Building the Bridge Between Africa and Silicon Valley

Stephen Ozoigbo, the CEO of the African Technology Foundation, spoke with BE about the burgeoning tech scene in Africa

Africa
Image: Stephen Ozoigbo

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Africa is one of the fastest growing, emerging markets in technology. Recently, Black Enterprise sat down with, Stephen Ozoigbo, the CEO of the African Technology Foundation, to talk about his entrepreneur and investment journey, and where he sees the startup landscape going on the continent.

Black Enterprise: We’re sitting here with Stephen Ozoigbo from the African Technology Foundation. Tell me about your background.

Ozoigbo: I’m an ex-investment banker. I worked with Smith Barney, Citi Group, and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, right before the 2008 crash. Following that, I completed my MBA in global business and started advising governments internationally on investments, internationalization, and innovation. My experiences took me to Europe, where I advised the Government of Catalonia, and ran their FDI activities with the West Coast of the United States(with a focus on Silicon Valley).We incubated quite a number of startups from Barcelona, and we also took U.S. companies to Barcelona.

Across the technology spectrum, we ran a lot of initiatives. One of the most notable ones is the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which is the biggest technology platform for mobile ecosystems, economies, and technologies, and that has been in Barcelona for the last five years. About four years ago, we took Google down to Barcelona and set up a smart city’s initiative called “Barcelona Go Mobile,” and this was to turn on all of the small businesses in Barcelona to becoming mobile-ready. We did Cisco as well, to connect WiFi, creating city connectivity.

Black Enterprise: Okay, so how are you now building that ecosystem between Africa and Silicon Valley?

Ozoigbo: So, as ironic and hypocritical as it sounds—being the African guy who is doing all of this stuff for Europe for the past five years—has always led me to situations where people ask, “What have you done for Africa?”

That challenge led to projects involving the White House and State Department around Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in emerging markets, particularly Africa. When I was winding down from the Barcelona operation, I became fully focused on the Africa operation. Then we set up the African Technology Foundation (ATF).

Over the last three years, we have focused on enabling public and private innovation stakeholders, including governments and institutions. We took Evernote to Africa. We took Relativity Studios to Africa. We’re working with Microsoft’s Africa initiative, and we’ve touched the lives of over 3,000 African entrepreneurs with the Lions@frica flagship program DEMO Africa. We were just announced as the managing partners for the State Department and the Lions Africa initiative, which is really a public-private partnership inside of the U.S. government that allows for innovation and entrepreneurship between the U.S. and Africa.

Africa (Demo Africa/Image: Stephen Ozoigbo)

 

Black Enterprise: So, tell me more about Demo Africa.

Ozoigbo: Demo Africa is our flagship program. It was launched by the U.S. State Department, and it started five years ago, with a focus around getting African entrepreneurs to build global companies.

The application process begins online and we receive over 600 applications annually. We filter down to the top 40 and they get to pitch at a technology showcase in a major African city to investors and innovation stakeholders. the grand finale involves selecting the top five startups to come down to Silicon Valley for the Lions@frica Innovation Tour.

We have done this for five years. The first two years, DEMO was held in Nairobi, Kenya. Following that, the summit moved to Lagos, Nigeria for two years. This year, it was held in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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