MTB exploring Africa

In case you missed it, last month Mind the Bridge (MTB) released its new logo, as part of its refreshed image. The new logo, a series of bridges, is a reflection of MTB’s evolution these past few years as it continues to expand its operations, building new bridges across the world. Unlike a lot of philanthropic and aid efforts around the world, MTB focuses on helping build bridges around the world to the Silicon Valley standards, guiding and advising entrepreneurs of all kinds – startup founders, high growing innovative companies,  investors, and large corporations. As part of this evolution, MTB envisions an expansion of its operations and to generate an impact in a much needed area – Africa.

My name is Felix Orwa, a Kenyan, born and raised in Nairobi. Growing up in a simple neighborhood in Nairobi, I was oblivious of the budding entrepreneurial activity that surrounded me. In an effort to have a more direct impact in Africa’s entrepreneurial journey, I switched from a career in aviation, after 3 years as a professional pilot, to one in the seemingly never ending bustle of entrepreneurial activity in the Silicon Valley. I came to the Silicon Valley in the year 2013 to attend the MTB Startup School. A year later I decided to cross the bridge and join MTB in the year 2014.

The Taifa Summit, CocaCola Nairobi HQ, Kenya

As MTB intends to join in on the rise of Africa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, I see myself being part of  building a bridge from Kenya and Africa as a whole to the Silicon Valley. It is my wish to see more entrepreneurs from Africa visit Silicon Valley, not in order to replicate it in Africa, but rather to learn the core principles of entrepreneurship that make it work; to understand better how large a market and opportunity there is in Africa; to understand key metrics and traction requirements; and, with the MTB mentors, to evaluate more intricately what business models may work and which ones may not. My wish is to see Africa tap into it’s full potential.

Africa’s rise has been well documented, most recently, in a published article, that estimated that in 2015, about 600 european venture capitalists, macro lenders, and business angels invested an approximated $543M in the continent’s top entrepreneurs across various fields including IT, agriculture, finance, and healthcare.

Africa is undeniably rising, but by how much? Recently, I decided to dig a little deeper and discovered that the best comparison to chart Africa’s growth would be to compare it to a region that has seen exponential growth in its economic prowess in recent years – China. (An African comparing Africa to a country? Did he forget? Nope – please always remember, #Africaisnotacountry).

In fact, there is a direct correlation between the two. China has been leading the world in terms of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa. American think-tank Brookings institution estimates that in 2013, China invested approximately $26B in the continent, comprising 3% of the continent’s total FDI that year.

Through these deals, thousands of Chinese workers have also migrated to the continent to carry out the building of massive infrastructure projects. China has played a critical role in building the continent’s highways – for example – with the full understanding that the exchange of value requires value to move freely. (There’s a whole separate discussion to be had as to China’s interest in Africa is it good or bad – but that’s a topic for another day.)

Looking deeper at the numbers, it’s become general knowledge that both China and Africa have a population topping 1 billion people – a number often pointed to when referencing the tremendous opportunity in Africa.

What is less acknowledged, however, is that Africa’s GDP is now at $2.39T. Why is this interesting? Just 10 years ago, in 2005, China’s GDP was also at $2.25T – it has quickly risen to more than 9 trillion dollars. If you factor in the percentage of mobile penetration at the time (40% in 2005), one can surmise that Africa’s rise is unlikely to slow down, with mobile penetration at 67%.

I recently visited Kenya – December 2015 – exploring its entrepreneurial ecosystem hub, Nairobi. In meetings with Eric Kinoti, Founder/CEO of Shade systems, Wesley Owiti, Founder/CEO of Cherehani Africa, Sam Gichuru, Founder/CEO of Nailab, and Keith Oleng, Founder/CEO of the Taifa Summit – andtt aending the Taifa Summit at Coca Cola’s Nairobi headquarters – it was evident that Africa’s growth is unlikely to slow down and probably just at the beginning, after all – vyanzo vyote vigumu [*1].

Entrepreneurs at work at Nailab, iHUB (Africa)

Ultimately, there are still many questions surrounding the opportunities that exist in Africa. All we know is,taratibu ndiyo mwendo [*2] na udongo uwahi ungali maji [*3].

*1. All beginnings are difficult

*2. Slow but sure – He that goes slowly goes surely

*3. Work the clay while it is still wet – Strike while the iron is hot