The value and state of the technology space in Kenya and Africa at large has come under close scrutiny and criticism over the past months from those invested in it, those looking to invest in it and those who tend to keep an eye on what’s happening. From claims that there isn’t enough money, to there is a good idea glut, to skills deficits, to we are working towards grants and hackathon prize money and the big one that says we are all about hype with no meat on our bone.
We may choose to look at it negatively from the get go, but I always suggest looking through a different pair of eyes to derive perspective and context. During the Olympics or any other global sporting event where we send our athletes, we are united by this invisible bond of pride; knowing and feeling that we are the best of the best. I wish to use this analogy to quell the disquiet among those who think that technology showcases and competitions are a waste of time and effort.
These world class athletes that we see go through grueling training, often in specialized high altitude camps to ensure that they get into shape. That one has been to a specialized training camp is not a free pass to the riches and fame that await across the finish line, there are a series of events organized by various sporting bodies to distill the best from the rest. It is from this pool of the distilled that we derive much joy and sense of nationalism when they bring back the medals or give an otherwise sterling performance.
Technology entrepreneurs are athletes too. The track may be different, but the same applies to us. There are hundreds of tech entrepreneurs looking to break into the big leagues and we have our versions of the high altitude training facilities manifest in the burgeoning number of hubs and labs. At these places, our tech athletes train side by side even as each knows full well that a podium finish is not guaranteed by mere presence at the facility. The hackathons with their little prize money or other such incentive, works to filter those who have progressed somewhat from those who are lacking focus or are not quite ready. As will all processes, this helps identify those who have higher chances of survival in what can be a dicey future, with technology changing ever so fast and the risk of ending up in the deadpool an ever present threat. The tech athletes as output from these hackathons will with the right mentoring, coaching and focus be ready for global presentation, with even bigger stakes.
The tech event equivalent of what the All African games is for our track athletes came no better than Demo Africa which is looking to be the launch pad for emerging technology and trends, with tech athletes from across Africa, twelve countries to be precise, having run against each other in five “sporting” categories including consumer electronics, web-based applications, mobile technology, social media, life sciences, as well as sustainable and renewable energy. The stakes are much larger here and the world is watching, with the winners now prepping for their Silicon Valley onslaught, where they will come head to head with some of the best in the game of spinning money out of tech. The capital is seated on the sidelines as are the fans, all eager to see who comes out tops. All athletes live for that opportunity to stand and be counted. If and when a podium finish eludes them, its back to the training camp where perhaps a change in strategy or an outright pivot will have them ready for the next round.
There is a process applied to the discovery of a champion, and we in the tech space must agree to craft and refine ours to hone our own world class tech athletes.