No. 120: 3 Thursday AM Reads – Netflix for Black Folks Mais En Francais | Atlanta Investors Building Tech Ecosystem | Always Be Closing

  1. Francophone Africa and Europe can expect access to more African and African-American content through Afrostream. The two-year old startup led by Tonjé Bakang has been on a tear this year, finishing up at Y Combinator and landing funding from Troy Carter’s Cross Culture Ventures (have they finished raising their $50M fund?), Orange Digital Ventures, Ace & Company, and The Family. Yesterday, Afrostream announced a content deal with Viacom to stream BET France content and collaborate on developing content. Earlier this fall, the startup inked a content partnership with Sony. The startup wasn’t on my radar before, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out now.

  2. Atlanta’s technology scene continues to grow. Paul Judge and Allen Nance announced a $25M fund that will support hardware and data entrepreneurs in their Tech Square Labs. According to Urvaksh Karkaria, the partners have raised about half of the total fund size, including $2.5M they personally invested. Around $7M has gone into developing Tech Square Labs. These two are really digging in to help entrepreneurs “build something from nothing” as Judge likes to say.

  3. David Cummings’ post on customer acquisition versus product development has been on my mind the past few days. Always be closing!

    No. 94: New VC Firm To Fund Women-Led Startups

    I was glad to see the news about the launch of Valor Ventures, a VC firm led by women and focused on finding women founders. 

    Another firm that excites me is the Impact America Fund. Here’s a good interview it’s founder, Kesha Cash, did with the Andreesen Horowitz team. 

    Some time ago, I posted First Round Capital’s findings from its 10 years investing in startups. One of its findings was that women-led startups outperformed those led by men. You wouldn’t guess that by the looks of all the startups getting funding for their ideas. 

    The VC landscape is dominated by white men, leading to white men getting the lion’s share of funding. As the debate on diversity in the technology industry continues to heat up, firms like Valor and Impact America getting traction is huge.

    I was disappointed to see that Valor’s team was all white women. That’s another ongoing debate as the tech industry tries to figure out its diversity problem. 

    Nonetheless, this is exciting news and I look forward to seeing what companies Valor funds.   

    No. 83: Growing Exports to Nigeria Can Be Atlanta’s Secret Sauce

    Atlanta is a top-10 exporter amongst US cities to Nigeria. I hope the city puts more energy behind its connection to the country. The city recently completed its Metropolitan Export Plan with support from JP Morgan and the Brookings Institution. Currently, the only African countries an exporter in Atlanta can get information about exporting to are Morocco and South Africa. Yet, the growth of Atlanta’s exports to African markets outstrips exports to other parts of the world.

    While the city has seen record export growth, its ranking among US metro areas remained at No. 18. There is a lot more than $178M in sales opportunities in Nigeria. For example, the Dangote Group is in the process of investing $16B in the development of an oil refinery and two fertilizer plants. Machinery and chemicals are two of Atlanta’s top export products.  And that is just talking about one company. I believe that if Atlanta puts energy behind building its export pipelines to African markets, particularly Nigeria, the city will see it’s ranking rise.

    No. 28: Kenyan Social Enterprises Attract Impact Investors Because of a Focus on Sustainable Growth

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    Kenya has garnered lots of attention for Nairobi’s tech scene and the pending completion of Konza City – enticing talking heads to debate Nairobi’s status as the Silicon Valley of Africa. Yet, the technology space is not the only sector sector seeing exciting growth.

    Participants in the Geeks Gone Global’s 2013 Africa Innovation Excursion witnessed the impact social enterprises are having in Kenya. Startups like Soko Kenya are providing a platform for Kenyan clothiers to sell their products globally. Soko recently landed $700,000 to continue the growth of its business.

    Johnni Kjelsgaard, Co-Founder of The GrowthHub, provided interesting insights on the social entrepreneurship space in Kenya. The GrowthHub is a startup incubator in Nairobi that helps East African start ups position themselves “to deliver sustainable business growth, create employment, and contribute to social progress. According to Johnni, social entrepreneurship is not really a concept in Kenya. A number of the entrepreneurs he has encountered do not consider themselves as entrepreneurs in the first place.

