“Unprecedented” might go down in history as the most used word in Q1 2020 but since, we brought together some of the best minds in the ecosystem for the “Bullish on Africa” conference, we have to use it once again.
On May 15, 2020, at 12 pm (WAT), TechCabal and Pariti brought tech thinkers and doers from across the world together for the Bullish on Africa digital conference.
The event was to drive critical thinking about getting to a stronger industry from where we are today.
Summary: these are strange times for businesses and the economy, the outlook is bleak, especially in Africa. “Bullish on Africa” was asking, should all the players on the African scene run and hide?
There was no better way to start than with a keynote address from the founder of Ventures Platform, Kola Aina. His keynote got to the meat of the matter quickly as he addressed why it is important for investors and business owners to take a long term view on Africa.
He cited the continent’s fast growing youthful population as a marker of the potential that is waiting to be unlocked. But these opportunities are not without their own challenges, and the biggest global challenge right now is the COVID-19 pandemic.
“No one anticipated the scale of the pandemic. When it was ravaging Wuhan, it felt like a distant situation.” Kola Aina told attendees.
From what once seemed like a local problem, the pandemic is now affecting access to capital. Businesses are experiencing cash flow constraints and seeing lowered consumer spending.
It is not the absence of challenges that should make us bullish on Africa, it is that situations like this are not a time to hide. His comments echo the thoughts of Sim Shagaya during TechCabal’s Live Session: Building in Tough Times.
“It’s a matter of perspective: you can see the cup as half full or half empty, but the only way you get out of a rut is by building.” – Kola Aina, (Founder, Ventures Platform)
What does it take to build in these times?
According to Kola Aina these are what it takes to build in these times; critical infrastructure, missional companies, moonshots, and opportunities.
Here’s a link to his keynote address. It is worth a second look.
Amandla’s Ooko-Ombaka, one of the authors of McKinsey & Company’s report: “Tackling COVID-199 in Africa” brought some heat to our fireside chat.
She spoke about the importance of localising responses to the pandemic and also the roles governments have to play. But, she provided context, it is not enough for businesses to insist governments get involved.
“The government has a massive role to play. But businesses and investors need to be more clear about what their priorities are. It is important to support the government with data.”
It is a challenge to the players in the ecosystem to go beyond taking government handouts to stepping up to provide the data the government can use to improve its responses.
“If we have data that can help the government with their response, we should share that.”
An example of this is providing data to the government to improve SME access to stimulus funds. Companies like Paystack can assist the government with this type of data.
Like many of the speakers at the conference, Amandla did not mention the problems without proffering the solutions for the present as well as the future.
“The number of people without access is still staggering and this is not a regulatory issue.We need to make sure that tech is in the hands of more people.”
Providing jobs is where tech comes in. She argues that the role of tech is to improve inclusivity and access.
Now that’s a challenge to think about all the ways that technology can activate new kinds of jobs as we move to the future.
Speaking of the future, two sectors that are seeing their stock rise despite the pandemic are logistics and edtech.
Leonard Ebute, the country manager for Lori Systems, a logistics platform, captures it in capitalist fashion; “There’s no better time to put your money in a business like ours than now.”
Some of our panelists argued that the world is seeing how important logistics is, but it is not to say that there’s nothing to improve as we move towards the future. With many of the owners of hauling trucks in Africa still reluctant to embrace tech, there’s work to be done.
Some of the work will include encouraging them to use financial institutions, encouraging them to build bigger fleets as well as fleet management. Basically, they need to invest in their businesses.
Where are the big exits?
Speaking of investments, Ben Harburg, Managing Partner at MSA Capital, a global investment firm was also a speaker at the conference.
He touched on his firm’s investment thesis, the reasons they’re focusing on Africa and the difficulty in investing in Africa.
“We are here because this is the last underpenetrated continent.”
“The difficulty in Africa is a lack of general proof in the pudding. You don’t have a lot of big exits and investors looking for returns are yet to get anything out of the continent. “
“We are looking for healthy businesses. We don’t believe in high cash burn to acquire customers. We think the unit economics need to make sense.”
The Bullish on Africa conference also had a founder panel on Healthtech that featured the CEO fo 54 Gene, Abasi Ene-Obong, Alain Nteff of Health Lane and others.
The 54Gene CEO touched on the need for Nigeria to improve its health infrastructure. Without an improvement in infrastructure, it will be difficult for tech to be layered on top of the existing health solutions.
He also ended with the importance of data and privacy in the technology sector. “Your data is worthless if no one wants it. Lots of big companies will not touch your data if you do not have informed consent.”