Markos Lemma – The Hub Founder Building Ethiopia’s Tech Startup Community

Markos Lemma – The Hub Founder Building Ethiopia’s Tech Startup Community

ENTERPRISE54 – Africa is home to brilliant and innovative startups that continue to attract some large corporations such as Microsoft, Google, Nokia to name a few. Africa has myriad potential in the tech startup scene. Economies like Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya and Ethiopia are home to some innovative startups that have gained global

ENTERPRISE54 – Africa is home to brilliant and innovative startups that continue to attract some large corporations such as Microsoft, Google, Nokia to name a few. Africa has myriad potential in the tech startup scene. Economies like Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya and Ethiopia are home to some innovative startups that have gained global recognition and are continually attracting expatriates and the diaspora to accelarate economic growth and also contribute to the entrepreneurial and ICT sector.

One of the continent’s most promising innovation hubs shaping and supporting startups in promoting social entrepreneurship  is iceaddis based in Ethiopia. Markos Lemma, co-founder of iceaddis is speciliazed in ICT consultancy and community management. He is also an advocate for startup movements, social and environmental innovations and blogging. Markos organizes Barcamp Ethiopia annually which is the biggest tech community event.

We sat down with  Markos Lemma to discuss about  Ethiopia’s innovation hub, the startup community and touch on some of the challenges but yet promising aspects of tech startups in Ethiopia.

What is iceaddis?
Iceaddis is an Ethiopian based innovation hub. Iceaddis which opened its doors in May 2011 aims at bringing both creative  and brilliant innovators in Ethiopia to co-create and work together. The hub also aims to foster  global partnerships and find markets for Ethiopian innovators, researchers, students, and entrepreneurs. A major objective of iceaddis is to support the technological ecosystem in Ethiopia and beyond.

How does iceaddis support startups?
Initially, the idea emerged as creating a platform to attract and support creative thinkers and innovators within Ethiopia. The platform is to facilitate these innovations into becoming  viable businesses and promote Ethiopian innovations globally.  We  have created the entire project to have 4 pillars. There is the ”Startup Support,” which involves 12 weeks of entrepreneurship training, network mentoring and working with  venture capital firms (VCs)  for example VC4Africa. We call this the ”Pre-incubation” phase.  There is also a ”Tech Support Community” in Ethiopia. Most of the tech communities are scattered throughout the country, hence there is no support system for these tech communities. We learnt for instance in Kenya, they started  a hub, because of the existance of a tech community. Whereas in Ethiopia we have started to build these communities.  We encourage and strengthen the existing communities by creating space for meetups, providing skills training and organizing bootcamps, barcamps and tech related events. We also enable them, to  gain  exposure to the international  community. Additionally, we also initiate  and contribute to dialogues involving decision on policy making and implementation within the startup ecosystem, the tech community  and entrepreneurship in Ethiopia. Ultimately the aim is to support and promote these innovations.

What are some of the challenges iceaddis faces? 
It has been a challenge from the beginning but we have managed to work for the betterment of the startup community. There are however ongoing challenges, that need to addressed.  Mostly, these challenges lie within the network infrastructure. Due to the monopoly, unrealiability and pricy services of Ethiopia’s internet and telecom sector, most of the tech startups are struggling to cope. Ethiopia has the second lowest internet penetration rate in the world. There is a huge problem in the accessibility of information or financing within the network infrastructure. These challenges affect us as a hub and our stakeholders. Secondly, we face other challenges in terms of policies and regulations. There are some unfavoruable regulations for entrepreneurs or startups. For instance, tech companies or startups  should have a physical registered space to operate. However, most of the startups within the mobile app industry do not neccessarily require a physical operating space. Due to these pressure, there is blockage in the lifecycle  or expansion  of some of the startups operations. Other regulation challenges involve requiring  a special mapping permit from authorities. Mostly larger corporations or companies have access to these legislations. The final challenge is that the technology sector is not a driving force in the economic growth in Ethiopia. The construction and real estate are major booming sectors fetching foreign investments and direct capital. However there are not many financing sources and ventures for the technology sector. Luckily, in terms of funding, iceaddis has platforms for funding options. We work with various funding organizations who support different ideas and innovations. Iceaddis takes into account the private sector’s involvement, as it allows startup potential and longetivity. They use iceaddis as a gateway to the community. We are constantly looking for other collaborative ventures and partnerships.

Do you see a potential in Ethiopia’s startup community driving economic growth? 
There is diversity in the startup community. There are several levels of expertise and engagements. Our community consist of ”Role models”; these are actually the doers with skills on marketing and attracting investors. These rolemodels serve as examples for the majority of the emerging startups community. This is an advantage, since there is a need for influencers to drive certain movements. I compare startups to movements. Hence, for every movement you need leaders and influencers. Ultimately, these movements also attract supporting stakeholders from the public sector , funding sector and other major cooperations. There’s no boom in Ethiopia yet, but there is huge potential with a population of 85 million and is an emerging market in Africa.

The economic growth eventually will drive and shift the ecosystem to invest in creative and innovative ideas. Hence, there will be an increase in the number of startups in Ethiopia to help boost the economic growth. We are directly working with innovative and high quality startups/companies, so  there is a positive outlook in general. There are alot of curving points, but we are on the right track.

Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on Startup Commons

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