LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE 360 SERIES – AFRICA: Africa’s startup scene will benefit from some major success stories, a panel discussion agreed this morning.
Marek Zmyslowski (pictured, left), founder and MD of travel website Jovago, said that this would help attract wider interest in the technology sector from potential investors: “I think we are waiting for a big tech company IPO or a proper exit, when people that have money in Africa right now and are more interested in investing in a piece of land or a hotel actually look at the tech scene and say ‘that’s interesting’.”
Sandheep Ramluckan (pictured, right), founder and MD of business accelerator StartUp 90, agreed. “When a company has an exit and there is good PR around it, many of these entrepreneurs go on to found another startup, and they then provide a bedrock for developing this ecosystem. We need a couple of good exits, and then these entrepreneurs can become involved as funders and as mentors,” he suggested.
But Zmyslowski also cautioned that there is a danger in being “driven not by the rules, but by exceptions”.
“We have too many young founders that we have to deal with, who are not really experienced. They come straight from university, or they haven’t finished university, because they have in their mind Mark Zuckerberg, and other successful founders. When we look at the most successful startups in Europe, in the US, in Nigeria already, these are people who have worked in big companies, or run their first startups, failed, and then run another and succeeded,” he said.
Turning to the issue of support for startups from large companies and operators, Ramluckan said that there is a “massive disconnect” between the ways the two camps look at innovation.
“One of the issues is credibility. You find that big companies don’t necessarily want to work with small companies before they have achieved some credibility. So it’s not easy for these companies to immediately start working together,” he commented.
While Pieter van der Westhuizen, VP of engagement practices for Ericsson (pictured, centre), acknowledged the differences, he also pointed out that big companies can do a lot to pull together the ecosystem.
“We’re probably not at lightspeed every day, in the same way that our big customers probably aren’t operating at lightspeed every day. And we probably don’t represent the optimal environment for innovation. But we do have the ability to bring together different role-players in the industry from tech startups and innovators to mobile operators to players outside of the ICT industry,” he said.
With backing from MTN and Millicom, Jovago’s Zmyslowski acknowledged that “I can only say that it’s great to work with operators”.
“The best thing about telecoms companies is that they tend to be the most courageous, next to the hospitality business – when there’s an emerging market, even if there is a war going on, there are hotel chains, and it’s the same with telecoms,” he said.
“These types of companies, this type of perception and culture, is needed when you want to run a tech-startup in Africa, because it’s a long-term game. It’s not a scene where you can invest money and exit next year because the pipeline is not ready yet. You have to take it from the beginning to the end,” the executive continued.
And with operators increasingly finding their core businesses pressured by a raft of new competitors, Zmyslowski noted that “telecoms companies are also undergoing many strategic changes, and startups are also many times part of their strategies.”