African tech entrepreneurs building bridges with Silicon Valley

By Tracey Grose

The Global Entrepreneurship Summit will take place in Nairobi, Kenya, July 25-26, 2015. For the last six years, President Obama has aimed to help grow economic opportunity around the world through supporting entrepreneurship. After hosting the first summit in Washington, DC in 2009, the summit has been hosted by the governments of Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and Morocco.

In advance of this year's summit, the USAID and the US State Department hosted a forum in Silicon Valley, "African Entrepreneurs & Silicon Valley Forum: Bridging Gaps and Making Connections" that brought entrepreneurs from Africa together with technology leaders, investors and others from Silicon Valley.

The high-level panelists discussed the development of innovation ecosystems in Africa. Silicon Valley speakers included Bill Draper, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation; Claire Lee, Silicon Valley Bank; Mark Straub, Khosla Impact; Cassandra Staff, Global Social Benefit Institute; Raymond Guthrie, Skoll Foundation. In different ways, each of these organizations is active in supporting connections between Silicon Valley and African innovation.

When asked what Silicon Valley could do to support entrepreneurship in Africa, Claire Lee of Silicon Valley Bank answered, "Put geeks on planes!" She stressed that having locals from the tech industry spend time in Africa could go a long way in mentoring African entrepreneurs and building connections with Silicon Valley investors.

Representatives from Africa included startups, support services for startups and investors: Sophia Bekele, Founder & CEO, DotConnectAfrica, Yes2dotAfrica; Chris Folayan, Founder & CEO, MallforAfrica; Mahad Ibrahim, Managing Partner, Gobee Group; Amadou Daffe, CEO, Coders4Africa; Eghosa Omogui, EchoVC Partners.

There was agreement voiced by this group that given how difficult it is to get things done in Africa in general, the entrepreneurs who are able to achieve success in Africa are highly likely to be successful in other parts of the world.

The African Technology Foundation plans to continue the conversation among stakeholders around building networks between Africa and Silicon Valley following the event and the summit. The foundation incubates African startups for the global market, builds support networks within the African diaspora, supports the commercialization of African technologies through partnerships with universities, and helps entrepreneurs develop venture plans that are relevant for Silicon Valley investors.

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