There's no easy way to break out of a small country market but it's essential for a start-up to find growth. Francophone Africa is almost completely a mosaic of small country markets. Russell Southwood talks to Django Bathily, Founder, Sira Labs about how he's creating an incubator network to chase just this type of growth.
The latest video clip interviews from Smart Monkey TV can be found at the bottom of this e-letter
Django Bathily, Founder, Sira Labs is Senegalese but his father was from Mauritania. Before launching Sira Labs he worked for 13 years in the telecoms industry including with Ericsson, Tigo Senegal and as an independent telecoms consultant.
He caught the bug for company building when he put money into an agricultural start-up offering tools and solutions in 2007:"It was interesting stuff and I built it up working with an agricultural engineer. I was just an investor putting in CFA15 million in a first round. In the end, I withdrew from the company because I couldn't focus enough time on it". So he gave up the "day job" in 2016 to concentrate on start-up incubation.
Sira Labs is an incubator and co-working space with all the usual support services like training, coaching and mentoring:"We represent the EF Education Trust (which has a presence in 25 countries) and IIHT in Senegal and they're very good. We also offer the MIT training on things like AI and want to open franchises in Burkina Faso and Senegal".
Its first incubator opened in Burkina Faso opened in July 2017 and it will open its Senegal space in September. It has plans to open more incubators and next up will be a space in Cote d'Ivoire.
The ambition is to create a network of incubators that allow Francophone African start-ups to have a "base camp" from which to go out and grow in unfamiliar markets:"We want to be able to connect start-ups to markets because (individual) country markets are so small in Francophone Africa. We want to do that through innovation centre networks. The start-up in Senegal can go across to our partners and investors to expand and vice-versa. Ideally there would be an Association of Incubators but there are so many different business models, it's hard to make it happen. So we decided it was easier to develop our own incubators".
So what start-ups are beginning to come out of the Burkina Faso incubator? It's early days but there is Ankowma, a start-up which uses a mobile app to collect market research data and Neema Click, an online furniture company. He also has some companies in fashion, one of whom wants to build a brand using local dress and is "really ambitious".
"One of the problems in our ecosystem is skills. We have a lot of people saying they have an idea but don't have skills. That's why we're working with academic institutions to build competences with IIHT".
So where is the investment coming from?:"We have some partners and there are a lot of programmes in the region through people like the World Bank. There are also cities like Lyon in France that run partnership programmes and we're also working with IFD and the Goethe Institute. But there are almost no funds for taking something from an idea to becoming a project and we're trying to build a crowd-funding platform to do this. One of the next steps is to source more funds from business angels".