Technology entrepreneurs build momentum in Ethiopia

The VC4Africa team just returned from an amazing trip to Ethiopia where we presented at the Making Finance Work in Africa conference, hosted a VC4Africa meetup and ran a workshop on business modeling at ICE Ethiopia, the country’s first real technology incubator. See a video on a similar trip we made recently to Cameroon and the work we did there with ActivSpaces. We also did video pitches with the entrepreneurs and many said it was the first time this was ever done in the country. Can you imagine that? The country is just incredibly inspiring. 85 million people and by 2050 the population could double. The market potential for mobile/web services is immense and waiting to be unlocked.

To some dismay, France Telecom runs the only telco. Ironic when you buy a simcard and receive the message, ‘welcome and thank you for choosing our service.’ The Seacom cable has been connected and prices have dropped 80% in the past three months, yet the real impact seems yet to come. Connecting with TEAMS could further increase access, but without a terrestial backbone in place access remains limited. Although only 400.000 people might have access to internet the enthusiasm for social networking is confirmed when 75% of these users can be found on Facebook. The country counts no more than maybe 20 bloggers although these numbers are sure to change fast.

Local techpreneurs know they want to be early and are looking at numerous ways to build services for the market. Advanced mobile services are not yet relevant given low smartphone penetration. Mobile banking and SMS information based services were the most talked about. Setting up locally is quite difficult and often entrepreneurs are connecting with Diaspora in the US. Often the businesses register in the US, get funding from the US and/or share in development. Also a VC network from Germany are looking at Ethiopia as a potential market to engage early and building on the significant German presence in Addis.

The barcamp starting today (after a party last night) will follow last year’s success. And where the first barcamp saw some 300 participants this year’s event will possibly see 700 people come together. There is clearly a growing enthusiasm for a digital future in Ethiopia.