It’s a question that had to be answered sooner or later, the silent question in most entrepreneurs’ minds. It’s a topic I have discussed privately, but now it’s something I think should be explored publicly.
If you look at the tech capitals of the world – Silicon Valley, Seoul and Tel Aviv – you won’t find any globally renowned black technology entrepreneurs.
It concerns me that a black entrepreneur has not come up with a major breakthrough in technology and gained a personal net worth of over a billion dollars as a result. Bear in mind, I did not say millions as there are many around today who are worth that.
Money is not the defining criteria though. To get to the bottom of this question we need to look at innovation, an idea that took the world by storm like WhatsApp.
Being African is also not in question, the continent has entrepreneurs such as Mark Shuttleworth and Elon Musk who have delivered powerful tech innovations and have billions in their pocket to prove it.
In order to answer the question, we need to confront three issues, cronyism, racism and nepotism. Firstly, they exist; we can’t run away from them.
Nepotism is a global issue. Everyone supports who they know, even people of color. This means that the success of a previous generation cascades to the generation that follows. This continues any race’s probability of success.
Many believe that racism is preventing black Africans from rising to the top. This belief is wrong. Asians and Jews at one point suffered tremendous discrimination, but they succeeded despite that challenge. Today, those two ethnicities are leading the business world.
Another challenge faced by many tech companies started by black entrepreneurs is the moment they come up with an idea, they are immediately thinking of ways to monetize it. You have to make money because you have bills to pay and there is the pressure of friends and family members wanting to see the fruit of what you have been working on.
At the main goal of the most successful tech companies, like Google, Quora and LinkedIn, their main goal was to get as many people to use their technology as possible. Once that was achieved, they started to figure out how to make money from them. WhatsApp and Quora are still trying to figure this out, but they have millions of users to work with.
Investors in the United States encourage that. You need to attract interest first, monetization will be figured out afterwards and together. The message is that they will give you money if you can show your users have an active interest. Unfortunately, this is not the case in all countries around the world.
I believe Africans are brilliant. We, however, need an ecosystem that can be supportive for all ethnicities on the continent, not just black people. Nairobi and Cape Town are beacons in Africa for the vibrant tech ecosystem they have enabled in their cities. These ecosystems were largely built by the entrepreneurs themselves.
There are two black entrepreneurs who started major technology companies that should be mentioned, David Steward from the United States and Mike Adenuga from Nigeria. Steward runs World Wide Technology, the largest black-owned company in America, with revenue of $7.4 billion in 2015. World Wide Technology is tech service based.
Adenuga, with a personal worth of $3.8 billion, runs telecommunication company Globacom, with over 30 million subscribers. It is not a global brand and it doesn’t have to be.
My point is Africans are created equally and have conquered almost every industry. Competing with the rest of the world should be a challenge, not a competition. Let’s collaborate, with each other and counterparts of all backgrounds, to advance this world technologically.