Sunrise over Johannesburg, South Africa. The city hosts DEMO Africa. Photo by Dylan Harbour (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0].
On August 25-26, international investment fund managers and recent college graduates alike will gain insights on investing in innovation, learn best practices in acceleration programs, and watch the latest collection of high-growth startups compete for both awards and capital. DEMO Africa’s partners include global giants such as Microsoft, Intel, and Google, as well as regional leaders such as the African Business Angel Network, the African Technology Foundation, and a list of innovation labs.
The annual event is a flagship initiative of the LIONS@FRICA and will be hosted in collaboration with the city of Johannesburg and the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST).
The choice of Johannesburg as the host city helps bring the rapid expansion of Africa’s tech boom full circle. In 2001, when the provincial government established the Innovation Hub, there were very few, if any, across the continent. Even the famed M-Pesa platform wasn’t launched until 2007, and Kenya’s own iHub opened its doors in 2010.
Today, in nearly every corner of the continent, innovation hubs have sprung up to develop homegrown solutions to common challenges faced across the developing world, with 314 tech hubs in 42 countries. As a result, this year, DEMO Africa has received 723 applications sent in from 27 countries. The 30 finalists span industries including education, health, logistics, media, energy, finance, and more. Among their diverse solutions, these startups have created online telehealth platforms, solar-powered water heating systems, and education tools to learn physics and electrical engineering.
As one of the founding partners of LIONS@FRICA, infoDev has participated in several of their past events and has watched several of the entrepreneurs it has supported compete on the DEMO Africa stage. Through infoDev’s various programs, the World Bank Group has remained engaged with stakeholders across the industry, as it has grown. At each stage, infoDev has aimed its research and operational activities to best support the market’s evolving needs and enable digital innovation to expand even further.
This year, Toni Eliasz, co-lead of the World Bank’s Digital Entrepreneurship Program, together with Justin Coetzee, an engineer and entrepreneur, will deliver a knowledge session on venture growth strategies. The session aims to provide insights around recruitment, talent retention, establishing a company culture, and the role of advisory boards. These are not the typical challenges faced by the fabled lone genius creating the next Facebook in his dorm room. Instead, they mark the maturity of a company as it grows to scale.
In total, the infoDev team will organize three knowledge sessions to address organizational challenges, entrepreneurial finance, and best practices in acceleration programs. While the number of tech hubs continues to grow, a shift from grant-based to profit-oriented business models has already begun. Thus, infoDev will present the findings of a recent study to provide participants a broad analysis of different acceleration models in order to leverage best practices within their own organizations.
In the coming months, the Digital Entrepreneurship Program will launch regional acceleration programs open to growth-oriented entrepreneurs from West, East, and Southern Africa through infoDev’s mLabs in Senegal, Kenya, and South Africa. These programs will enable digital startups to scale up and compete in the global marketplace. In early 2017, infoDev will also launch the Pan-African Acceleration Program, and select 20 star performers from across the continent to receive additional coaching, mentorship, and exposure to global investors and funds.
Once again, infoDev is working with entrepreneurs at the frontier of a maturing industry with a growing number of innovative startups. DEMO Africa will be an incredible opportunity to meet and share knowledge with the top African investors and entrepreneurs.