The Africa Europe Innovation Partnership (AEIP) is a new pilot initiative that aims to connect the African and European innovation ecosystems by facilitating the development of partnerships between tech hubs, to explore new models of technology pooling and to provide capacity building training. The initiative was officially launched in Nairobi (Kenya) on 12th of September 2019 at the first networking event.
The aim of the two-day programme of the first networking event was to stimulate intercontinental innovation cooperation among tech hubs by bringing together the first cohort of participants: 10 tech hubs from Europe and 11 tech hubs from Africa. Participating tech hubs learned about each region’s entrepreneurship ecosystems, discussed potential ways to deepen cross-regional partnerships, and participated in breakout and networking sessions to outline specific areas of collaboration and to develop plans of action.
In addition to the introductions & interactions between the tech hubs, invited experts & speakers introduced the European and African business ecosystems and presented successful cases of cooperation at the both the enterprise and tech hub level. Mr. Paulo Santos, Executive Director of IPN Incubadora (Portugal) gave a presentation on business ecosystem in Portugal.
Parallel to the main programme of the event, startups received training sessions on EU funding opportunities (see presentation here). The training programme aimed to increase familiarisation of the different types of available EU funding schemes, eligibility criteria and it included practical exercises on designing a project factsheet and an analysis of a call to match-make a project/call.
The event was moderated by Ms. Wambui Lamu, with the support of the AEIP team.
Day 1 (12th September)
The morning sessions on Day 1 (12th September) reflected the multifaceted collaboration in the area of innovation between two continents and the endorsement of the Africa-Europe Innovation Partnership by political stakeholders. The morning session speakers highlighted a high potential for growth through SMEs in Africa and Europe and discussed opportunities for innovation partnerships to address societal challenges.
Mr. Simon Mordue, the Head of EU Delegation to Kenya, emphasised the huge potential for growth through SMEs in Africa, especially through innovation. As a result, in Kenya, the EU is launching new concrete support through the AgriFI Challenge Fund. Ms. Maria Cristina Russo, Director of DG RTD H at the European Commission, highlighted the importance of partnering and networking in stimulating innovation in Africa. The Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe are considered major opportunities for supporting innovation cooperation with Africa. Dr Kevit Desai, Principal Secretary for State Department of Vocational and Technical Training at the Ministry of Education (Kenya) welcomed the AEIP initiative and looks forward to seeing the fruits of cooperation, not just for economic prosperity and jobs, but also to address societal challenges. Director Sandra Kramer DG DEVCO D at the European Commission, emphasised that the EU is a major player in Africa and one of the leading trading partner and donor in Africa. She also highlighted the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment & Jobs, that aims to increase support for entrepreneurship, private sector development and innovation. She also welcomed the timing of the AEIP initiative.
Following presentations of high-level political speakers, the AEIP advisory board members, Mr. ‘Bosun Tijani, co-founder and CEO of Co-Creation Hub, and Mr. Samir Abdelkrim, founder of StartupBRICS and EMERGING Valley, gave short presentations on benefits of cooperation between Africa and Europe, emphasizing that the new generation of tech hubs is interested in building intercontinental linkages, address societal challenges, co-create and implement new ideas together.
Mr. Tijani's presentation highlighted that the African innovation system is still quite young, with around 10 years since the creation of the first tech hubs. However, it is growing rapidly and offers numerous opportunities for African and international entrepreneurs. He suggested that the new generation of tech hubs should operate on a principle of ‘networked innovation systems’ that focus on building transcontinental and international linkages. In addition, Mr. Abdelkrim stated that many African countries have high levels of creativity and entrepreneurship with internationalization potential and a growing role of the diaspora.
The morning sessions culminated in a small ceremony where the institutional actors from the European and African side were invited to place signatures on the flag of the initiative. This was followed by interviews from the local press and a coffee break.
In order to create trust and familiarity among participants, the second part of Day 1 included sessions on:
- Tech hub introductions/speed dating where a pair of managers of the tech hubs introduced their organisations and briefly discussed desirable areas of collaboration
- Open networking sessions where incubators and accelerators were given time to further discuss possible plans of action with interesting partners
- Targeted networking sessions (session name “Targeted networking on SDG related opportunities”) - group discussions among managers of incubators and accelerators with the same sectoral focus (e.g. health, agriculture, energy).
The panel session on societal challenges and SDGs laid the foundation for targeted networking as it presented a discussion among three experts in the areas of health, agriculture and energy. The panel discussion focused on how a collaboration between the EU and Africa, and their tech hubs, can contribute to addressing societal challenges in both continents. Following the panel session, participants were split into three groups, based on sector focus of their incubator/accelerator and a discussion revolved around three core questions:
- What factors ensure success of start-ups/companies that are transforming societal challenges into business opportunities?
- What are the best practices of start-ups/companies from Africa/Europe in succeeding/impacting the other market?
- How can a partnership of incubators/accelerators in Europe and Africa support development of business models for addressing societal challenges?
Day 2 (13th September)
To discuss Africa-Europe collaboration from a company and a tech hub perspective, the programme on Day 2 included presentations on collaboration from both a company and tech hub perspective:
- Mr. Kombo Ekra Noel N'guessan, founder of Smart T in Cote d’Ivoire, shared his experience in doing business in both Europe and Africa.
His session highlighted that the limited access to market data is an enormous challenge for new business in Africa. There is therefore a lot of need for prototyping. International R&D collaboration can be useful, but it is challenging to set up an R&D presence in Europe as an African company due to high labour costs and perception problems.
- Ms. Jannet de Jong, manager at StartLife Wageningen incubator, which assists European start-ups in Africa, shed light on opportunities and challenges of doing business in Africa for European companies.
When developing products for other markets, it is crucial to include local communities in your product development and design. That is why international collaboration between start-ups is a good business strategy. Ms de Jong reiterated that the focus should be on supporting start-ups to get out a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) as soon as possible so they could test their product in the target market.
To allow participants to continue discussing potential partnerships, the programme included another open networking session. The interactive session on ecosystems of Africa and Europe was led by the business network organisations in both continents – EBN (presentation) and AfriLabs (presentation). Mr. Robert Sanders (EBN) and Ms. Kenechukwu Osakwe (AfriLab) invited several tech hub managers to present business ecosystems in their respective countries. Such session pointed out common challenges, opportunities and differences while doing business in different markets, regulatory environments and cultural settings. Tech hubs from Africa and Europe have an increasing interest in growing their portfolio. They both face similar challenges, such as scaling-up activities, developing academic start-ups and connecting with local community.
Facilitation of technology transfer between Europe and Africa is one of key activities of the current initiative. Prof. Monica Ayieko from the Africa Centre of Excellence in Sustainable use of Insects as Food and Feeds (INSEFOODS), presented an example of a local Kenyan innovation to build a foundation for discussion on technology transfers.
"African Universities are increasingly investing into applied R&D and innovation, teaching their students to be entrepreneurial. However, challenges exist on how to translate research potential into innovation."- stressed Prof. Ayieko.
The event ended with a very positive outcome. At the end of the networking event, five pairs of tech hubs from Africa and Europe presented their agreed plans of action for collaboration. Two Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) were signed and three partnership agreements are under development.
Closing remarks were given by Ms. Russo, who highlighted the positive results of this first launch event of the Africa Europe Innovation Partnership and welcomed African tech hubs and entrepreneurs to participate in Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe programmes.