I Enjoyed Speaking at Yale’s Sankofa54 Conference

I am on the train headed back from Sankofa54: The Youth Empowerment Conference, nicely put on by the Yale Undergraduate Association of African Peace and Development. I spoke on a panel addressing Africans Investing in Africa, an issue that has kept
me awake at night since high school. The other panelists were Solomme Lemme, founder of Africans in the Diaspora, and Adewumi Mobolaji, special advisor to the CEO at Aso Savings and Loans Bank.

Solomme challenged the audience to imagine the impact 1 percent of the 60 billion dollars that is remitted to African countries could have on development if targeted towards initiatives focused on creating transformative change on the continent.

Adewumi covered macro developments that are creating the environment for increased investment on the continent, while also highlighting challenges that are still present in the quest for a strong investment climate on the continent.

I found a way to weave an Anansi story into my talk – major win.

One of today’s keynote addresses came from Ladi Delano, an entrepreneur who has been getting it done for about a decade. He made some great points on the need for the extermination of Africa’s corruption problem. He discussed the need for greater manufacturing to meet consumer demand. He cited a recent meeting he had with the head of Massmart Nigeria and how little sense it made to him learning that all of its products are imported.

Another keynote speaker was Obinna Ukwauni, a senior economics major at MIT. Beast. This guy has started an initiative to teach robotics to secondary school students in Nigeria with support from organizations like Shell and Innoventures – quite impressive. He plans to use this as a step towards launching a school in Nigeria in partnership with MIT’s Media Lab.

Last night, Nobel Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee discussed the challenges of being a mother and in-demand activist. She did not regret having missed a significant portion of some of her children’s lives on account of her belief that she was laying the foundation for their futures. Tough.

I was really impressed that undergraduates put on a conference of this caliber and I appreciate YAAPD inviting me to speak. I look forward to next time!

Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital: Brazil v. African Countries

Entrepreneurs across the African continent are developing highly innovative technologies that are meeting real needs and improving the ease of life for people from all walks of life. At this year’s MIT Venture Capital (VC) Conference, I sat in on a panel that covered Brazil’s VC space. Two things struck me as very different from how entrepreneurship is developing on the African continent and present a case for investors to pay more attention to entrepreneurship in Africa.

I was surprised to learn that Brazil’s entrepreneurs are more active in meeting the needs of the middle class by providing some of the technologies already available in the US like Groupon copycat, Peixe Urbano. In a year and a half, the company has expanded from Brazil to Argentina, Chile, and Mexico. Another Brazilian company, Vostu, is locked in lawsuits with Zynga which is arguing that the company is committing copyright infringement of its games including Farmville, a Facebook favorite.

In Africa, we are not seeing a lot of “copycat” or “geographic innovation” technologies as one of the panelists preferred to call them. We are seeing technologies like Paga in Nigeria that enables mobile bankers to use any bank they choose. We see Sproxil, a company that has developed technology which uses text messaging to confirm that the drugs you are taking are not counterfeit. These creative innovations are exciting developments and ones that increase the fundability of entrepreneurs across the continent from investors both inside and outside the Africa

The second observation that struck me was the presence of VCs encouraging entrepreneurs to try new things in bringing various technologies to Brazil – providing entrepreneurs with mentorship that can help them increase their success rates in the country. Earlier this year, Ndubuisi Ekekwe, an entrepreneur and scholar wrote a nice article on African entrepreneurs’ need for nurturing. Mentoring fell under this bucket. As entrepreneurs learn from the mistakes of their mentors to avoid those same pitfalls, stronger products enter the market. I am extremely happy for Tayo Oviosu, CEO of Paga and the access he has to a mentor like Tim Draper. I think we will see more mentorship as time elapses but the involvement of Brazil VCs in the growth of their companies bolstered my understanding of the importance of mentoring.

Two takeaways came from the panel – the African entrepreneurial market is more disruptive than the current Brazilian entrepreneurial market, while more African entrepreneurs are going it alone as Brazilian entrepreneurs more readily have access to mentorship. Both are interesting phenomena and ones whose evolution I look forward to tracking over the next few years as I believe the presence of venture capitalists and mentors will grow rapidly over the next two or three years.

The following are recent CNBC Africa conversations on entrepreneurship in South Africa and Africa as a whole:

Photo Credit: Afrinnovator