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Note : This article has been written By Dinfin Mulupi and first published on How We Made It in Africa.

French-speaking Africa has often been approached cautiously by investors and companies from English-speaking countries within and outside the continent. However, the region is being viewed as an exciting region to do business as more local and international companies enter the market.

The Francophone Africa region  has a total population of more than 300 million people which some of the big economies being Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, GuineaRepublic of the Congo, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Technology, according to Yann Le Beux, Catalyst at CTIC Dakar, the regions first incubator and accelerator based in Senegal, is one of the sectors expected to thrive in the region in coming years.  While some of the countries in the Francophone African region are politically insecure, Senegal is quite stable making it a good entry point into the region.

“Senegal is a very good base to start a business because people are well educated, very talented, there is good infrastructure and a lot of companies are headquartered in Dakar making partnerships easy and accessible. It is a good entry point into the rest of Francophone West Africa,”

Le Beux said Senegal’s market is mature adding that the country has a good technology infrastructure network with three mobile operators and about 98% mobile penetration.

“The technology market there is actually mature. It is not a very large market in Senegal but, what is interesting is that a lot of companies are headquartered in Senegal and target the entire Francophone regions and its 300million inhabitants. So, there is a lot of opportunities,”

In 2 years of activity, CTIC Dakar has incubated 15 companies generating revenue and has supported more than 30 startups drawn from Francophone West Africa.

“Generally, a lot of Senegal companies do well when they go to Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso or Cameroon. That is an advantage. The companies that we support at CTIC Dakar may have between 5 and 30 employees but already half of their revenue is made outside of Senegal”

CTIC Dakar is currently focused on supporting high-growth tech companies and start-ups because ‘there is not enough of them’ in the region by linking youthful tech enthusiasts with more experienced entrepreneurs. The incubator for IT and mobile services entrepreneurs offers training, business development, financing and linkages with industry players and public decision makers.

“There is opportunity to use technology to create linkages in other sector such as agriculture, tourism or education which are big in Senegal. We still have basic needs on this continent that have not been addressed using technology yet. We see a lot of opportunity for enterprise products,”

Companies that choose to venture into the region through Senegal have to contend with the challenge of accessing well trained and experienced manpower.

“We need more training in this area in Senegal. Generally, all over the continent these skills are lacking.  Financing is also a challenge because we don’t have enough early-stage private sector investment in Senegal. We need more business angels to bring seed capital to startups but we know that few venture capital funds like I&P (“Investisseurs et Partenaires”) are already based or looking at Senegal.

Local entrepreneurs in the country also have to battle with cultural expectations which stifle their business endeavors.

“The family is something very important in Senegal so, as soon as you get your diploma you are expected to start giving back to your family. Starting a business means you have to borrow a lot,”  says  Le Beux “This makes it difficult for one to start a business because they are expected to give, when what they need is other people to lend to them money to support their start-up. For some young entrepreneurs who start being profitable, it is not easy to find the right balance between helping the family or investing back in their growing businesses.”

He advised companies interested in investing in Senegal to hire the right people and form partnerships with local companies.

“As an investor you need to find a good person that will support the structure that you have. You need to have a reliable local team that you trust,”

English speakers, Le Beux added, should not shy away from Francophone Africa since they can ‘easily get around without speaking a word in French’ if they get help from local partners… like CTIC Dakar !

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From May 28 to 30, 2013, was held in East London South Africa the 5th Global Forum of Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship, organized by the World Bank program InfoDev.

I was there with Omar Cissé and Regina Mbodj, two other member of CTIC Dakar’s management team, Serigne Barro, founder and general manager of the Digital Agency People Input and Binta Coudy De, co-founder of the startup Cyan Girls and the Jjiguene tech hub, a new initiative promoting women tech entrepreneurship in Senegal.

Apart from us, there were almost no other francophone countries representatives – how can this be possible in an international meeting gathering more than 500 high level people?

It is actually quite frustrating when you see the quality of francophone companies that exists all over West and Central Africa. Believe me, when you really dig into Kenyan, Ghanaian, or Nigerian businesses, you see that they don’t have nothing more than the ones in our countries, but they market themselves so well. More buzz and less business I feel.

That’s why we need to make an effort to write in as many languages as we can and share about the amazing things that we see happening here and there in Senegal, Ivory Coast, Burkina, Gabon and others.

For instance, we have not heard about many tech companies in English speaking countries that have the size and growth rate of People Input, one of CTIC Dakar’s supported companies. Of course we will never say that the incubator is the sole reason for PI success, but I believe it’s our role to push forward the entrepreneurs who manage to see big and build sustainable businesses in such a difficult context, economically and socially speaking. We as people involve in this field should sometime forget about our francophone style of being to too humble, shy and afraid of success and we need to proudly recognize the successes (even if they are still small) that we have.

By sharing those experiences, you allow others to get to know you and improve what you do. You always have to make sure that you don’t buzz and over rate your impact but make your that you share about the thing that you try, succeed and fail.

It was personally very enriching to share with worldwide counterpart on incubation and entrepreneurship. We saw surprisingly that the model that we are building with CTIC Dakar is a unique approach on the continent and in most emerging countries. It’s not because we are amazing people (even if CTIC team really is!), but it’s just because we had enough leadership to build a new model depending on the local context and pull our partners into this model, and not the other way around.

It is indeed sometime sad to see how much English speaking countries are themselves pushed into models brought by the US without thinking of their relevancy. For instance why should we have accelerator programs taking equity in the startups when you have no private equity market and then no exit strategy to make your accelerator sustainable? Or can we really have model totally independent of the public sectors with markets of such small sizes ? To what extend are open innovation and “coopetition” implementable in “low trust” and “family centric” business environment like the ones in most African countries?

These are just we thought I wanted to share since and I am personally concerned as a Frenchman working in Senegal who has learn everything about tech entrepreneurship while I was in the US. I believe it is crucial for us expats whiling to build impactful and scalable things on this continent that we forget everything we have seen so far. Lets’ be innovative about what we can build with what we have. It is finally important that francophone Africa leaders and entrepreneurs make an extra-effort to show the good things they do in English and come to those conferences to exchange with their Anglo-Saxon counterparts; they are demanding for more collaboration opportunities with the francophone neighbors. Like we use to say in French “nature hates vacuum” – so we better fill this gap with the relevant people…