    Because of this, The GrowthHub does not use the term social enterprise in the majority of its work with entrepreneurs. It hones in on building a strong and sustainable business model. The GrowthHub sees social benefit pouring out from that. Startup founders like Stefano Carcoforo at iProcure and Melissa Menke at Access Afya are hyper-focused on creating a great product that also contributes to the good of their customers.

    Johnni and The GrowthHub team are busy with Village Capital/GrowthAfrica2: Innovation to Impact which just launched on September 13 and will run until December 6. Started in 2012, in partnership with Atlanta-based Village Capital, the accelerator equips social enterprises with the tools to take their business to the next level. One of the 2012 winners, iProcure, recently secured a portion of a $500,000 funding round by 88mph, another VC/incubator that operates in Cape Town and Nairobi.

    Are you an investor, looking to place funds in a startup that knows its market, is focused on sustainable growth, and has plans to create positive social change in Kenya and beyond? Join the Geeks Gone Global 2014 Africa Innovation Excursion.

    No. 22: Lunch with Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool

    It usually does not take long to sense when certain people have wisdom, but when are you able to actually feel a person’s wisdom? One can feel Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool’s wisdom.

    During our conversation over lunch on Wednesday, Ambassador Rasool stressed the importance of South Africa exporting the principle of Ubuntu – I am because you are. Our focus on meeting with technology companies in South Africa is a perfect opportunity to glean this philosophy and take it back to Atlanta.

    Ambassador Rasool also highlighted the opportunity for African Americans and South Africans to move past a shared struggle to a shared opportunity. This is critical. The challenges that Africans and African Americans have faced are real and the conversation should continue. What is so exciting is that there are opportunities in the US and on the African continent to take a hold of those challenges and steer them towards a new narrative of global commerce, social engineering, and artistic exposure.

    I don’t have much more to say than that my pursuit of wisdom continues. Reading the book of Proverbs has new meaning these days as I move further into the economic development space. It is critical that I remain hyper focused on driving equitable solutions both here in the US and in African countries. One could argue that a solution that is not equitable is not actually a solution. Ubuntu.

    Pictures from Lunch with Ambassador Rasool

    No. 14: Rail and Tram Networks Establish Collaboration Space

    I left a 10-day vacation in Switzerland last month in awe of the country’s rail infrastructure. One can live in a small village hours away from a major city like Zurich or Geneva, yet work in the city without a car. This would be tough to do in Atlanta.

    In Switzerland, trams are an indispensable ingredient of a convenient commute. Street-level light rail in Geneva enabled me to easily jump on a train and get off when I saw my stop. I watched hundreds of people do the same during a day trip to Zurich.

    Traveling regionally, I took express trains that didn’t stop on the way to our destination, making for very efficient trips. My wife and I only had one late train on our entire trip. I took several naps in my clean, cushioned seat during one-and-a-half-hour train rides from the Alps to Zurich. I awakened to at least one nightmare upon realizing that I spend the same amount of time driving from Decatur to the University of Georgia in Athens twice a week.

    Returning home, I couldn’t help but think about how metro Atlanta could benefit from Zurich’s expertise in establishing a tram network that encourages commuters to use rail within the city.

    Rapid transit has been a major discussion point in metro Atlanta due to the city’s stifling car traffic and the lack of access to the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority’s (MARTA) rail lines in certain areas.

    A series of projects in the pipeline could combat these challenges. The Atlanta Beltline includes a 22-mile rail line that will connect the majority of Atlanta’s neighborhoods. And last year, the City of Atlanta won a $47.6 million federal grant to construct a streetcar connecting King Memorial and Centennial Olympic Park. Atlanta won this funding after falling short in securing nearly $300 million in funding for a streetcar that would run along the Peachtree Street corridor between Downtown and Midtown.

