The 12th annual Innovation Africa Digital Summit (IADS) held recently in Gambia in western Africa highlighted the growth of ICT infrastructure and innovative services in the region.
Gambia has the highest teledensity in Africa, and despite its small size, punches above its weight when it comes to ambitions and targets. Industry and government agencies indicated at the conference that the country plans to become an ICT hub in the next 3-5 years.
According to a recent Media Monitor International report, Gambia displays a great enthusiasm towards entrepreneurship, as reflected in its investment in youth, competitions and awards for entrepreneurs. The Children and Community Initiative for Development (CAID) and Africa Youth Panel (AYP) have rolled out a range of capacity building initiatives for youth.
The Gambia Investment Export and Promotion Agency (GIEPA) conducts an annual Business Plan Competition for MSMEs. The ministry of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment has also launched an innovation grant as part of the Social Development Fund, to commercialise local projects. An estimated two-thirds of Gambia’s economy is powered by MSMEs.
MNCs such as Intel and Microsoft have announced initiatives to invest in local startups in Africa. The companies are promoting local app development as well, considering that much of Africa is a ‘mobile first’ economy when it comes to ICTs. Gambian ICT entrepreneurs such as Muhammed Jah have been covered prominently in local and international media such as the BBC. Jah is the founder of QuantumNet, an ICT company with over 300 employees, and was recently estimated to worth around $156 million.
Momodou Drammeh, enterprise director at GIEPA, explains that Gambia is one of the safest countries in Africa, a melting pot of eight different ethnic groups, competitive in its labour force, stable in economy, and speaks English as an official language. Gambia’s membership to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) trading bloc ensures market access to over 300 million people.
International players are also active in Gambia’s entrepreneur movement. Africa Startup, based out of Norway, has launched two projects in Gambia: MyFarm (a one-hectare farm-based educational centre focusing on ‘seed to business’ agri-activities) and MyFarm Produce (to promote better packaging of agricultural produce).
Gambia is already a cultural hub with a unique blend of local and international music, with a range of fresh talent also using digital media for music discovery and promotion. Notable musicians include Jaliba Kuyateh, Foday Musa Suso, Tabou Diop, Jalimadi, Pa Bobo Jobarteh and The Kaira Band, to name just a few
Read the whole article on yourstory.com
Accelerators and incubators are an increasingly important and visible part of the startup ecosystem in technology hubs around the world.
These initiatives work on a variety of different models to offer the same basic proposition to entrepreneurs: affordable office space, a support network, and sometimes seed investment to bring together and nurture entrepreneurial teams until they are in a position to scale up and fend for themselves.
An accelerator’s success and reputation are dictated by the success of its startups. This in turn is dependent on the volume and quality of entrepreneurs it can attract and the accelerator’s ability to build and improve its startups’ teams during the period in which they are part of the program. Accelerators and incubators often bring in external mentors and advisors to help this process. They also help startups get access to funding by providing as many funding opportunities and angel networks as possible.
Startup Commons Platform is built with the mindset of improving team-building, tracking progress, and developing startups into viable businesses. Being viable in this sense can mean ‘investment-ready’ for those that will require investment; or simply able to grow sustainably for those that will not.
The core Team Builder module allows an accelerator to assess and evaluate a startup team throughout its program so that it can demonstrate the improvement between beginning and end, according to the accelerator’s own criteria. For instance, an accelerator can develop criteria for investment-readiness so that it can assess a startup idea, the team, and the market against these criteria when the entrepreneurs join the program at the beginning and leave at the end.
The Showcase module gives a central location where an accelerator can illustrate its startups’ successes, and the Startup Tracker module allows them to keep tabs on the progress of startups that may have applied one year and not yet quite been ready.
Through being part of the Startup Commons Platform an accelerator can also be connected with different startups ecosystems enabling its teams to access outside expertise, potential co-founders, mentors, lawyers, advisors, and investors.
“Startups Ecosystems” has started to appear in Google Trends and this is a good proof about how important these communities are for many regions and countries in order to achieve a sustainable economic development. Fostering entrepreneurial culture, building startups accelerators, launching competitions, mentoring and seeking funding are some of the main activities that are necessary to support startups.
It is key to have a good and deep understanding about how these startups ecosystems works if we want to get success and make supporting startups more cost effective, efficient and transparent.
One of the players in the startup scene that is understanding quite well these environments is Grow VC Group. Crowd Valley, a Grow VC Group company, now offers a platform and backoffice to many marketplaces and crowdfunding services, not only for startup funding but also to get more effective markets for all kinds of assets. Grow Advisors helps many finance companies, startup ecosystems and investors to build models that can utilize crowdfunding and p2p investing in their investing models. ChangeLab23 builds better usability and software for many growth companies. Grow VC Group is also working to build new co-investing models, and they have a stake in several startup companies as they help to build business for them. This means that Grow VC Group has taken an important role to build enablers and tools for growth companies around the world.
