Fast-tracking entrepreneurship and digital skills in Somaliland
By Abdigani Diriye
Entrepreneurship, particularly in the digital sector, can provide a solution to many challenges the African continent is facing. With this in mind we started Innovate Ventures, a first of its kind technology accelerator in Somaliland and Somalia to support tech entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, receive mentoring and access seed investment. Together with VC4Africa we are now announcing the Innovate Accelerator, the deadline to apply is 12 August.
Entrepreneurship has been touted by many as a viable solution to create new jobs and employment for the millions of millennials in Africa. The demographic shift, and current problem of brain drain and immigration through dangerous routes in search of ‘better’ opportunities in the West suggest a pressing need for changes in the provision of local opportunities for employment and contribution to the local economy.
At the same time the continent can leapfrog developed nations to cutting-edge technologies as it is less constrained by legacy infrastructures that hamper advancements in sectors like financial services, healthcare, energy, and agriculture to name a few. By not having the burden of archaic infrastructures to maintain and revamp, we are free to reimagine how things should be.
This presents unprecedented opportunities for innovation and progression and the creation of modern businesses and new sectors. A lot of these do not have to re-invent the wheel but can piggyback off current advances in technology. But this is not to say that we should not be mindful of the impact: advances in digital technology will see many jobs automated, and the lack or insufficient education in ICT could result in a generation of African school leavers without the necessary skills to contribute to and compete in this new, digitized world.
Corporations are investing in a highly skilled workforce on the continent. IBM have launched a Big Data University to spread big data literacy and train a million data scientists in Africa. Likewise, Google is training one million Africans on digital skills and have launched DigifyAfrica.com, an online portal that provides courses and tutorials on digital marketing, UX, search engine optimization and content marketing. These efforts are vital to help grow digital entrepreneurship in Africa and create new job opportunities for the millennials as part of the transformation of the continent.
Winners of the first accelerator program organized by Innovate.
Support innovation and entrepreneurship
Donors and NGOs are also adapting the way they support innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa. Examples include the investment in some of the 100+ technology start-up incubators, accelerators, hubs and labs that have cropped up all over the continent which have helped create jobs, foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and identify new business opportunities.
“Work in Progress!”
One program that stands out is the “Work in Progress!” initiative run by Oxfam, VC4Africa, IOM and Butterfly Works that seeks to improve the economic prospects of millennials in Egypt, Nigeria, and Somalia by building digital skills to find jobs and stimulating entrepreneurship.
The initiative entails accelerator programmes for high potential start-ups and “Bits schools” – institutions that give the youth a chance to gain IT and design skills, which will help prepare them for careers as graphic designers or web developers. In the era of the digital revolution, these digital skills and initiatives are instrumental to the transformation happening in Africa.
Somaliland & Somalia
Economical and technological powerhouses such as Nigeria and Egypt in sub-Saharan Africa will be one of the countries leading the way, but Somaliland & Somalia have the most to gain from the promise of this industrial shift. Unemployment amongst young people in the Somalia region is among the highest (67% of 14-29 years old), and growth and job-creation in traditional sectors is not keeping pace with the growth of this demographic.
An absence of economic opportunities has led to a number of social issues, such as crime and immigration. Somalia is a great reference point for programs run by the likes of VC4Africa, Oxfam, Butterfly Works and IOM: they provide the resources, skills and support necessary to create employment opportunities, and an enabling environment so individuals and start-ups can flourish in the fourth industrial age.
When we first started out as just a Coding Camp for Graduates, there were significant barriers for tech start-ups in the country to surmount. Internet speeds were sketchy, and we spent more hours than we would like to remember figuring out how to bypass slow download speeds to install developer toolkits and software frameworks. There has been significant progress since we started in this area, with fiber optic cables coming to some parts of the region and Internet speeds doubling and quadrupling.
Since 2012, entrepreneurs and techies in Somalliland and Somalia have started to leverage the internet as an equalizer to adopt new technologies and internet business models. Some of the start-ups from our first accelerator programme last year built their start-up using tutorials on Youtube and libraries on GitHub. This was unimaginable a few years ago.
We’re seeing the sparks of the Somali tech scene. But, due to the lack of seed capital, and investor networks, we are also seeing some of the founders from our past programme putting their start-ups on hold and working for other companies. There are success stories like SomaliJobs. This start-up advertises jobs in the Somali regions. They’ve been in operation for several years now and have found a revenue model that involves advertisement and paid posting. This is one example of some of the start-ups we’re seeing coming out of the Somali tech scene.
My colleagues and I at Innovate Ventures are running our second accelerator programme this year in the Somali region. We have seen the nascent tech scene maturing, and innovative Somali start-ups have come on leaps and bounds. This year in September, we will be running a 10-week accelerator programme for some of the best start-ups in the region to receive mentoring, training, networking, and seed investment of up to $10,000. We have designed the programme in this way to address some of the barriers start-ups in the country face, namely developing scalable businesses, mentoring, and investment.
Abdigani Diriye is one directors of Innovate Ventures, the leading start-up accelerator and technology fund in Somaliland and Somalia. If you have an innovative start-up based in Somaliland or Somalia, you can APPLY to participate in the programme. Deadline is August 12, 2016.