The African continent has huge potential to create more “unicorns”, or privately-owned technology businesses valued at $1 billion (R13.5 billion) or more, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).
WEF says that for Africa to realise success on creating more unicorns depends on creating a positive ecosystem for these vibrant enterprises to thrive and grow.
The organisation added that the focus of education needs to shift towards self-learning and entrepreneurial thinking.
Africa’s Unicorn Effect
Last week, panellists at WEF Africa on Africa’s Unicorn Effect said policy-makers should recognise the positive role that innovation can play in improving economic efficiency and creating jobs.
The utility of innovations, which is clear to the innovators, needs to be highlighted to governments, who can stifle creativity with regulation.
Matsi Modise, MD of SiMODiSA Start-Up, South Africa, said that government regulation and a lack of enabling policy to have been a handbrake on the country’s ability to position itself as a hub for start-ups and high-impact innovation.
“Lobbying efforts have resulted in a reduction of the requirements for registering intellectual property, but more needs to be done to lift heavy regulation.”
Governments in Africa need to understand the integral role that technology plays in the economy, treating it as a single sector rather than a broad, cross-cutting and transformational issue.
Ciiru Waweru Waithaka, CEO of FunKidz, Kenya, said small businesses are often viewed by policy-makers as fringe players in the economy, rather than as job creators and problem-solvers.
“Changing this perception would help improve the ecosystem for innovation.”
Skills shortages are also an issue.
“There is not enough skilled labour to operate the technology that exists,” said Waithaka.
Bright Simons, president at MPedigree, Ghana, said technology is not always recognised as a critical tool of empowerment but rather regarded as an activity on the margins of the economy. This attitude has undermined the significant contribution it can make to increasing economic efficiency and productivity. Governments need to mainstream technology in terms of policy and strategic thinking to raise its profile.
He said that, despite the growth of technology in Africa through start-ups and entrepreneurs, African governments still use their significant procurement budgets to buy technology solutions developed outside the continent, rather than taking advantage of the Africa-specific technology on their doorstep.
The panel also discussed the need for a shift in the way the education system works to foster entrepreneurialism in Africa.
Currently, education tends to be content driven, with children fed information by teachers. The next frontier of human development is to cultivate independent thought and self-learning skills at the school level to prepare children for the world where life skills are more critical than ever.