I had the unique opportunity to speak at the Stanford Africa Business forum held over the past weekend at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. The forum presented an opportunity for key stakeholders – business leaders, policy makers, faculty and students to exchange ideas and forge mutually beneficial relationships that will facilitate development in Africa.
The conference was based around the theme of entrepreneurship as the catalyst of development and featured panels and discussions around various industries pertinent to Africa’s social and economic development, exploring the impact of entrepreneurship on development in Africa, and looked at various practical avenues and opportunities for entrepreneurial involvement in Africa.
At the mobile technology panel, it emerged that there was an increased interest in opportunities in the tech sector, with Kenya receiving quite a number of mentions. The session focused on the challenges, opportunities and way forward for mobile tech.
There are still challenges that seem to slow the growth of the sector. These were identified as; lack of capital, inappropriate business models, lack of proper research into consumer needs, poor scalability of services and the need for consumer education.
Lack of capital
This is a song that has been playing for awhile and there are positive developments, with venture capital slowly starting to settle in on promising ideas. It is clear though that majority of the funding is from Europe and not the US. The opportunity for local ideas to go venture shopping in Silicon Valley was made apparent, as the return on investment for average amounts that startup ideas are seeking was considered quite low in comparison to what startups in the valley are asking.
Inappropriate business models
In Africa, we cannot copy paste business models and must have a different take on services that need to be pushed to market. This attracted interested from many masters students who welcomed the opportunity to work with africa based firms to explore models that work.
Lack of proper research
Research and development costs money, but is still a necessary component in building services and monetizing them. This can be a function that both institutions of learning and capital can support. How to interest both those institutions remains a challenge.
This remains a major issue whether going from service pilot to live service or going straight into live services. This can be linked to access to capital and research but must be highlighted as a key challenge in getting service to work well.
For services to gain massive adoption there has to be an element of consumer education. While services can be created to address current and immediate needs, it should not be assumed that the consumer will automatically latch onto the said services. Innovation will result in the creation of hitherto unthought of services and these too need to be introduced to the consumer.
These are not the only challenges but they give us a starting point for involved thinking on what we need to do to fully exploit the opportunities that exist in the world’s fastest growing mobile industry.