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GSMA Innovation Fund earmarks Africa start-up scene

GSMA Innovation Fund earmarks Africa start-up scene

The GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund is taking applications from African startups for support in the form of grants of up to USD$320,000, in addition to mobile-focused mentoring and technical assistance - as well as opportunities to build partnerships with mobile operators.

The Accelerator has released findings of research it conducted into Africa's tech hubs. Lasting for a few months, the study was made in order to learn more about the continent's tech hubs which the GSMA says are essential to the promotion and support of its Innovation Fund.

Victor du Boucher, Ecosystem Accelerator analyst at the GSMA says according to their research, as of July 2016 there are 314 active tech hubs in Africa - although this number increases on a weekly basis.

"For the purpose of our landscaping exercise we have been looking at all kinds of physical spaces that fall under the broad term of 'tech hubs': incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, fablabs, makerspaces, hackerspaces and other innovation spaces.Incubators and accelerators – which provide startups with business support resources and services to help them scale – account for almost 60% of these tech hubs."

Du Boucher says although they found that 50% of the tech hubs are concentrated in 5 countries (South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt and Morocco), almost each of the other African countries have at least one or two active tech hubs.

"Moreover, we have identified some leading countries by sub-region when it comes to tech hubs: Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt in North Africa; Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal in West Africa; Kenya and Uganda in East Africa; and South Africa in Southern Africa."

Du Boucher adds that social networks are often a powerful tool used by tech hubs around Africa to build up a community of stakeholders (partners, start-ups, investors etc.) in addition to the usual offering of space and services.

"Among the most active, we found not only the well talked-about BongoHive in Zambia, Co-creation Hub in Nigeria, and iHub in Kenya but also lesser known and more recent organisations like Buni Hub in Tanzania and Saboutech in Guinea."

Another way to build up communities for these hubs, he adds, is to develop partnerships with different types of organisations.

He says Microsoft, Google and Amazon are by far the most engaged across Africa. "13% of the active tech hubs we researched, have a partnership with a mobile operator. In Africa, Orange, MTN, and Vodafone are the leading partners (e.g. Cipmen-Orange partnership in Niger or ActiveSpaces-MTN collaboration in Cameroon)"

Yasmina McCarty, Head of Mobile for Development at GSMA said "We are looking for innovations of two types. Mobile applications which will help SMEs and mobile applications which will help to accelerate the sharing economy. You might have a car that you use only half or the time - that asses can be used in other ways. You might even have a skill that you only use part of the time. We are looking for innovations from Africa for the sharing economy and we want all the pitches to arrive by September 18th for assessment by an independent panel of experts which will include one person from the GSAM and another from DFID. Those entrepreneurs who are selected will then be assited in order to scale."

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