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Note : this article is the original version of an interview given to the great site Human IPO and first published under the title :  Senegalese accelerator secures $150k for startups this year –   Thanks @ Tom Jackson

– What is the idea behind CTIC, and how does it work?

CTIC is the first accelerator and incubator for IT entrepreneurs in Francophone sub-saharan Africa. Created 2 years ago as a public-private non-profit organization, CTIC’s vision is to support the best IT entrepreneurs based in Senegal but having a global or at least regional reach. We have been supported from the start by great partners like the World Bank Infodev program, the German cooperation GIZ, the European Union, the Senegalese Government, the operator Orange and other smaller local private partners. The big idea is to have the government involve to provide facilities, electricity and also to facilitate access to public markets for our SME, but it doesn’t interfere with CTIC’s the business-oriented management style. Our business model is based on a percentage of the revenue growth of the companies we support – if they don’t grow, we don’t get paid. We have two programs: the incubation for existing companies already generating revenues which goes up to 3 years, and the accelerator for innovative startups teams which last 6 months. We don’t take equity so far in the accelerated companies, the accelerator being more for us a way to increase the pipeline of venture and to select the best for our incubation program. We have a team of 8 full time employees.

– Do you provide incubation?

Yes – we provide private office spaces to our companies (but also support larger companies having external offices), business development and contract negotiation, financial and fiscal management, media partnerships, community management, dedicated events if you want to showcase your product and of course access to finance. We now have few local partners directly seed funding our companies and startups.

– How are you funded?

We started with grants from the WorldBank / IFC, Orange, EU and the Government. After 2 years of activity only, we are now able to cover 45% of our annual budget with the revenue we generate from our companies and few business development services like consulting and events. We hope to be fully sustainable by 2016.

– What potential is there in the Senegalese tech space?

Senegal has for us a tremendous potential. Of course the market is small (13 million inhabitant) but Senegal has been traditionally the entry door to Francophone sub-Saharan Africa, which represents a +350 million people market. For historic and administrative reasons, is pretty easy for a company based in Senegal to access this regional market. Furthermore, a large number of international corporations or NGOs are headquartered in Senegal for west and central Africa. Third, Senegal has a very good higher education system, with more than 200 institutions and several international campus. The country attracts a lot of students from other francophone places which created a large talent pool to tap in if you are starting your business. Finally, the IT infrastructure and connectivity is good and the mobile penetration rate is close to 90% now. 3G is well used and 4G is in its pilot phase. Last but not least, the quality of life and security is one of the best on the continent – and that also is important for a tech ecosystem!

– What is holding it back currently?

We need more private investment at the seed stage. We now have several VC based in Senegal or looking closely at it, but we need few more business angels to really help the startups get off the ground. A public innovation fund could be a good tool to trigger the angel industry by a match-making grants system for instance. Also, like many other countries in Africa, Senegal lacks of good graphic designers who can work with engineers – this is really holding back the mobile apps industry. The cost of electricity is also still a break for young companies (but not for CTIC’s ones!)

– Does Senegal have the potential to compete on a global scale through ICT?

Surely. At least we work night and day at CTIC to achieve this! Senegal is already taking advantage of its very high level diaspora to boost global Senegalese companies. They start businesses back home and bring a lot a business and technology practices and then use their international connections to scale globally. We also believe that with the internet penetration rate growing rapidly, Senegal starts to be an ideal place to test business models and products for the francophone and global market. We now need to attract more international private investments (and not only from France!), but we are sure that with the political stability and the recent visit of Barack Obama, US investors are closely searching for a way to enter this region.

– What achievements can CTIC point to so far? Any high points?

We have graduated our first company, People Input, which is now the largest digital agency in Francophone Africa with around 30 employees and a presence in 3 countries. They of course have a great team but we did a great job together structuring their business development, getting access to public commands and gaining international partnerships and visibility. We have so far incubated 16 companies which are all still in business and 30 startups teams. The average revenue growth of our companies was 85% in 2012, up from 33% in 2011. In 2013, we have been able to secure around $150,000 in innovation investments for our startups and one of our incubatees received a series A funding from an international VC.

– What does the future hold for CTIC?

We are glad to have reached an interesting level of national and international recognition in only two years of time. CTIC is now involved in all major discussions at the top level in Senegal regarding ICT and entrepreneurship which helps us lobby for our entrepreneurs. The demand being high, we hope to move into a bigger building soon and thus we now need to better structure our team and internal processes to be able to scale rapidly. We want to develop better our soft landing program to facilitate entry in West Africa to foreign tech companies. We are also working with our original partners to replicate CTIC’s model to other regions of Senegal and to other countries. Niger incubators is already launched and Mali and Gabon are on the way. We will also keep on structuring the IT angels community and hopefully once we will have enough of them we could try to develop an equity based model for our accelerator program. Indeed, still a lot to do, but thanks to Human IPO, we’ll keep you posted!

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