I had the pleasure of attending the Stanford Africa Forum Entrepreneurship and Development conference on January 29th, 2011. The panels covered everything from education and social entrepreneurship to investing and mobile technology. Here are five things that I took away from the conference:
1. Africa is in need of more angels who understand early stage technology startups. Mbugua Njihia who chairs Mobile Monday in Kenya got a laugh when he said: Angel investors? That’s a dream in Kenya!
2. Africa is ready for large-scale private equity. Thomas Gibian who runs a $1.8B private equity firm in Africa called ECP, said they had invested in almost every country on the continent. A few that were left out were Ethiopia because the government is too involved in the private sector, and Mozambique, where it has so far been difficult to find anything of scale.
3. Africa needs more middle managers. Mark Neuman of the Limited Brands, said that if he had one wish, it would be for more middle managers. That’s one of the key missing components. If that’s true in textiles, I wonder if it is true for technology companies as well.
4. SMS technology is very, very powerful. Nadim Mahmud, who graduated Yale in 2008, co-founded FrontlineSMS:Medic. This organization is making a huge difference in facilitating the flow of health information in rural areas in multiple countries in Africa.
5. Mobile payments matter. Menekse Gencer, who consults on the subject, highlighted that most people in the world don’t have bank accounts, but an increasing amount have access to mobile phones. Many countries will skip computer-based banking and head straight to their phones.