The next great continent for commerce will be Africa, and there is as much a tech entrepreneurship opportunity as there is a large corporate one. Those behind African-focused accelerator tiphub say there’s a risk in letting Silicon Valley take the lead.
“They’re going to shape it in their image,” said Navarrow Wright, the founder of GlobalGrind.com and former CTO of BET Interactive. Wright spoke at tiphub’s first Diaspora Demo, which featured more than 20 well-rehearsed startup pitches, presented inside the World Bank’s Preston Auditorium. The companies were all focused on African markets or featured African founders.
Those that presented were faced with direct and challenging feedback from judges, who included former Ushahidi developer and now Philadelphia-based investor Jon Gosier. Wright called the judges as fearsome as a “Nigerian ‘Shark Tank.'”
Wright went on to present a stark picture of how unequal access to tech is shaping the face of the sector, particularly in the fast growing African marketplace. “This is probably the most amount of entrepreneurs that look like me I’ve ever seen in one room,” he said.
“There’s no limit on entrepreneurship in the diaspora,” said tiphub marketing director Amanda Spann, citing street vendors and mom-and-pop stores as widespread, if small, examples. But “we aren’t a part of the conversation, and we aren’t developing the high-tech ventures.”
The scalability of technology is seen as a key opportunity for fast-paced community impact, she said.
tiphub was founded in February with the aim of encouraging African-focused ventures. The point is not just to “teach them how to fish,” said Spann, but also to allow African entrepreneurs to “buy the pond and keep the pond stocked.”
Find photos of the Diaspora Day event here.
tiphub is located at Impact Hub DC, but it maintains partnerships with other hubs in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa to keep its ear to the continent’s ground.
Here are some other tiphub initiatives to know about:
- Mentor mixers around the world, from Atlanta to Nairobi.
- A Diaspora day of civic hacking during the first week of Black History Month, which will include coders and civic hackers, but also activists and community leaders.
- The African Access Academy, an 8-week accelerator for seed-stage startup ventures, to launch in June 2015.