Discovering the Tech Ecosystem in Benin: challenges and prospects

In Africa, most particularly in Benin, the Tech Entrepreneurial Ecosystem is confronted with many challenges that hinder their full emergence and expansion despite existing strengths.

On the occasion of Rodrigue FOUAFOU’s visit to Benin, an AFRO TECH TALK was hosted on the evening of January 15th, 2020 at the “Espace Bleu” of EtriLabs, the largest tech hub in Benin. This exchange session moderated by Eudes SONOUNAMETO was attended by several young panelists and tech entrepreneurs in Benin.

Amongst attendees were Ulrich SOSSOU, CEO of Happierco, Co-founder of Etrilabs and TekXL; Arel ZANNOU, President of the Patronage of startups in Benin, Co-Founder of DIS-MOI, DOC; Rachael ORUMOR, Vice-President of African ICT Foundation, Founder of FemCODERS ROBOTICS; and Gloria AHONOUKOUN, Co-Manager of the WHISPA program.

The audience consisted of sixty young Beninese. Several localities of the country had the opportunity to network & exchange with industry leading innovators in the Benin Tech space. Deliberations on the advantages of the Beninese ecosystem, its challenges, its assets, and the importance of Artificial Intelligence for tech startups in Benin. They also discussed the importance of Afro Tech Startups in the ‘world of tomorrow’ and the need to integrate women into the advancing process.

 

The assets of the Beninese Tech Ecosystem (Ulrich SOSSOU, CEO of HappierCo, Co-Founder of TEKXL and EtriLabs)

Opening with a brief narration of his story; that of a young man who knew how to seize the opportunities available in Benin to succeed without necessarily having to immigrate, Ulrich SOSSOU confirms that the Beninese Tech Ecosystem possess tangible assets capable of enabling its emergence. Among the many assets, he evokes the economic stability of Benin as well as the quality of the Beninese education system. According to Ulrich, the Beninese education system is already a viable asset because its most critical factor to making things happen is neither funding, nor infrastructure but education. We should already be proud of what we have accomplished systemically in order to create opportunities to better ourselves.

The greatest wealth within African countries today is in its Youth; a wealth that is wasted by the brain drain. The biggest mistake we can make is to leave Africa for the West as according to Ulrich; the opportunities for growth are undeniably in Africa. Indeed, we should realize that the countries of the North are currently experiencing saturation.

We need to come to the immediate realization that: technology, especially in the field of software, is where we should target our investment efforts, in order to effectively tackle more and more issues in Africa.

On the other hand, comparative to Europe, we have a larger workforce and a cheaper cost of living in Africa. This is an asset that must be acknowledged!

Moreover, in addition to these advantages, we are faced with many challenges such as the ability to market OUR products internationally, which urgently requires solutions.

 

The challenges of the Beninese Tech Ecosystem (Ariel ZANNOU, President of the Benin startup bosses, Co-Founder of DIS-MOI, Doc?)

Ariel ZANNOU identified three major challenges of Tech Entrepreneurship in Benin: the weak culture of Tech Entrepreneurship in Benin, the lack of an enabling environment, the lack of training adapted into realistic implementation.

 

Indeed, it is clear that very few people in Benin are willing to devote themselves solely to entrepreneurship. Data shows an even significant lower statistic in regard to entrepreneurship in tech. Most would prefer to work in the Public service sector or in a Private structure where, at minimum, they’re needs are satisfaction guaranteed. This situation could be explained by the low consumption of technology by the population and the time it takes a tech startup entrepreneur’s idea to bootstrap. We need to find ways to help people sufficiently consume technology whilst demonstrating the importance of entrepreneurship in order to emulate and motivate people to take an interest in it.

With regard to the lack of an environment favorable to the influence of the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, in his capacity as President of the employers of startups in Benin, he stated the ambition of having a law for the status of startups in Benin. Such law would present the advantages and the obligations of startups in Benin and will enable the fostering of a more adequate environment for the full emergence of our Entrepreneurial Tech Ecosystem. However, this idea, although much appreciated, has been the subject of most controversy.

