More than 90 participants, spanning from tech hubs to technology and knowledge transfer practitioners and policy makers, attended the AEIP second event on the 2nd -5th December 2019 in Marseille, France.
The aim of the two day programme (see below) was to serve three purposes: first, to signify the launch of the Africa-Europe Innovation Partnership initiative, second, to stimulate intercontinental innovation cooperation among technology and knowledge transfer practitioners, and third, to support capacity upgrading through a training on building sustainable business models for tech hubs. Below you can find a summry of the event and main discussion points.
Day 1 (2nd December)
The first session on Day 1 was devoted to African tech hubs on how to build sustainable business models. Introduced by the AEIP team leader, Elisabeth Zaparucha, Nina Commeau-Yannoussis from the European Commission (DG RTD) opened the session by presenting the Africa-Europe Innovation Partnership and highlighting the high potential for growth through tech hubs supporting entrepreneurs in Africa and the potential for innovation to address societal challenges. Christian Jekinnou, project manager of Afric’Innov, then presented the reasons why the participants were selected and gathered for this training. Following these introductory words, Lisa Tietiembou Barrutel, director of LA Fabrique from Burkina Faso and member of the Afric’Innov consortium, presented the content of the training session and emphasized the importance of proposing evolutive support programmes. Questions were asked to the participating tech hub managers to stimulate discussions and exchanges on experiences, challenges and best practices around providing support services for innovative entrepreneurship (SAEI).
The key takeaways of this session include:
- There is demand for long-term coaching for entrepreneurs beyond the length of the tech hubs’ programmes.
- Tech hubs are forced into becoming training centers which may not be part of their scope.
- Tech hubs have to acculturate people to Innovation & Entrepreneurship. This could be done beforehand at school or via other public entities.
- Tech hubs are attractive notably because they give access to working space and connectivity. This is sometimes the selling point which may attract many people that are not in the tech hub’s target.
- It is recommended to be focused on specific sectors, type of entrepreneurs etc. Diversification is too costly and hard to manage.
- Have 3 to 6 months programmes that are sector focused i.e. Agribusiness, FinTech, Energy, EdTech etc., to help start-ups accelerate.
- Support in facilitating partnerships between start-ups and established companies.
- The main expectation of entrepreneurs is to raise funds and are often disappointed despite their overall experience and progress in the tech hub. This expectation is unrealistic and should be fought. Better communication at the start of the incubation is a starting point.
- Track the KPIs of the work done with startups (that approach is also required to raise funds)
- EU definition of incubators does not apply to the reality of most African ecosystems. Incubation should not be restricted to innovative companies.
- It is difficult to find trained staff for the tech hubs.
Day 2 (3rd December)
Day 2 started Nina Commeau-Yannoussis presenting a short recap of Day 1 and an introduction of the programme of Day 2. Radia Garrigues, director of JA Gabon and member of the Afric’Innov consortium presented the stakes of fundraising for tech hubs. Her presentation shed light on opportunities and challenges of apply for funding from donors. The session left time for interactive discussions between the participants to review common challenges and opportunities, but also exchange practices.
The key takeaways of this session include:
- There is a lot of money available. The issue at stake is the capacity of the ecosystem to absorb and to actually make use of this money.
- The main costs are HR and connectivity.
- The main challenge is the costly process to apply for funding opportunities. Almost 1 FTE for small and medium tech hubs for months or even years for the largest projects.
- The entities providing funds might not have the same vision as the hubs. Tech hubs should not compromise to simply acquire funding. There are examples where tech hubs were asked how they could receive financial support and could therefore define themselves the specifications.
- Operationalizing funds once received is also challenging
- The lack of crowdfunding platforms in Africa was also discussed. In general, African people do not have confidence in crowdfunding, specifically paying for things online even if they have a visa card. There is a fear if they contribute online, the person would disappear with the money. Crowdfunding does not seem to work for tech hubs.
- Private donors want to be as discrete as possible.
- The support may not be only money but also access to facilities and expertise.
- The general indicators that the hub Managers use to measure their success (that are required when applying for grants) are as follows: (i) number of start-ups supported, (ii) number of jobs created, indirectly and direct, (ii) finances mobilized and raised, (iii) number of women supported in their programs.
- Hubs should develop 3-year budget plans and not just annual ones.
- Fundraising project proposals should have indicators to measure success. There should only be few indicators because the more indicators, the less you track them.
