Today at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, high-level representatives from the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, the African Development Bank, Microsoft, Nokia, infoDev, DEMO, and the World Economic Forum launched a new partnership to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa. The Liberalizing Innovation Opportunity Nations (LIONS@FRICA) partnership seeks to mobilize the knowledge, expertise and resources of leading public and private institutions to encourage and enhance Africa's innovation ecosystem and to spur entrepreneurship across the continent.
Six of the world's ten fastest-growing economies over the past decade are in sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, internet usage across Africa has grown faster than on any other continent in the world. The awakening of the African economy provides an opportunity for global and African entrepreneurs and enterprises to forge partnerships for mutual economic prosperity.
LIONS@FRICA seeks to capitalize on this growth and create new opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa by providing a platform designed to inspire and challenge African innovators and entrepreneurs. This partnership will provide African startups with capacity building and training in business development, provide connectivity to global innovation grids, promote access to capital, create opportunities for partnership, and showcase best practices and successes in African-led innovation solutions.
Planned activities for the partnership include a series of programs across the continent featuring promising African startups and entrepreneurs as well as venture capital roundtables and innovation bootcamps, and Startup Weekend events in over more than African cities. Qualifying startups can join Microsoft BizSpark with access to a range of Microsoft technology for three years at no cost,to the community of BizSpark Network Partners in Africa, and to programs at Microsoft Innovation Centers in the region. LIONS@FRICA will also launch the first-ever DEMO Africa, a global platform to connect African startups to the global ecosystem, where the most innovative companies from African countries come to launch their products and announce to Africa and the world what they have developed.
The Partnership will receive support from business networks and platforms from Business Action for Africa and Startup Weekend. Global Entrepreneurship Week will serve as the coordinating partner, while Business Fights Poverty will serve as an online community partner.
Quotes from Supporting Partners:
U.S. Department of State: Kris Balderston, the Secretary's Special Representative on Global Partnerships, U.S. Department of State: "At the Global Partnership Initiative, we see the LIONS@FRICA platform as an innovative way to build and deploy strategic economic partnerships between African and global players to: strengthen Africa's startup and innovation ecosystem; promote and facilitate new investments; and foster innovation business models."
U.S. Agency for International Development: Ben Hubbard, Director of the Development Credit Authority: "Today many of the most transformative business models and technology solutions are coming from the African continent. But it's also one of the toughest places to find early stage risk capital. USAID is excited to work with LIONS@FRICA to ensure the most promising African innovators can access the financing they need to become catalysts for growth and employment."
African Development Bank: Donald Kaberuka, President, African Development Bank, "The African Development Bank (AfDB) is pleased to help contribute to the launching of LIONS@FRICA partnership. Later this year, AfDB will help sponsor a startup bootcamp in West Africa; and next year we plan to co-organize with our LIONS@FRICA partners a Meet The Lions event to be held parallel to the Bank's annual meeting in Marrakech, Morocco. The AfDB also intends to use its network of contacts to invite corporate sponsors from our regional member countries to this innovative partnership."
Microsoft: Aben Kovoor, Area Director, Developer & Platform Group, Middle East & Africa at Microsoft: "Building the right partnerships that will give Africa a competitive advantage is a huge focus for us - and a shared passion amongst the LIONS@FRICA partners. Microsoft's investment in LIONS@FRICA is a natural extension of our work to help accelerate the success of entrepreneurs and early stage start-ups on the continent, and to provide promising young African developers and innovators access technology tools, skills and resources they need to realise their full potential."
Nokia: Gerard Brandjes, Nokia's Vice-President for South East Africa: "ICT-led innovation and entrepreneurship are at the heart of rapid socioeconomic development, and Nokia believes initiatives like LIONS@FRICA are essential to spur this progress. In addition, Nokia and its partners will continue to stimulate debate in Africa through forums such as the Open Innovation Africa Summit, and help emerging innovators spin their ideas into success stories at facilities across the continent like the Mobile Application Laboratories."
DEMO: Neal Silverman, Senior Vice President, DEMO: "Today we are thrilled to be announcing DEMO Africa, the newest addition to our international portfolio of events and our partnership with LIONS@FRICA, together we are well positioned to identify and foster innovation in Africa."
Global Entrepreneurship Week: Jonathan Ortmans, President, Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) and Senior Fellow, Kauffman Foundation:"LIONS@FRICA will help inspire a new generation of startup communities on the continent that are committed to unleashing ideas through new firm formation which is vital to economic growth and job creation. Global Entrepreneurship Week welcomes the opportunity to coordinate this partnership as part of its year-round mission to shape a new generation of entrepreneurs committed to doing good and doing well."
infoDEV: Valerie D'Costa, Manager,infoDev (World Bank): "InfoDev is pleased to collaborate LIONS@FRICA, as it underlines our goals of enabling innovative entrepreneurship for sustainable, inclusive growth in Africa. We will do so by leveraging existing incubation centers and other programs such as the infoDev - Nokia Mobile Laboratories for mobile entrepreneurs and the infoDev Climate Innovation Centers."