Between Guinea and Niger, perspectives on entrepreneurship in Africa, with Fatoumata Guirassy, Director of SabouTech, and Almoktar Allahoury, Director of CIPMEN: two incubators that mark the advent of a new ecosystem on a rapidly changing continent. Ludovic Centonze, Orange Development Projects Manager, gives them the floor.
Gone are the days when the first incubators in West Africa were seen as experiments, full of promise but also of questions. Today, these fundamental building blocks for the development of innovative entrepreneurial ecosystems are major players in the African digital landscape. And beyond their success, they are passing a remarkable milestone: they are networking to unite their efforts and operate a major scale-up.
On the occasion of the Sahelinnov event, Orange is pleased to note that the Orange Development Program (O4D) is bearing fruit. Supported in particular by Afric’innov, the Africa Innovation Program, the French Development Agency and Orange, Sahelinnov marks the emergence of a very inclusive network and a startup acceleration program that covers: Guinea, Senegal, Mauritania , Mali, Niger, Burkina and Chad. An innovation network that promises to become a regional benchmark in the years to come.
Promoters and linchpins of this new era, Fatoumata Guirassy, Director of the SabouTech incubator in Conakry, and Almoktar Allahoury, Director of the CIPMEN incubator in Niamey, bear witness to the formidable dynamics of a rising African digital generation.
Ludovic Centonze: You have made the choice to leave a comfortable professional situation abroad to embark on entrepreneurship in your countries of origin. What convictions drove you there?
Fatoumata Guirassy: My parents are very attached to their country of origin, which they left in the 1970s, and I have always lived in a dual culture. I was amazed at each trip that brought me back to the country. The trigger really happened during missions in Africa while I was working in a company in France. I traveled the continent and felt that there was something to do, opportunities to be seized when, in Europe, everything seemed already done. The project has matured, I came and I have no regrets.
Almoktar Allahoury: That was my original plan. My profile is rare in Niger, and I was a state scholarship holder for up to twenty years. It was natural to go back: everything we do here has more impact. The economic transformation in France is very complex, with colossal stakes and many existing. Here, we have the feeling that we can take advantage of the technological leap, there is less gravity and we can really build things for the future, with challenges that no country has ever known.
L.C .: How is Africa changing?
F.G .: When we meet our counterparts from other incubators, we see that things are moving. Young people realize that they cannot count on the state, and that problems can turn into opportunities. In Guinea, Ebola froze activity for a while, but the country has great potential, mining, agriculture, energy, and a very large and dynamic young population, unfortunately 60% of whom are unemployed. Entrepreneurship is a direct response in a country with the lowest labor supply. The success stories that emerge in this context are all examples of encouraging new people to get started. The Internet is a key factor in this transformation of the continent, but to structure the ecosystem there is educational work to be done, both with the population and with the public authorities. The incubator model appears to be the springboard that the country needs.
A.A.: Fifteen years ago, Africa was nicknamed the “continent without hope”. Today we are talking about an “Africa on the rise”. The diaspora tends to return, there is a real dynamism in the field of innovation, driven by English-speaking countries like Kenya, which have more mature ecosystems. But innovating and undertaking is above all a necessity! Because locally the situation is still difficult. In Niger, the challenge is threefold in a region particularly exposed to climate change, surrounded by conflict zones and in full demographic explosion. With CIPMEN, which is the first incubator project in the country, we want to set an example through concrete successes to lay the first bricks of an ecosystem. The SME is a direct response to unemployment: it hires, innovates and will thus create a middle class, the engine of the economy.
L.C .: Fatoumata, is there a particular role for women in these new forms of economy?
FG: In Guinea, women have a very important role in the informal economy, small businesses, markets… But they are much less present in the new economy, because they are not aware of all they can there. make. Thus, we receive few applications from women at SabouTech. Part of our program is dedicated to educating young women about ICTs: we seek parity in the groups of students to which we address, and we encourage female applications. They have everything to gain and the country too.
L.C .: Almoktar, you are at the head of one of the oldest incubators in the sub-region (with CTIC Dakar), can we say that you have successfully taken a first step?
A.A.: The goal is set at five years for financial autonomy and we have reached 70% in three years. We have moved to accommodate more companies, and next April, the first promotion will come out of the incubator, with great successes in a variety of areas: production studio whose economic program is on television, digital services of video surveillance and video on demand for traders, civilian drones manufactured in Niger and used for example in agriculture to monitor the evolution of crops … These are all initiatives with a strong social and economic impact that can meet the challenges of this continent.
L.C .: Do you work together despite the distance between your two countries? Do you feel part of a strong regional movement?
F.G.: There are close links between our incubators. You should know that we relied on the model and the experience of CIPMEN to launch SabouTech. CIPMEN was created thanks to the support of CTIC Dakar, the continent’s “historic” incubator which was launched in 2011. SabouTech will in turn serve as a model for the opening of a new incubator. Before our launch and still today, we therefore work together and exchange a lot, even if it is not in a formal way.
A.A.: Several initiatives are underway, on the one hand to bring African and French start-ups together through business residences, for example, and on the other to create a network within the continent itself. This is the whole purpose of the Sahelinnov annual event that we are putting together to bring together start-ups and duplicate their ideas in an area affected by the same issues.
L.C.: What are your expectations vis-à-vis Europe and the large industrial groups that support you like Orange?
FG: In the future, in my opinion, the important thing is to nourish this ecosystem, not necessarily through financial support from stakeholders, but through strong local roots, which will facilitate cooperation and increase the development of joint activities. , with companies as with universities.
A.A.: The launch of CIPMEN and SabouTech was initiated by Orange, then other companies (Total, Bolloré, Société Générale, etc.) and institutions were invited to the table for a public / private partnership. This organization in association, in contact with major players, is very beneficial at start-up to acquire all the tools, and facilitates access to investments for our start-ups. This is the kind of relationship we want to have in the future.
Almoktar Allahoury, Director of CIPMEN: Almoktar Allahoury is Nigerien. He took a preparatory class in Morocco and then studied engineering in France, before joining several consulting firms. Returned to Niger in 2012, he applied to become the director of an emerging incubator: the Center Incubateur des PME au Niger (CIPMEN). CIPMEN officially launched its activities in April 2014 with five incubating companies. Created in the form of an association supported by a public / private partnership bringing together large French companies, including Orange, the incubator now supports twelve companies in the fields of digital technology, renewable energies, the environment and agro-business. It offers two programs: pre-incubation, which accompanies actors from the idea phase to the creation of their business for three to six months, and incubation over three years.
Fatoumata Guirassy, Director of SabouTech: Fatoumata Guirassy was born and raised in France, where she completed a Masters in international economics at the Sorbonne, then an MBA in project development in sustainable development. She worked five years as an information systems consultant, and it was a VIE that eventually took her to Guinea, her parents’ home country. Director of the SabouTech incubator for ten months, she has worked on its institutional implementation, and now supports around ten companies in incubation or pre-incubation. Built on the same public / private partnership model as CIPMEN, Saboutech is the very first incubator in Guinea. It offers companies individualized support and works to raise awareness among all populations, particularly young people, about entrepreneurship, in an ecosystem where everything has to be built.