They have one more important component, Startup Commons. Startup Commons is a non-profit organization that was launched at a Kauffman Foundation event this summer. It offers tools including a platform to get startups, experts and investors together to build and develop companies, and components that each startup needs, like a Shareholders’ Agreement template. We also cooperate with other organizations, like Mobile Monday, that globally get mobile professionals together and also build new startups.
Grow VC Group also works with partners that offer tools and solutions for the same needs. One example is UK-based law services company Lawbite that especially has tailored its law services and online packages for entrepreneurs and startups. It is a good example of how the startup and growth company ecosystem needs new solutions. The old models that have worked for corporates don’t work for all companies. Funding, legal services and support communities for a growth company are good examples of those areas where new solutions are coming.
A good understanding is the first step towards the right direction and also is the way to build the future and help next generation of startups to grow smartly, locally and globally.
Why yes, that is my mirrored handwriting.
In the modern, networked society it's nothing short of a miracle that some traditional organizations make ends meet. However, in the longer term every inefficient organization will have to come to grips with the new world and adapt to the surroundings. That or face the consequences.
This post has a personal grounding to our organization at Grow VC. During the 2011 winter holidays we've spent time planning for the longer term and steering the direction of the ship so to speak. I've had an inkling that I wanted to bring forth in our discussion and it's become the topic of a larger discussion since then. This inkling is namely that in roughly a years time, at the end of 2012, the Grow VC team will have grown to over 100 individuals.
Why Not Make It a Thousand?
Delving into this subject of scaling the organization, our CEO retorted with a larger number. Why couldn't we instead be over a thousand in the organization after a year? After the intial shock and a few missed heartbeats, it all made sense. Most, if not all great long term organizations have over 1000 people.
Why did he ask me that? The reasoning is quite simple. If we think we can't – we never will. And if we don't believe it's possible, then we're in the wrong place.
We've gone through the path of scaling the organization and responsibilities, benchmarking and attracting the most brilliant people to our team and we've successfully passed 50 individuals (who we are immensely proud of might I add). How do you grow an organization from the initial team to fifty? Well, just make sure you recruit the best and the rest will follow. At least to a large extent. Fifty is a big number, but it's one that you can still handle by pulling the strings yourself. A thousand (1 0 0 0) on the other hand, you will need a separate recipe for.
No One Has a Clue
Scaling the organization past fifty individuals requires a different approach. I'm confident we as an organization can do it, that's not the issue. We've got heaps and heaps of confidence. How it will look, that's a completely different topic all together. In attempting to create an efficient, purposeful organization also past the first 100 people, we've looked at making it scalable in building value. We as an organization take scaling very seriously.
In developing any organization past a certain number, it becomes clear that no one has a clue. Sure all MBA books are filled ten dollar words on strategic management and how to guide a large organization. But can you really guide an organization of hundreds or over a thousand individuals? Look at how large organizations function, look at how much efficient time individuals have each day. We've approached this dilemma differently. We want to make it work.
Interconnected teams for an efficiently scaled startup. With our global operations on six continents, it's been important for us to have local people. For us this means people with real ownership, incentives and autonomy to make things happen – you know, entrepreneurs. Teams in this context are nothing but a collection of people, with the before mentioned attributes, who have a set goal, ultimately that is to build value in the organization. Teams mean local teams, task specific teams (e.g. development, UX etc) and functional teams (e.g. the dreaded 'management').
These teams are interconnected and they need to communicate amongst themselves, that is the interconnected part. They should be able to function autonomously, but they should also be able to leverage and learn from one another. The primary links should be between the teams themselves and the secondary links are to 'management'. The primary purpose of 'management' itself should be to provide the targets, metrics, priorities and support when needed in achieving the targets. But maybe most importantly, to get out of the way. Easier said than done, but what is the alternative? The pyramid? No thank you.
Guidelines - no Excuses
Brilliant people. Documented and proven processes that are constantly developed. Measured targets. The right culture.
This is more or less our recipe and so far we're sticking to it. With efficiency and purpose always in mind, everyone is required to build tangible value and get things done. If something doesn't work, fix it. If it does, improve it. It's all about purpose in a team like this and if you dont share the purpose, you aren't part of the team.
At the end of the day it's been a delight working with our driven team up to this point and I look forward to all the people that we add on to this journey of globally developing equity crowdfunding. And in our market there are figuratively over 7 billion people and we will find the most brilliant hundred or thousand or whatever may be the number. We've already gone through over 1500 applications and the pace keeps increasing. We will find all the right people, it's just a matter of time.
Clearly we at Grow VC are still the exception in terms of how organizations look and we will continue to push the envelope for a good many years. But how long are you willing to bet that the other approach still works? Or is it just a question of a process that no one has thought to question?
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