Embrace the Tech Ecosystem to Out-Innovate Competition

By: Amma Gyampo

If you run an established business and are looking to step up your innovation game this year; engage strategically with young local technology innovators and entrepreneurs, a force to reckon with, if you want to integrate technologies built around a deep understanding of our Continent’s challenges.

Our collaborators and colleagues in the start-up and tech ecosystem noted some exciting moments in 2017 including mPharma’s fundraising round. Their mission: to bring safe, affordable prescription medications to patients across the continent while disrupting traditional pharmaceutical supply chains.

Who can forget the Macron moment when the French president took time out to visit our friends at Impact Hub Accra, the German President stopping by at Accra’s innovation co-working community, iSpace and of course, the epic US$24 million Andela fundraise. Foreign investors are truly excited about our local tech and innovation business prospects and so should more of our established local businesses. If we are going to develop home-grown businesses with billion dollar valuations, we all need to pull together, engage and innovate our way to cross-border growth.

If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else —Booker T. Washington.

Large companies all over the world are examining how to foster innovation, actively plug into and better support upcoming innovators. “Disrupt or Die” is a common mantra in the tech and innovation space.

A cursory look at the proliferation of FinTech solutions, payment platforms and infrastructure developed by the likes of Visa, Hubtel and ZeePay, for example or the Barclays open innovation programme, RISE, is indicative of the established trend of big players investing resources strategically to access disruptive technologies. Note to Corporate organisations or would-be Angel investors; absolutely make 2018 the year to become au fait and engage directly with local innovators and tech entrepreneurs. We would like to encourage partnering and perhaps re-channelling some of those budgets towards the development of sustainable technology-based businesses developed by local talent for local problems.

Let’s hear from some of our finest and more experienced tech innovators on their experiences, recommendations and wish-lists for deeper, strategic collaboration with corporate organisations and investors in 2018.

Emmanuel Noah, Founder of BenBen, a collateral risk assessment and mortgage origination Tech firm which participated in Barclays’ Accelerator Program. “Traditional corporates are unable to keep up with the pace of innovation by themselves and should actively mitigate the risk of being left behind through Technology Partnerships. We had the opportunity of leveraging Barclays’ immense industry expertise and advisory support which would have cost us tens of thousands of dollars in expenses. At the end of the program we managed to conduct a proof of concept with Barclays Bank Ghana to validate our product. Corporates gain value from engaging with Tech innovators and hedge their risks by running localised pilots to test out new business models and explore new verticals. Barclays and Ecobank Africa have set the stage using this model. It’s only a matter of time before others follow suit.”

Emmanuel Ansah-Amprofi, COO of Meltwater School of Entrepreneurship and Technology alumni Trotro Tractor, says he’d like to see more direct capital and impact investments to more advanced tech related start-ups with established market or track-record.  Corporate institutions in Ghana must take bold steps to work with tech entrepreneurs as many entrepreneurs have the long-term solutions for the challenges established corporates will face in the years ahead.  The multiplier effect on development and access to key services will in turn provide competitive advantages to institutional, angel and corporate investors. We have been lucky enough to have corporates like KOSMOS believe in us and support us. It would be great to see more locally owned businesses follow suit.”

Asoriba’s Nana Prempeh would like to see more established local business leaders “Sit on our boards and direct start-ups on how to grow into a scalable company with the right structures in place. That is one of the most critical things tech start-ups lack that corporates have. We have been fortunate to have some corporates support us in running proof of concept projects which gave us a great opportunity to understand how we could bring value to other partners, as well as for the banks and other clients to input further into the innovation backed by that business input, essential to the broader adoption and commercial success of our tech solutions; a win-win. The support we received from Barclays Bank through their RISE programme also gave us a life line. We continue to develop our solutions and grow the business.”

Cecil Nutakor, CEO of EduTech company eCampus: “Corporate companies can provide meaningful opportunities to test innovative business models beyond the usual pitch decks, competitions etc.  They can actively pursue policies to award tech enabled businesses contracts, no matter how small the contract. It’s the best thing that can happen to an entrepreneur or start-up.  It challenges their assumptions with respect to operational costs. Early stage companies often end up under quoting and running out of funds to deliver on contracts. It also enforces financial accounting discipline of start-ups by forcing them to start working with the various tax authorities and filling annual returns.”

Edem Dotse, Founder of Swiftly Global: “We are a technology company revolutionising the way the freight forwarding industry works and how people ship goods in and out of Africa. Our mission is to transform the way people connect with the freight industry offering cheaper, “greener”, more efficient and timely service.”  He added, “We cannot underplay the significance of great advisors and mentors, as we are fortunate to have on board. Larger companies can certainly benefit from engaging more with disruptive innovators like us to gain a competitive edge through our technologies.”

Innovation Mindset and Culture

To innovate within an established business can be difficult without the right type of culture embedded. Engage with your leadership, your researchers, your sales and admin teams to determine the type of organisational culture you have, benchmark that and take active steps towards creating a culture of openness, transparency, creativity and debate which ultimately foster a more innovative culture within your organisation. “Foreign investors believe in tech companies and are not afraid to try out innovative solutions that we African tech entrepreneurs develop. Conversely, and unfortunately most African businesses normally want to play safe and do not really understand the value that we are already demonstrating in our respective fields of endeavour.

There is nothing like getting out there in the field with potential clients or partners to test and engage new solutions. Ghanaian companies should actively open up to give tech entrepreneurs commercial opportunities” Paul Damalie, CEO of Inclusive Technologies shared.  “We have had foreign clients give us a chance purely based on seeing the potential our solutions offer.  It’s a deep understanding of the future and a mindset of innovation that they have which sets them apart and keeps them surging forward. They believe in our technical capabilities and local knowledge of the African market.”

Our own business leaders should certainly believe and support our budding tech moguls; paying it forward whenever the opportunity arises and leading strategically while doing that.

Demand Follows Demand

Start-ups with a track record of having served corporate clients boost investor confidence as they can demonstrate product- market fit and proof of concept to potential investors. This can only fuel growth in our local entrepreneurship ecosystem. Uber saw several thousand downloads in Accra way before the company’s market entry into Ghana. Nutakor adds, “Customers buy when they hear and see others using a product.  Start-ups that can demonstrate actual customer demand and spend have a competitive advantage over the competition”. This leads to more attractive investment prospects for would-be investors, as well as mutual growth for our larger established companies and entrepreneurial tech companies.

GB&F Magazine

Amma Gyampo is Founder of AmDeCo which develops Agri and Tech SMEs. She advises leaders on how to tap into disruptive technologies to solve local problems; creating synergistic and sustainable competitive advantage. She is an advisory board member to several Tech companies and has built up a consulting portfolio across several industries including Telecoms (BlackBerry and Vodafone), IT Management, Real Estate, Public Sector and Hospitality. She brings a unique perspective and global entrepreneurship network to forward-looking African CEOs and Founders seeking to harness the full potential of business processes, innovation and technology.  AmDeCo also assists established companies to innovate through entrepreneurial collaborations, innovation labs, accelerator and incubator programmes. Amma is also an active advisor on such programmes.

Contact: info@amdeco.info for services relating to boosting innovation in your organisation.

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