Subsequently, young people will need to be trained to face the realities and challenges of entrepreneurship. For their own development, they will also have to learn not to limit themselves to a single country in the different solutions they offer, but to have a much larger vision for expansion.

 

AI, assets and importance for tech startups in Benin (Rachael ORUMOR (Vice-President of ICT Foundation, Founder of FemCODERS ROBOTICS)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the set of theories and techniques made up of algorithms that allow robots to act like humans— to be intelligent. It allows, in fact, to create intelligent applications. Starting from this definition Rachael shared with the audience her experiences in the field of AI and that of the empowerment of women. For her, there is a real need for AI in Africa especially for startups but also circumstantial challenges like the climate which compromise use for good.

For example, AI could enable, startups that have multiple interfaces to factorize these interfaces and facilitate dialogues. However, you shouldn’t make the mistake of wanting a startup in robotics as it stands. It is more attractive to have your startup and then integrate the need for AI to solve or lighten certain systems for advancement. Obviously, at some point, AI will become of necessity or even essential for startups.

 

Afro Tech Startups: How to create a performing Tech Entrepreneurship Ecosystem for tomorrow? (Rodrigue FOUAFOU, Mister Africa)

Rodrigue FOUAFOU is a software engineer, an investor and mentor. He is a young and highly interactive within the African Tech Entrepreneurship Ecosystem, which explains how he earned the alias, “Mister Africa”.

According to Rodrigue, the key to establishing a successful ecosystem in African countries, is essentially the need for Governments to create the environment and framework that is favorable for African Entrepreneurs and their startups to flourish.

As for the startups, they require:

– Having a strong global vision which goes beyond the limits of their country: it is an essential point that investors appreciate before committing;

– Creating viable solutions to tackle existing problems;

– Maturing their ideas before seeking funds and not vice versa;

– To have a digital presence (at least a website);

– To collaborate between actors of the ecosystem (seek Cooperation NOT Competitor);

– To learn to communicate in English (the language of business), in order to pitch to English-speaking potential partners;

– To improve their pitch & presentation of their business plan in accordance to international standards, which can help them attract more investment interests;

– To surround themselves with mentors and like-minded people who understand their ideas and struggles: for this purpose, he advised the creation of the mentoring network to which startups can have access to;

– Not to copy what is done elsewhere (Silicon Valley) but rather innovate because only Africa can offer new ideas completely unique to the rest of the world today,

He managed to impress upon the audience his optimism regarding the emergence of the African Tech Ecosystem. According to Rod; the future of the world rests on Africa and it is crucial that we align together as governments, as young people; men and women of all countries of the continent to continue to do great things.

 

Women in the startup space in Benin (Gloria AHONOUKOUN, Co-Manager of WHISPA)

According to Gloria Ahonoukoun, Women should occupy a prominent place in Beninese startup space because they are very creative, and our ecosystem needs creativity.

Thanks to the Etrilabs program WHISPA (Women High Impact School Preparation Academy), which Gloria co-manages, Beninese women are trained in various fields such as programming; design and digital marketing and are introduced to innovative entrepreneurship. Following their training, they are able to create their own companies or startups or to work in a startup of their choice.

This free training program is in its fifth promotion and therefore remains a benchmark currently in Benin given the rigor and dynamism that prevail there. Within 5 years, this program will have trained a large majority of women in tech startups in Benin.

In conclusion of this eventful day, to follow after a Q&A session with the audience was a cocktail reception to mark the end of the event.  A moment of networking and interactive exchange between the participants.

In summary, the growth and emergence of the Tech Entrepreneurial Ecosystem continues to withstand major challenges in most African countries in recent years. In Benin, despite the challenges (demanding immediate attention & actions) there are important assets capable of promoting the influence of the ecosystem. Opportunities need to be seized as it will be crucial to be open to collaboration between actors and above all inclusive to Women. Although still embryonic, the Beninese Tech Entrepreneurial Ecosystem shows a lot of optimistic promise and great potential. The current actors have a clear vision of what’s in its future. And this is already a good start!