    In researching these efforts, I learned that Atlanta officials have already engaged Swiss leaders to learn more about the country’s transit model and its lessons for Atlanta.
    Councilman Kwanza Hall traveled to Switzerland to participate in an intensive study of the country’s transit system. Atlanta’s Swiss consulate general also has hosted multiple sustainable transportation conferences at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

    One of Atlanta’s African sister cities would do well to join Atlanta in learning from Zurich’s experience. Lagos, Nigeria, with its 15 million people, is the country’s most populous city and the second most populous city on the African continent. Its government has committed 70 billion naira (about $452 million) to install a light rail system that would improve the ability of Nigerians to move within a city projected to be Africa’s largest by 2015, according to a United Nations HABITAT report. By establishing links with Zurich’s Public Transport Authority (ZVV), Lagos could ensure that it reduces car traffic as much as possible.

    The completion of the Lagos light rail project could also increase the ease of travel between Atlanta and Lagos, which are already linked by a nonstop Delta Air Lines flight. The light rail line will connect Murtala Muhammed Airport to the rest of Lagos, enabling foreign businesspeople to more easily travel throughout the city. This convenient change would be a small but significant contribution to the growth of business engagement between Lagos and Atlanta.

    Zurich provides a light-rail model for Lagos and Atlanta, one from which I hope they partner in learning. It would be great to see Lagos and Atlanta residents and visitors utilizing their rail lines as admirably as Switzerland, for the long-term benefit of both cities.

    No. 12: Partnerships Needed: Atlantan and African Entrepreneurs Ripe to Connect

    While receiving an award for Excellence in Commercial Diplomacy at Howard University’s Africa Business Conference, Florizelle Liser, Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa expressed her desire to see entrepreneurs in the African-American community and in African countries seek out partnerships with each other. The city of Atlanta, Georgia has a mix of key ingredients to make this happen:

    1. According to 2010 U.S. Census data, Atlanta has the second largest number of black-owned businesses in the United States. One cannot help but notice the entrepreneurial spirit within the black community, with individuals operating in industries ranging from dry-cleaning to management consulting.

    2. Through Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, Delta launches direct flights to Accra, Johannesburg, Monrovia, Abuja, Lagos, and Cairo. One can fly to Accra in a time not much longer than it takes to fly to Los Angeles.

    3. Mayor Kasim Reed has a vision for Atlanta to be the Western Hemisphere’s logistics hub – an aspiration that will contribute to the growing impact of the African Growth and Opportunities Act on trade between the US and African countries.

    4. Georgia Tech University develops numerous engineers whose skills could contribute to Africa closing its $93 billion gap in infrastructure development.

    5. Though not in Atlanta, the University of Georgia develops a talented pool of students in the agricultural industry who could contribute to Africa reaching $880 billion in agricultural output by 2040.

    Dr. Adetunji Adegbesan, a strategy professor at Lagos Business School, shared an incredible story that crystalizes the potential of entrepreneurship on the African continent. An MTN executive monitoring data usage on the company’s Nigeria network noticed that a significant amount of data was passing through the network, but someone was not paying for that usage. After alerting the company’s network engineers, MTN blocked the source of that usage. A few weeks later, the same executive noticed more data passing through that was not accounted for financially. He again approached network engineers who blocked the source. Yet again, data was passing through after a few weeks and the executive approached engineers in Europe who established an elaborate block that was sure to keep the data from passing through. Data was passing through the block a few months later.

    Who was breaking through MTN’s network? The company tracked the source of the data and located a small college city where a group of graduates helped families set up their computers. As part of the package they offered, these entrepreneurs “installed” the internet on these computers. They figured out a way to log the computers into MTN’s internal network while keeping the computers’ identities masked. The end result – MTN hired these innovators.

    Entrepreneurship is essential to economic growth on the African continent and in the US. One can be sure that the vibrancy found in that small college city in Nigeria is not isolated, and US entrepreneurs would do well to engage this movement. Atlanta-based entrepreneurs should take the lead in engaging fellow entrepreneurs in African countries.