WRITTEN BY RICHARD CHOWNING
The time for Africa to look outside the continent for cutting edge technology is quickly fading into the past. Home grown entrepreneurs, startup incubators, and quality business degrees are found in every major African capital. The rapidly growing ranks of aspiring, technology entrepreneurs is being boosted by Startup Weekend, a 54-hour event that has taken place in seven African countries in the past 10 months.
Startup Weekend is an affiliate of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation which is one of the largest foundations in the US and the world's leading foundation devoted to entrepreneurship.
Business developers, technology designers, marketers, product managers and just plain startup enthusiasts attend the Startup Weekend events. Organisers report that half of the attendees have technology educations and experience, the other half have business backgrounds. Each event is organised by local technology companies and incubators.
The aspiring entrepreneurs gather to share ideas, form collaborative teams, build product prototypes and formulate plans to launch startups. The Startup Weekend format is an intense, fast paced experience. On Friday, attendees pitch their novel startup ideas to the audience and solicit others to join their team. On Saturday and Sunday, these teams bring their skills to bear on building a prototype product and defining its intended customers or beneficiaries.
Then on Sunday evening, teams present their prototypes to a panel of local experts who advise them and select best, proposed startups which then receive cash, product and service awards from sponsors.
The events produce long-term impact. According to organisers, over three-quarters of the participants continue working with their teams to refine their ideas and products. The events have worldwide alumni of 45,000. In 2011, Startup Weekends took place in Cape Town, Marrakesh, Lagos and Accra. So far this year, Nairobi, Dakar and Kampala have hosted events.
Dropifi, the winner of the Accra event, captured international attention by being chosen fourth among Africa's most brilliant startups by emerging technology tracker Memeburn.com. It was also listed on the Forbes list of the top 20 startups in Africa. Dropifi assists business's to make their website contact forms simpler and to “help companies better analyse, visualise and respond to incoming messages from contacts.”
The winner of the Nairobi event was Inuka Kenya, an online platform to connect non-tech entrepreneurs in Kenya with mentors and each other. The Dakar winner was a virtual art mall and e-commerce platform called My African Touch that enables visitors to purchase rare and unique African art and clothing.
Aspiring African entrepreneurs who take advantage of a Startup Weekend in the future could well come away with valuable knowledge and ideas, and who knows, maybe even the winning prize that they parlay into a lucrative business.