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Why Big Tech Is Heading To Africa

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By: Toby Shapshak, Forbes.com Contributor

As Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey demonstrated with his month-long trip in November, the importance of Africa for global companies keeps growing.

The increasingly frequent visits by high-level CEOs shows the importance of the continent, says Max Cuvellier, head of programmes at the GSM Association (GSMA) Mobile for Development (M4D).

Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter and Square, Inc, raised some eyebrows in Silicon Valley when he announced he was moving to Africa in 2020. Africa is poised to take off as the next big tech market, and both America and China have taken notice.

Since 2015, the heads of the world’s biggest tech businesses have visited Africa. It started with Airbnb’s Brian Chesky and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella in 2015, with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg visiting Kenya and Nigeria in 2016. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai came in 2017, while then Alphabet’s Sergey Brin visited the following year. Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma has come to Africa in 2017, twice in 2018 and again this year.

“What I like the most when I look at tech giant CEO visits is that they seem to recognise the potential of the continent not only as a market, but as a source of innovation and talent,” Cuvellier told me. “They dedicate more and more time on these trips to meeting local entrepreneurs, discussing emerging technologies with local experts and going to universities to interact with local students. Some might too quickly dismiss this as anecdotal, but when Jack Ma awards you with a prize (Temie Giwa-Tubosun of LifeBank in Nigeria last week) – or Jack Dorsey endorses you on social media as ‘the most incredible soul in all the world’ (Betelhem Dessie of iCog Labs in Ethiopia), I like to believe these things reflect positively not only on the individuals, but on the whole community.”

Cuvellier has created a map of these CEO visits which demonstrate “things are getting serious”.

Although it might be easy to dismiss the importance of these trips, especially as many people only see a few quotes or a handful of selfies with locals. The most popular article on Brian Chesky’s visit to South Africa in 2015 – the first visit recorded on the map – focuses on how short his visit was, says Cuvellier. 

“But I do believe that the trips in themselves are an indication of growing interest in the continent from ‘tech giants’. Jack Ma is on his third visit to the continent since July 2017 and has now visited seven countries, Jack Dorsey just spent a full month in Africa.”

By comparison, in the same period the Chinese president only made one visit to Africa (visiting four countries in July 2018) and none by the American president. 

“Most importantly, and beyond the visits, actual commitments are made: Google’s first AI lab in Africa (in Accra, Ghana) was announced by Sundar Pichai in June 2018 and was opened earlier this year; while Ethiopia and the Alibaba Group just inaugurated a global trade platform on Monday. I am hopeful the deals and the partnerships, not just the trips, will keep coming.”

He highlights that much of Africa’s innovation successes are based on the widespread adoption of mobile phones. 

“These tech giants wouldn’t be looking at Africa if it weren’t for mobile technology,” says Cuvellier. 

As of July 2019, the GSMA estimated there were 456-million unique mobile subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa alone, and it remains the fastest growing region globally (4.6% year-on-year). Some 52% of these mobile subscribers (239 million) use mobile internet on a regular basis.

Connectivity is also getting much better:  in 2019, 3G has overtaken 2G to become the leading mobile technology in the region. 

“Mobile money – with 396-million registered mobile money accounts – provides access to financial services to many. Last but not least, the demographic bulge will result in large numbers of young consumers becoming adults and owning a mobile phone for the first time. They will account for the majority of new mobile subscribers and, as ‘digital natives’, will significantly influence mobile usage patterns in the future, not to mention they often are a key target of ‘tech giants’.”

The full list, according to Cuvellier, of tech CEO visits:

  • Brian Chesky, Airbnb (2015)
  • Satya Nadella, Microsoft (2015)
  • Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook (2016)
  • Sundar Pichai, Google (2017)
  • Jack Ma, Alibaba Group (2017, 2018*2, 2019)
  • Sergey Brin, Alphabet (2018)
  • Jack Dorsey, Twitter (2019).

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Billionaires

How To Become A Billionaire: Nigeria’s Oil Baroness Folorunso Alakija On What Makes Tomorrow’s Billionaires

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One of only two female billionaires in Africa, with a net worth of $1 billion, Nigeria’s oil baroness Folorunso Alakija elaborates on the state of African entrepreneurship today.

The 69-year-old Folorunso Alakija is vice chair of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company with a stake in Agbami Oilfield, a prolific offshore asset. Famfa Oil’s partners include Chevron and Petrobras. Alakija’s first company was a fashion label. The Nigerian government awarded Alakija’s company an oil prospecting license in 1993, which was later converted to an oil mining lease. The Agbami field has been operating since 2008; Famfa Oil says it will likely operate through 2024. Alakija shares her thoughts to FORBES AFRICA on what makes tomorrow’s billionaires:

What is your take on the state of African entrepreneurship today? Is enough being done for young startups?

There are a lot of business opportunities in Africa that do not exist in other parts of the world, yet Africa is seen as a poor continent. The employment constraints in the formal sector in Africa have made it impossible for it to meet the demands of the continent’s working population of which over 60% are the youth. Therefore, it is imperative we harness the potential of Africa’s youth to engage in entrepreneurship and provide adequate assistance to enable them to succeed.

