Key Ways to Shape Africa's Tech Startup Sector: Media Perspective

June 25, 2019

In May, the Burn Media Group — which publishes Ventureburn — announced Cobus Heyl as the company’s new chief product officer.

Heyl has also taken an undisclosed share in the company, which was founded in 2010 by the late media entrepreneur Matthew Buckland, who passed away in April.

Ventureburn editor Stephen Timm spoke to Heyl on the role that developed countries can play to develop Africa’s tech startup sector, the kind of opportunities that exist in the sector and what the role of the media should be in covering the continent’s tech startup sector.

Cobus Heyl

Is there a case to be made for investors in advanced countries (Europe, Australasia, North America etc) to invest in businesses in Africa? What about risky tech sector? What kinds of benefits are there for such investors?

Sub-Saharan Africa may be considered as more challenging than other markets, but challenges offer opportunities. Investment in startups come with inherent risks. Investors will factor that into their criteria and appetite for investment. There is a fantastic entrepreneurial spirit in the continent and opportunities are arguably lower priced than in major developed markets.

How can such investors get involved if they're keen to invest?

Get to know the ecosystem. Do due diligence. Follow the likes of Ventureburn. Go to events. Speak to people in the market. But don't just speak to them, actually listen to locals. Don't assume you know it all.

What kind of opportunities are there in African tech?

It starts with opportunities to help from early-stage entrepreneurs through to growth companies in sectors like fintech, agritech, edutech, healthtech and so on. Successful examples include Yoco (FinTech), JUMO (FinTech), SweepSouth (on demand cleaning), AgroCenta (AgriTech), Twiga Foods (AgriTech) and Vezeeta (HealthTech) (see this story for the biggest deals in 2018).

Does it have to necessarily be investment or is there another way that organisations outside of Africa can help tech startups based there?

Good question. Look, I guess things like mentorship, supporting knowledge transfer initiatives, assisting with opportunities to engage with other entrepreneurs around the world, all those kinds of things could be of benefit. The thing is, there is no shortage of entrepreneurial ideas and concepts in markets like Kenya, Nigeria and so on. But in many instances, entrepreneurs face challenges here that their counterparts in developed markets don't even have to think about. One of which is that many do not have friends, fools or family to turn to, to move from concept to the next phase. So, while the whole support ecosystem is very, very important, I don't think people should consider those aspects sufficient without actual investment.]

Isn't there a risk that outside investors may squeeze out local competitors and that all the profits end up leaving the continent instead of the other way around, or is there some middle ground possible?

I don't think so. In the end, each founder can decide what's best for his or her business, for example in terms of how ownership is structured.

What should the role of the media be - both that based in Africa and outside - when it comes to encouraging investment in Africa? Should the media play an active role in doing so, should this be their role?

I can't say it any better than the founder of Burn Media Group, the late Matthew Buckland, said it here.

Does Ventureburn serve a role in informing investors from outside Africa on the tech opportunities in Africa?

Look, I believe in data and our audience data tells us, yes Ventureburn does. Can we do more? Always. There is so much potential left in terms of markets we cover and how we do it to the services we provide and how we do that. It is a work in progress.


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