- Amrote AbdellaAmrote Abdella is the Director of Startup Engagement & Partnerships at Microsoft. She shares with Africa Enterprise Microsoft's plans for promoting African innovation to the world
(Interview by Simbo Olorunfemi)
4 Afrika was launched in February 2013 with the aim of driving long term competitiveness by really looking at areas of intervention where technology can play a big role in tipping the development course of Africa, mainly looking at skill development, entrepreneurship support, and specially focussing on small and medium enterprises, giving them online access, connectivity. But also allowing them to produce content, but also consume content.
So we started off with our Base 4Afrika initiative which was looking at bringing close to one million SMEs, while also building their capacity through our skills initiatives, allowing them to consume our Microsoft Virtual Academy and our content on training and skills development. And also, it was about looking at what do we need to do today to change the entrepreneurial landscape in Africa. Is it a question of skill? Is it a question of finance? Is it a question of knowing and accessing information on what is available to drive entrepreneurship and skill development in Africa?
Under the innovation work that we have been doing, one of the works that we have been strongly driving is StartUp Engagement, which is - how do we identify early-stage companies in Africa and allow them to grow their ideas and develop solutions. Solutions that are not just country- specific, but also become regional and eventually global. So we are really thinking of the scalability, the uniqueness and impact of some of the start-ups that we have, while also building entrepreneurship support around, cultivating and developing that ecosystem.
But there is also a big element of Intellectual Property (IP) protection that we have been driving. That also becomes important as we think of what we need to do today to actually protect ideas and derivations that African companies and African entrepreneurs have come up with, so they are able to monetise their solutions. So, you are not simply thinking of growing your solution to have impact, but growing your business, at the same time, to be globally competitive in a way that will allow you to compete.
AREAS OF INTEREST
Our first area of focus is Discovery. Where can we today go to identify start-up entrepreneurs in Africa? The first place to go is incubators,, hubs, and accelerators.They are the focal point for identifying and incubating start-ups. There is another element – platforms such as DEMO Africa that actually bring pan-African companies and entrepreneurs to come and share, exchange and push their ideas. So for us, this platform becomes critical in terms of discovering start- ups.
The second piece focuses around Knowledge - Are start-ups, today, well-equipped to push their ideas? Are they well- equipped to develop meaningful business plans that can be scaled and used? There is also the element of the quality of their skills, around technical capacity, for instance.
In the light of this, we at Microsoft, have a great deal of knowledge and expertise and mentorship that we can bring on board. Part of the support that we give is in providing our developer tools. But there is also an element of expertise and mentorship that is needed, and that is really the one that we drive through our MySkills4 Afrika programme, which looks at tapping into the 120,000 Microsoft employees and allowing them to pair up, allowing them to work face to face with these African entrepreneurs for a defined period of time where they are able to provide their expertise in specific areas, whether its technical support or business development for the benefit of the mentees.
The last piece is “go to market”, which is - Once the start-ups, develop their businesses and solutions, how are they able to go to market, and acquire more clients and get a chance to actually pitch? My Skills4Afrika programme, which allows participants to tap into the Microsoft’s Employee expertise pool, with employees working, pro bono, volunteering their time to support and give back across Africa, depending on where the need is.
Start-ups that have received this support have really valued the global knowledge and skills-set that some of these volunteers have come with. They come with a different set of experience and lens to look at problems. That dimension and help has been greatly valued.
On the volunteers' side too, they derive their joy from their ability to partner in resolving a specific problem, or working with a specific start-up that is looking at changing the landscape. That win-win attitude is really encouraging for us, especially given the willingness and eagerness to contribute to the process by the different participants.