We often don’t hear about the Indian Ocean part of Africa except for its sunny beaches, enjoyable weather and relaxing lifestyle. It’s unlikely that you will think of the region as a vivid ecosystem supported by an active community of startups, funded by local VCs, trying to disrupt traditional businesses. However, this vision may change in the near future as something is happening in the ‘Tropical Valley‘ region.
Like many countries in Africa, isolation is one of the main reasons why the general public knows little about the Indian Ocean. The largest regional markets namely Madagascar, Mauritius and Reunion Island are indeed islands. They consist of a relatively small population, and face lack of funding and hardship for their projects due to their remote location.
But, despite the obstacles in recent years, there have been positive changes in the ecosystem. It only took a few success stories to boost the motivation of a new generation with hungry young entrepreneurs, who are striving for change.
Madagascar a country for startups?
For many Madagascar may seem to be one of the hardest places to start a business, but since the establishment of the ‘Habaka innovation hub‘, local entrepreneurs have been shinning on the international scene, winning competitions such as ANZISHA African Youth Entrepreneurship, and sending teams to compete in the Robot Olympics in Washington. A local startup has even made the finals in the pitching competition “Get in the ring” in Singapore. Studios are building video games such as Gazcar, a game that allows one to race in a 3-Dimensional version of the capital city Antananarivo.
Madagascar has come a long way from struggle, yet the vibrant energy of its people make it possible to persevere and define the odds. Entrepreneurship is commonly considered as a way out of poverty for a growing number of entrepreneurs who are now working in the many co-working spaces, incubator and FabLabs across the land. It is a new generation that has emerged with new codes, bearing all the hope of one country.
This new generation get involved in a number of initiatives such as ‘Start-Up Weekends‘. Those events offer Malagasy young entrepreneurs a framework to create their startup in less than 54h. With a first edition in May 2013, the event renewed the experience last August in Madagascar.
With a population of 22 million, mostly composed of young people, the concept of start-ups represents one opportunity to create jobs that will contribute to the development of Madagascar. A huge need is to be balanced as over 4 million Malagasy people are unemployed of which 70% young people. Startup weekend helps people to put forward their ideas and permits to change the deal. Among the most innovative projects that have been noticed during this weekend, ‘Tômatsiro‘, is the first brand offering a 100% Malagasy ketchup. Local production is non-existent while raw materials exist in quantity and especially in quality.
Mauritius a Tropical Valley?
Meanwhile, in Mauritius, things are also going in the right direction as international players are starting to discover the potential of the country. ConsenSys, a leader in the crypto currency field has recently announced their discussion with the Mauritian Government to make Mauritius the First Ether Country in the world. Sigfox, one of the world’s leading Internet of things (IoT) connectivity service provider has just completed the deployment of its network on the island, and even more so, the government announced some majors works in the development of the infrastructure, improving connectivity and developing smart city projects with one goal in mind: to create an innovation friendly environment for startups.
The authorities have recently engaged in ‘sand box schemes’ and ‘startup visas’, allowing entrepreneurs to prosper with pioneering ideas. Mauritius may be on its way to becoming a ‘Tropical Valley’ where startups can easily iterate ideas, get access to funding and international networks so as to scale in the region.
MIT has organized an edition of their Global Startup Labs program in Mauritius this summer.
Reunion e-Health Island
Last but not least, Reunion Island has equally had its share of startups in recent years. The Island benefited from the impulsion of the new French Government who want to make France a Startup Nation, and acquired the orientation of e-health under the previously established ‘La French Tech’ label. One of the stars in the segment, Oscadi, received funding for building the “first ultrasound made for iPad” and was one of the finalist in the TechCrunch Disrupt international competition in 2016. The company recently integrated the prestigious Station F, the world’s biggest start-up accelerator campus. Two other Reunionese companies also joined the platform created by Xavier Niel: Bioalgostral and Torskal, which shows the entrepreneurial and technological expertise of the Island starts to be recognised worldwide.
As the majority of initiatives in Reunion Island are mostly focusing on European Markets, they are perceiving neighbouring African countries as a potential for growth.
To highlight this central place between the North and the South, La Reunion will host at the beginning of October the International Forum of the Digital Transformation ‘NxSE‘. This international event is unique of its kind. It fact, it will bring together digital actors from all over Africa in one and only place. The objective is to develop the Reunionese economy by making known the digital expertise of the Island and promoting regional and international cooperation by creating South-South and North-South business opportunities. On the menu of this second edition: Digital Health, industry of the future, cities and buildings of tomorrow, connected tourism and connected agriculture.
A story telling issue
It is quite difficult to speak about the Indian Ocean when presenting the region and associate countries with such diversities. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world, Reunion Island is a French territory and Mauritius a fast-growing economy. Looking at each country individually, one may not see its full potential. Nevertheless, the Indian Ocean does have a lot to offer and more and more international players are starting to realize that. How about yourself?
About the author
Vincent Pollet has worked in the Payment and Telecom industries for years, ultimately gaining experience in B2B sales, Digital marketing, Software development and project management at a variety of levels. Currently he is working for Pongo soft, the Web Agency he co-founded.
He is also an active blogger, writing about innovation and entrepreneurship on his website ict.io. This is the unique media in the Indian Ocean region entirely dedicated to the promotion of innovation, entrepreneurship and start-ups. Launched in February 2015 as Vincent Pollet’s blog, the project has grown rapidly and acquired a regular audience. ICT.io takes its roots in the heart of the community and associations participating and organizing major events in the ICT sector. The magazine covers topics such such as startups, new technologies, gadgets, mobile apps and events, which places ICT.io as one of the references and top influencers in the sector and in the region.