How the 2017 Cambridge Africa Conference inspired attendees to ‘Make an Impact’ in Africa

How the 2017 Cambridge Africa Conference inspired attendees to ‘Make an Impact’ in Africa

This year’s Cambridge Africa Business Network (CABN) Conference had a real buzz about it.  Run by a team from the Judge Business School each year, the annual event has become one of the leading Africa Conferences in the UK each year and provides entrepreneurs an ideal opportunity to network with Cambridge University students and alumni, important figures in African business, and, this year, Silicon Fen investors.

The organisers created an exciting environment by presenting the maiden edition of the LIONS’ DEN COMPETITION, the first event of its kind by any European business school.  This event brought together start-ups from within the African continent to vie for a top prize of US$10,000 in seed funding and notably this year more than at previous events, there were a lot of PE companies present literally falling over each other trying to find worthwhile African projects to finance.

The day was kicked off by a lively panel focusing their discussion around Media and Culture.  The impressive team of speakers were energetic, passionate but also refreshingly succinct in their comments around the impact of social media on shaping culture, business and politics as well as showing the richness of Africa to bring investment to the continent.

What was most apparent from this discussion was the huge potential of social media right now to change the image of Africa and influence outcomes in all areas given the depth of mobile penetration on the continent.  Those who are ignoring the huge influence that social media has on the growing younger population will get overtaken, in politics and in business in particular.  Those who do not fully understand Twitter and other social media platforms need to ensure they have people on their teams who do and ensure they have the right strategies to maximise impact.

As expected, the need to adopt world class good governance practice was discussed and indeed there was reference to several countries having made huge strides in this area and the benefits they are now accruing as a result of this.  An excellent example of this was related by the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for the National Treasury, Henry Rotich, a seasoned Financial Technocrat who presented a very clear understanding of what is needed for Kenya to reach its best potential as a country.  If he can influence in some of these areas in practice then we could see significant progress in East Africa.

The lack of reliable power throughout Africa remains a pan-African problem but this is being addressed by better regional power sharing agreements coming in to place and an exciting focus on renewable energy sources such as hydro, geothermal and solar.  This confirmed what we have seen here at Executives in Africa in the last 12 months with a number of key mandates to hire business leaders for solar and thermal power plants with ambitious plans for growth post privatisation in particular.

We also heard that IT and Communications in Africa is making huge strides and in some cases is more advanced than in the developed world.  The quality of African Technical Management people is outstanding and again, can often be better than that which can be found in Europe.  Again we have seen this at EiA through clients such as Andela, who are building the next generation of global technology leaders in Africa.  Backed by Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, GV (Google Ventures) and Spark Capital, Andela are driving growth in Nigeria, Kenya and now Uganda, and are a prime example of what Africa can do in the area of Technology and Entrepreneurship.

What was most interesting was that all the PE investors we talked to spoke about key factors involved in successful investments and, whilst these factors obviously varied for different countries and sectors, they were identical when it came down to the in-country Asset Management Team.  Here they were absolutely insistent that the team on the ground taking responsibility for driving growth of the investment or ‘asset’, had to be constituted from only the best subject and management experts in order to deliver real impact.

There is clearly a lot of funding available for African start-ups but, apart from having a bankable business proposition, the message was that there needs to be a strong commitment to good corporate governance as well as a strong management team in place who are fully invested in the opportunity.  We have all seen on the TV version of Dragons’ Den that the investors buy into the person who will be driving the business as much as the business concept or product.

This was indeed the case for the Lions’ Den.  The four contestants made excellent presentations of their innovative business ideas and we are delighted to announce that the prize fund was awarded to be split equally between:

Muhammed Ismail, Founder at Weblogical Technology Enterprises (Pty) Limited, Botswana, a business delivering freedom from the office through Open Source Cloud Technology.

Stephan Eyeson, Founder at Survey54 Limited, Ghana, a company that enables data to be collected in an easier, faster and cheaper way in Africa.

We look forward to following them with interest to see the impact this investment will have on the next stage of their growth in Africa.

If you missed this year’s Cambridge Africa Conference and would like to be notified when next year’s date is released, please contact Sarah Fitzgerald, Managing Director at Executives in Africa at

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