The startup ecosystem in Africa is growing from strength to strength. Innovative entrepreneurs across the continent are leveraging technology to turn the challenges they see around them into opportunities. While a few years ago Africa was probably not on their radar, international tech investors are now beginning to pay attention and according to Disrupt Africa, over US$129 million was invested into African startups in 2016.
Like in many startup ecosystems around the world however, sadly women are being left behind in this equation. A study into the African startup ecosystem by VC4Africa, found that only 9% of the ventures surveyed were women-led. At a recent pitch event I attended featuring African technology-based startups, only two out of the fifteen companies that presented were led by women. I know from the conversations I’ve had with the organisers, and also from my experience organising similar events, that this low representation is not from their lack of trying to find women-led startups. There is simply a pipeline issue whereby not enough women are coming into the ecosystem and therefore not accessing the growing number of opportunities available.
It is well documented that more diverse companies and ecosystems create more successful, inclusive innovation. If the African startup ecosystem is to live up to its potential to truly be a driver for economic growth and development in Africa, then women need to be at the forefront of innovation on the continent.
This is why I set up #HerFutureAfrica, a programme aimed at getting more women into the African startup ecosystem and equipping them to be successful entrepreneurs. Before developing this programme, I did a bit of research into the bottlenecks preventing women from entering and succeeding in the Africa startup ecosystem. I narrowed it down to three key issues:
- A startup culture that’s not inclusive – While in many ways it is great for the African startup ecosystem to emulate developed ecosystems such as Silicon Valley, a growing adoption of the US startup “bro” culture is creating a space where African female entrepreneurs may not feel welcome or free to share their ideas, fail and learn.
- Access to technology & early-stage support – While there are a growing number of programmes supporting African entrepreneurs, many of them focus on existing startups, leaving out women at the idea stage who lack the know-how on getting started. In addition, the wider issue around low representation of women in STEM fields means that that fewer women have access to technology skills and tools to launch their businesses.
- Access to networks & role models – Fewer women in technology and the startup ecosystem means fewer success stories and role models. As an African female entrepreneur myself, I know how critical having access to a supportive network and relatable role models were in enabling me to set up my business.
#HerFutureAfrica aims to address these challenges for young African female entrepreneurs by providing a supportive community as well as access to the right networks, skills and tools to enable them to launch successful businesses.
We had 32 women entrepreneurs attend our first programme in Ghana, selected from over 470 applicants. We also had mentors from over 10 countries volunteer their time to support our participants. This response was a great validation for us and showed that there was a real need for a programme like ours. We are already starting to see the impact the programme has had on our participants: Our top 10 finalists were awarded seed funding, office space as well as dedicated tech and business support from iSpace, a leading startup incubator in Ghana, making them now part of a thriving ecosystem. One of our participants Ivy Barley, who started #HerFutureAfrica with just an idea, has gone on to win two other startup pitch competitions including trips to Rwanda and Berlin with her startup Developers in Vogue, all within a month of completing our programme. Ivy’s story goes to show the potential of young African female entrepreneurs that is just waiting to be unleashed across the continent.
We are now working towards running our programme in more African countries, including Uganda and Cameroon which are next on our list.
We are seeking partners, funders, mentors and board advisors to help us achieve this vision. If you can help please get in touch with me on firstname.lastname@example.org