Zimbabwe –  Victoria Falls hosted the 6th edition of Transform Africa Summit 2023 (TAS23) on 26th to 28th April, powered by Smart Africa which was launched 10 years ago in Rwanda. SMART Africa is a bold and innovative commitment from African Heads of State and Government to accelerate sustainable socio-economic development on the continent, ushering Africa into a knowledge economy through affordable access to Broadband and usage of Information and Communications Technologies.

TAS23 is claimed to be the biggest and most influential event on ICT in African Continent. The event that was attended by Ms Nts’epeng Ts’ita Tikiso from Lesotho, under Afrilabs, as a player in entrepreneurship ecosystem in Lesotho under BAM Group Foundation.

Amongst the panels, there was one thatdiscussed and gave practical proposals on opportunities for cross-border trade and market access identified by innovators looking to expand beyond their borders in Africa. The key issues discussed were around leveraging local ecosystems, streamlined visa policies, harmonized policies, access to funding and legal protection and support.

The panelists were Hon. Min. Yacine El Mahdi Oualid – The Honourable Minister of Knowledge Economy, Startups and Micro Enterprises Algeria, Nicephore Fylla, Honourable Minister of Promotion of the private sector and Industrial Development of Congo, Esther Kunda, Executive Director Innovation & Emerging Technologies, Rwanda Ministry of ICT, and Joel Karubiu, Estonian Business and Innovation Agency, Export Advisor in Kenya (East Africa) where the moderator was Anna Ekeledo, the Executive Director of AfriLabs and Serge Ntamack AfriLabs Policy Advisor.

Drawing from Rwanda, it said a few years back Rwanda decided to have visa on arrival for all African countries. Later most countries adopted the model and are now FREE, where even during the summit, Zimbabwe visitors immediately got visa on arrival. Rwanda feels MOBILITY IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST POLICY ISSUES AS IT HELPS WITH CROSS COLABORATIONS. Normally, it is hard when you are in a country to know what the business environment is like, on issues like regulations, therefore making information available online is key for as it contributes to market intelligence. Rwanda has therefore made interventions such as access to information as priority. It was mentioned that Afrilabs can be very instrumental in this part of ensuring information access across African countries.

Rwanda Development board (which is a window into investments in Rwanda) in March made one stop center where you can get licensing information for ALL institutions that provide licensing hence reduces travel to all areas. With Rwanda PAN African universities, they have also attracted more than 40 nationalities and startups can be easily be established. Mobility was highly stressed citing examples as VISA on arrival,  soft landing pad for incubators, access to information platform, and certificate of origin to mention a few. With is structure, it makes it easy for researchers to move around.

It was mentioned that after lockdown, a few Africans came to Rwanda while working for multinationals. This made attracting companies to base their quarters in Rwanda hence seeking talent like engineering.  More than 70% of Rwandans are below 35 years hence it is a young population. They are therefore getting many developers being trained in tech to help startups that are growing. They also subsidize internships to start getting talent. They work with private sector companies to be the first ones to grab local talent identified. They are being sold on building solution that support African problems.

In Rwanda they are also trying to develop the BPO (business process outsourcing) in technologies support services where a lot of companies are now outsourcing developers from Rwanda. The country currently has servicing tech companies in Europe and Japan. They start while they are still in universities to establish their startups.

In ESTONIA, to help facilitate research and development, they have worked on market access. Currently the country (of around 1.357 Billion population) has 11 UNICORNS while Africa has 10 UNICORNS. Estonia pumps a $600,000,000 fund invested for startups.

32% of startup founders are actually foreigners, meaning Estonia is opening markets. Estonia has a startup visa where you get subsidy as a foreigner. A startup can get a scale up visa, where you get more funding when the investment is high.

On projecting oneself to be ready for funding, it was indicated that generally the African market (citing Kenya as an example) has a problem of writing pitch decks. Currently Estonia has 1,144 startups listed. Estonia has a portal that has all information regarding how to start a business, with the necessary templates availed. They are clear that at the beginning, one does not have the money to be a lawyer so they can use the templates where they give a checklist of what is required.  The country appreciates that for a startup, capital is time so the government gives all the basics. This move was driven by the private sector, hence they made sure that businesses start as quickly as possible.

It is therefore worthy to note that regulation of startups is required in African Union. This will enable African talents to move from one country to another through startup VISA. Currently, it is easier for a European startup to scale in European countries while the latter is not the same in African Countries. MOUs between countries are done to recognize startup stages in each country. Algeria and Tunisia startups get the same incentives across those two countries through a ministerial consent to exchange.

ALGERIA said it has a ministry of startups that supports by giving tax incentives with a crowd funding model supporting up to 5000 startups. They are working on talent retention and on creating local success stories hence making it easy for startups to scale up and be integrated in the region. The government also gives direct funding and supports incubators.

For startups, the country has been providing tax incentives. Government further pays patents for startups. Algeria appreciates that policies should work as catalysts on business environment, not the other way round.  This was articulated by the minister who indicated he was a tech person before being in government and his teammates come from the private sector (LIKE LESOTHO).  On collaboration, there are a lot of startup events that are initiated to make the ecosystem vibrant. They have 2 of the biggest startup events in January called Startup Day, and another in May called Latitude 59. 

With CONGO, they mentioned that they have a NO TAXATION policy for startups at all which is a great incentive, apart from other already mentioned initiatives by other countries.

For Afrilabs, it was mentioned that it will be hosting annual conference in October in Rwanda and probably that will be the time they look at how soft-landing can be done for African startups. With the platform already existing in Estonia, there was a proposal that Afrilabs should do startup network ‘platform’, where Estonia to give the backend.

It is during this summit that 8 girls between ages 15-25 were awarded cash prizes each up to $6,000, laptop and iPhone, and job placement guarantee after they qualified under Miss Geek Africa 2023. Miss Geek is an entrepreneurship competition that originated as Miss Geek Rwanda in 2014, but was renamed Miss Geek Africa in 2017 and has expanded to 22 countries in Africa. Girls and women between the ages of 13 and 25 submit apps that solve problems through technological innovations. The top three competitors receive cash prizes and business training, and the winner also receives financial backing