The Foundation does not subscribe to the notion that Africa cannot produce globally renowned consumer or enterprise applications. However, we believe that through a unique combination of converging factors, African startups can look forward to booking their two way tickets to Silicon Valley.
About the Author
Stephen Ozoigbo is the CEO of the African Technology Foundation, a Silicon Valley based corporation focused on globalizing African technologies by providing access to resources that effectively address and manage the most pressing technological challenges on the continent. Stephen has led innovation efforts across four continents and is a serial investor and advisor to multiple startups in Silicon Valley.
In July 2014, he will be leading Evernote's Africa Engagement technology roadshow that will include a three-country tour of Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa to select Africa's representative at the 2014 Evernote Platform Awards in Silicon Valley. The prize for the winning app company will include an all-expense paid trip to Silicon Valley and a 12-month mentorship program.
Written By Stephen Ozoigbo