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Why it's techpreneurs that will solve Africa's challenges

Google SA's Mich Atagana and other digital thought leaders on the tech trends that shaped 2015


Google SA’s Mich Atagana

Opportunities for African technopreneurs lie in finding innovative solutions to the continent's greatest challenges, this is according to Google SA’s head of communications and public affairs, Mich Atagana.

Speaking at the African Tech Round-Up’s Annual Round-Up 2015, Atagana says there continues to be an inaccurate understanding of what tech innovation means in the African context. 

"People always ask who’s going to build the next Facebook, will the next Google come from Africa but I’ve always found that question quite funny because Africans are not actually thinking about building a Google or a Facebook.

"For them it’s about who’s going to be the first to solve the solar energy issues, who’s going to be the first to crack this ubiquitous mobile money problem across the continent, who’s going to be the first to deliver health care easily to people," she says.

Looking at what the year has been like for tech innovation in Africa, Atagana says, "Something that has been true for the last 3 years, I feel, and it’s still true in 2015, Africans want to solve problems. They need to solve basic African problems. I’ve seen a lot of companies pop up trying to address very basic things."

Held annually, the event brought together various African technology and digital thought leaders to discuss this year's technology, digital and innovation trends on the continent.

Guest speakers included Jo Crawshaw, growth and communications at Opera Africa ; Musa Kalenga, Africa client partner at Facebook and head of Brand, IAB (SA); Kali Ilunga, founder and CEO of SeeSayDo; Dominique Collett-Antolik, senior investment executive at RMI Holdings; Brandon Doyle, CEO and founding partner at Convergence Partners; Andrew Taylor, magazine columnist and co-founder at LexNove; Craig Wilson, deputy editor at Stuff Magazine, technology analyst at TechReport; Kojo Baffoe, director at Project Fable as well as Jade Brennan, digital content specialist at Caxton Magazines and writer at TechGirl. 

Empathetic innovation is the key to Africa’s future

The continent is at an advantage as it can piggyback on existing technologies, says Atagana. 

"Entrepreneurs in Africa especially, keep thinking they need to build something new or reinvent something in a dramatic way. They actually forget that the base code of technology has already been written and it’s pretty damn good. All you need to do is to innovate on top of that."

Sitting at the same panel discussion together with Ategana, Andrew Taylor of LexNove, said while many of the continent's startups are working to find innovative ways to "solve problems that are uniquely African and that affect the world", their efforts are often retarded by the regulatory and bureaucratic burdens. However, there is still cause to be optimistic, he said. 

"I think that the level of innovation that exists in the South African ecosystem in particular, whilst still in its latency, is still extremely encouraging. And I think that that is something that permeates the flavour of the startup ecosystem right up into Africa."

Kalenga added that in his view, technopreneurs need to solve for value and problems as opposed to being fixated with the technology and entrepreneurs who only focus on the tech often fail to innovate fast enough to the changing needs of their consumers. 

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