Several governments have been working to provide a conducive atmosphere which will promote entrepreneurship on the continent. However, there is still a lot more to be done in ensuring that the potential of these young entrepreneurs are maximized to the fullest. Some of the challenges young startups in Africa face are as follows: lack of access to finance/insufficient capital; lack of infrastructure; bureaucratic bottlenecks and tough business regulations; inconsistent government policies; dearth of entrepreneurial knowledge and skills; lack of access to information and competition from cheaper foreign alternatives.

It is therefore imperative that governments, non-governmental agencies, and the financial sectors work together to ameliorate these challenges itemized above.

The governments of African nations should provide and strengthen its infrastructure (power, roads and telecom); they should encourage budding entrepreneurs by ensuring that finance is available to businesses with the potential for growth and also commit to further improving their business environments through sustained investment; there must also be a constant push for existing policies and legislation to be reviewed to promote business activities.

These policies must also be enforced, and punitive measures put in place to deter offenders; government regulations should also be flexible to constantly fit the dynamics of the business environment; corruption and unethical behavior must be decisively dealt with and not treated with kid gloves. We must empower our judicial system to enable them to prosecute erring offenders with appropriate sanctions meted out. There should be no “sacred cows” or “untouchables”. The same law must be applied to all, no matter their state or position in the society; non-governmental organizations can also provide support for them through training and skills acquisition programs that will help build their capacity; they could also provide finance to grow their businesses; more mentorship programs should be encouraged, and incubators of young enterprises should be supported by public policy aimed at improving the quality of these youths and their ventures; and also, avenues should be created where young entrepreneurs will be able to connect, learn and share ideas with already successful well-established entrepreneurs.

What, according to you, are the attributes needed for tomorrow’s billionaires?

There is no overnight success. You must start by dreaming big and working towards achieving it. You must be determined to succeed despite all odds. Do not allow your setbacks or failures to stop you but rather make them your stepping stone. Develop your strengths to attain excellence and be tenacious, never give up on your dream or aspiration. Your word must be your bond. You must make strong ethical values and integrity your watchword. Always act professionally and this will enable you to build confidence in your customers and clients. 

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The Top 5 Emerging Crazy Tech

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A pick of some of the weirdest, coolest tech that could come hurtling our way this year.

  1. A bot that delivers toilet paper

Forgot to instal toilet paper in the loo? The Charmin RollBot is designed to carry a roll of toilet paper on two wheels. With the press of a button on your phone, the RollBot will help with your sanitary requirement.

Using Bluetooth, the bot will commence its mission; an infra-red sensor able to navigate its way to you. According to Business Insider, there’s no price or release date for RollBot, nor is it clear if it will ever be released as a consumer product. Charmin calls RollBot a “conceptual prototype”. The brand unveiled the bot last month at the CES 2020 expo in Las Vegas.

2. The Cyrcle phone

If for any reason you got bored of your rectangular handset, the circular phone is always an alternative offering a different view and take. According to the makers, the phone was designed with the Generation Z, female audience in mind. It’s round and features two headphone jacks. The device was designed by a US-based startup delivering a shape that it says is more “sensual”. The company reckons it will be ready to launch in a year’s time.

3. A smart bed

There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep. But it’s not always possible to have the best sleep every day. Or is it? There is a bed that’s guaranteed to give you your beauty sleep the way you want it.

Sleep Number Climate 360 has a mattress with features that warm your feet to help you sleep faster. It will also help you stay asleep by cooling your body, and balance your temperature with your natural wake and sleep cycles.

But what’s most intriguing is the fact that the bed also gives you a Sleep IQ score for personalized sleep insights. It measures your heart rate, breathing and movement, tracks your circadian rhythms and can show how your heart rate varies. The smart bed received the CES 2020 Best of Innovation award and is only expected to be available in 2021.

4. Self-changing trash can

For those who dread taking out the trash, this device is possible a no-brainer. Apart from its motion sensors to detect when you need to throw trash, when it’s full, it will automatically seal the trash bag and line the bin with a new one, all with a press of a button.

Even if the bin is overflowing, the top compartment will lift up so it can still seal the bag shut without any mess. The bin, called the Townew bin, was designed by a Canadian company, Knectek Labs.

5. Vertical TV

Just when we were getting used to wider TVs, it seems taller screens may soon be coming to your living room. Samsung’s Sero TV vertical-oriented will soon be hitting markets.

The TV can not only work in the traditional horizontal format, but is also able to turn on its side for playing vertical videos in portrait style.This might come in handy when watching videos from social media platforms such as TikTok or Instagram that deal primarily with vertical videos.

It sits on a stand that prevents it hitting the floor when turning, and can be paired with a phone so that it automatically orientates it correctly based on what’s beamed from the handset. According to TechRadar.com the pricing and availability are yet to be revealed, but the Sero will be leaving Korea and is headed to the US and “several global markets” later this year.

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Under 30

Nominations Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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