Jan Schwaab runs the Make-IT in Africa programme at the German Development agency GIZ. He talks about hopeful entrepreneurs and the challenge of finding investors.
Mr Schwaab, many people would associate the word “start-up” with Silicon Valley rather than with developing countries. Why are they your focus nonetheless?
As a result of the immense population pressure in African countries in particular, millions of new jobs are needed. This is prompting many people to set up in business on their own. On behalf of the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Make-IT in Africa supports young entrepreneurs who use modern technologies to come up with new solutions, thereby contributing to sustainable development. One example is AB3D Printing from Kenya. This start-up builds 3D printers out of electronic scrap and uses recycled plastic bottles as its print material. Umbilical cord clamps are one of the things produced by these printers – a simple but essential product that is not available in many remote regions of Africa.
How does GIZ support these entrepreneurs?
Through its accelerator programme, for example, which teaches them the basics of starting their own business: how to draw up a business plan and how to negotiate with banks and business partners? Another important factor is to give their start-up an international profile. We connect the entrepreneurs with IT giants such as SAP and IBM, working together with the German Chambers of Commerce Abroad. Another key issue for people launching their own business is capital.
Rather than providing investment, GIZ creates platforms which allow the start-ups to present themselves to investors. In 2017, for example, Solar Sister from Nigeria took part in the RuhrSummit, a major start-up conference in the Ruhr region. The women who founded Solar Sister use decentralised power grids to bring light to even the most remote hut. They were able to persuade investors of their concept at the summit, beating their European competitors hands-down.
Can Make-IT in Africa be found all over the continent?
We began in Kenya and Nigeria in 2017 and are gradually extending the programme to include other countries. Within the first year of our accelerator programme we supported 30 start-ups, and expect this number to rise to 60 by the end of 2018. We hope to reach as many as 600 start-ups by cooperating with private firms. We are confident that our methods will be adopted and continued by other partners in future. And we are considering rolling out a similar project in Asia.