The green shoots of Africa's start-ups
A report released in August last year appeared to debunk the myth that many of the jobs created by start-ups disappear within a few years thanks to the high failure rate of startups.
According to the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation, the employment created by start-ups had a lasting impact on the US economy.
The research found that the additional jobs created by the successful companies went a long way to balancing out any jobs lost – when the foundation tracked groups of startups, it discovered that after five years employment levels were 80 percent of what they were at the beginning, thus creating an extended impact on the US economy.
Without wanting to simplistically parachute these findings onto the African continent, in which start-ups operate in various differing environments, it stands to reason that start-ups are key to creating wealth, employment and general upliftment.
Its ultimate objective is to transform the African economy from one based on mineral and other primary resources to a knowledge economy. With this in mind, we take a quick snapshot of some of the current developments and the business leaders involved.
Kenya’s Ushahidi (Swahili for ‘testimony’) is driving a quiet storm around the world. Founded in 2008 to track postelection violence, the platform has been used as far afield as Haiti, the US, and Pakistan to consolidate fragmented information collected at grassroots level to create a big picture. The service uses technology such as text messaging to gather data from eyewitnesses creating a powerful citizen journalism vehicle.
Ushahidi’s co-founders are Erik Hersman, international technology influencer, blogger and speaker; Ory Okolloh, who has recently been appointed Google’s policy manager for Africa; David Kobia, and Juliana Rotich. Its development team is based in Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, and Malawi.
The not-for-profit organisation recently launched Crowdmap, a hosted version of the Ushahidi platform that can be set up in minutes.
Geofeed.me founder Cameroonian Ebot Tabi took a look at location-based services such as Foursquare and Facebook Places and realised they simply did not meet the needs of an African audience - so he set out to fill the gap. Geofeed.me intends giving users reliable information about businesses and locations in Africa.
Users interact with Geofeed.me via their mobile phone or the website to share reviews and their locations as well as to read recommendations. On its site, Geofeed.me learns about the user and personalises those recommendations so one user might see a good rating for a bar, another user a bad rating for the same bar, depending on the taste of that user.
Despite being based in bandwidth-constrained South Africa, the Zoopy team has successfully run a video-sharing online and mobile social media platform since March 2007.
In late 2007, the company was chosen as Nokia’s regional imaging partner and in 2008, it received investment from Vodacom.
Founded by Jason Elk, the service allows members upload their videos, including high definition (HD), and connect with other users. It also offers Zoopy TV, which broadcasts semi-professional content sometimes produced in collaboration with partners.
With bandwidth qua increasing in South Africa, Zoopy appears poised to capitalise on the global trend towards increased video content online.
Nairobi, Kenya based Mocality has put tens of thousands of small and large businesses on the internet for the first time. The mobile and online business directory is based around the mobile phone rather than a computer recognising the primacy of the phone as an internet device in most of Africa. The service gives companies the ability to promote and advertise themselves to customers and is very often a company’s only online presence.
Headed by Stefan Magdalinski, formerly of European start-ups moo.com and theyworkforyou. com, there are plans afoot to expand the service to other cities and countries in Africa. Magdalinski says he aims for Naspers-backed Mocality to be the most successful business directory on the continent and make profits by helping hundreds of thousands of other businesses become successful.
However, despite these examples being the tip of an iceberg with vibrant start-up communities carrying out clever innovations across the continent, the reality is that a country like South Africa still only ranks 35 out of 54 countries on the Global Entrepreneur Monitor report for 2009. And despite the international success of companies such as Yola, Mxit and Clickatell, clearly there is still work to be done.
Encouragingly however, major centres across the continent are vying for the title of Africa’s Silicon Valley, the bandwidth situation is improving slowly but surely, and mobile innovation continues to power ahead.
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.