The Francophone start-up ecosystem in Africa has been much less visible than its Anglophone counterpart. Some countries - like Togo - have been almost invisible to the outside eye. Russell Southwood talks to Helton Agbewonou Yawovi about his start-up Dashmake and the start-up ecosystem in Togo.
How did you get the idea of your start-up?
A: Dashmake started with four young Togolese (Helton Agbewonou Yawovi, Darwin Agbewonou Yowovi, Eddie Miche Atikleme and Kevin Auguste Edorh) who were respectively an application developer, a lawyer, a network and systems administrators. Initially, one of the co-founders got us together for a club made up of "geeks" in computing. It was in 2014, where we met for the first time in an amphitheater at the Catholic University of West Africa (UCAO-UUT), where we received our training. Later, the idea was mooted to develop the work of the club and it was through this idea that the startup took shape in 2015. We therefore wanted to work in a more structured space and delegated responsibilities to each co-founder. This gave life first to HSAD (High Startup of Applications' Development) and then to Dashmake after a change of name.
What does it do and how does it do it?
A: Our startup is specialized in 3 areas: development of mobile applications, web and desktop (for companies and general public), design and hosting of websites (for companies and individuals), animations (films) and 2D & 3D video games. We work in a room equipped for this purpose. The team is made up of people with a variety of skills: 2 developers, 1 network and system administrator, 3 community managers, 1 graphic designer and 1 marketer and 1 accountant.
We work on projects gradually and each member is responsible for a part of each project. We currently use our own computers, and computer supports to develop our projects. In the work we've done so far, we have developed a dozen websites for companies, individuals and associations and two software programmes for accounting and restaurant management. Today we are promoting a new system of health information, management and claims geolocation called: SOS System (more info on http://www.sossystem.esy.es). It is a system that can be used in any country by public and private entities of emergency and rapid intervention in case of disasters, private security companies, insurance companies to facilitate geolocation, management and declaration Of claims. It is also a means for governments, international institutions, associations, businesses and any entity involved in health, safety and well-being to reach populations in terms of education and health information .
With whom does it compete?
A: In the Togolese market on which we are presently present, there are several companies competing for the services of development of applications, design and hosting of websites. For the recently developed SOS System application system, direct competitors are telephone operators offering toll-free subscription services to first-aid entities and insurance companies. This system, which also allows digital marketing through sending mass messages and advertising offers, is competing with on-site communication agencies, sites and platforms with large audiences, and the media (televisions, radios, press).
Have you raised capital for your start-up?
A: Yes. Initially in 2015, we invested approximately CFAF 2 million (approximately $ 3,420) in the company to cover the costs of salaries, rents, internet connection, furniture and logistics. A year later this amount really increased. In 2016, to design the SOS System application system, it was necessary to recruit other people part-time and to follow trainings for an upgrade of the whole team. So we reached the 10 million CFA franc mark (about $ 17,100). We had to get help from family members to get there.
Are there many other start-ups in Togo?
A: Yes, there are more than 50 in all sectors. They are not all visible but they exist and work on innovative projects.
What are the main obstacles faced by start-ups in Togo?
A: The first handicap is the complex access to credit from banking institutions. Under state pressure, banks provide small loans to agricultural enterprises but in the IT field this is almost non-existent. Then the second challenge is the still high cost of an unsteady, low speed internet connection, an element that is vital in the digital world. The third obstacle relates to access to investment opportunities in Togo: there are no Business Angels or venture capital companies, even though start-ups have innovative projects that only need a few million FCFA (or thousands of dollars) to really take off.
How will these barriers be lowered?
A: At our level we believe that without access for the time being to the conventional financial system, the possibilities offered by the crowdfunding platforms offer one option. So we think it would be important for investors to look at the Togolese market because we are convinced that, like our application system, there are very cost-effective innovative solutions that only need a few million grow.