- To save on budget, tech hubs could approach established entrepreneurs to come and be mentors and coaches at respective incubators pro-bono
The tech hubs representatives were then gathered back for the training sessions. Guillaume Dion who used to be a project manager in a French tech hub provided the training on sourcing entrepreneurs and projects.
Support to entrepreneurs starts at the sourcing stage. Sourcing represents a significant part of the tech hub activity (around 1/5 of HR). The key takeaways of this session include:
- Aim at having rather homogeneous cohort to create synergies between the startups: startups on the same value chain, startups that could share resources, etc.
- The startup portfolio is a defining point of the tech hub identity
- Sourcing is a KPI for investors
- At the moment, sourcing is mostly quantitative but not qualitative enough. Drop-out rate are high.
- Attention must be paid with incubating startups that are competitors. This should be avoided since it can create trust issues.
- Various ways to attract entrepreneurs include: call for projects, attending startup challenges, word of mouth, social networks, etc.
- The selection process should be at the very least a 2-step process involving different people from the tech hub and outside on a lengthy timeframe (~1 month) to assess a true motivation.
- Define precise criteria on the quality and availability of the team (#1 criteria), the quality of the idea and the fit with what the tech hub can offer.
- These methods are inspired on Venture Capital selection practices.
- Developing the alumni network is a long term investment for improved sourcing.
The event continued with an introductory speech to the technology and knowledge transfer practitioners by Nina Commeau-Yannoussis. She presented the Africa-Europe Innovation Partnership and highlighting the importance of gathering everyone in a single place to build sustainable relationships between practitioners from both continents and study the intricate topic that is technology and knowledge transfer, innovation and intellectual property. This session gathered participants from Technology transfer organisations from universities (University of Ghana, Nsukka Nigeria, University of South Africa, North West University), Head of TTO network (ASTP, SARIMA, WAITRO), Intellectual property office, Tech hubs and Policy makers (African union).
Most of the African TTOs are working around establishing a culture of innovation as well as promoting awareness and the registration of intellectual property (IP) and trademarks of new technologies in their respective countries. The European TTOs are ready to expand their network and technological services in Africa. For instance, the head of the European TTO network ASTP, mentioned that African technology solutions can be brought to Europe through ASTP coordinating an initiative where African university students can develop solutions to German corporate technology needs.
Day 3 (4th December 2019)
Day 3 began with an official opening session at the Auditorium with allocutions from the European Commission and the French Development Agency. They were followed with words by the High Commissioner for social entrepreneurship, the Bouches-du-Rhônes Department and the Aix-Marseille-Provence metropolis, the city of Marseille, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Marseille Provence and Euroméditerranée.
The AEIP event day started with a work session for the technology and knowledge practitioners – they were presented with the results of the 4th Industrial Revolution in Africa produced by the African Development Bank. As representatives from the AfDB were not available, it is their consultant and member of the AEIP team, Francie Sadeski, who presented in their stead. Her presentation, which you can find attached below, led to debates on tech priorities that should be set for Africa.
The technology and knowledge practitioners were then invited to join the networking session organised by the AEIP team and ANIMA Investment Network, that is in charge of The Next Society, a programme aiming at supporting innovation. There, they met with tech hubs that benefitted from the capacity upgrading sessions and innovation stakeholders from Africa and the Mediterranean region. AEIP and ANIMA both presented their initiatives, followed by a presentation of the ENRICH opportunity by the DG RTD of the European Commission, as well as a presentation of the ICT 58 opportunity by the DG CONNECT.
Day 4 (5th December 2019)
On Day 4, the participants were free to join the plenary sessions provided by Emerging Valley. It was, in particular, the opportunity to attend the presentation of the Africa-Europe Innovation Partnership by Mrs. Maria-Cristina Russo, Director of International Cooperation at the DG RTD of the European Commission. In that occasion, she stressed the importance of such a partnership between two dynamic continents that are historically linked. Mrs. Russo also took part in the plenary session on SciencePreneurs alongside the French Research and Development Institute, the Nigerien Ministry of Research and Innovation, the Burkina Faso Ministry of Research and Innovation, and AIMS Senegal. Mr. Arnaud Senn, policy officer at the DG CONNECT of the European Commission, and Mrs. Linda Curzola, project advisor from the Research Executive Agency of the European Commission, were also attending. Tech hubs and technology and knowledge practitioners were encouraged to share their experience over the last few days, on what the sessions provided them with and what is to foresee for the future.