Monthly RECAP: October 8th 2020 – Driving Effectiveness through Technology

Inspecting different aspects of life where technology has been leveraged to enhance service offerings, get ahead of the curve and be a solution to societies’ daily challenges, AWiB gathered on Oct. 8, 2020 at Hilton Addis.  The event started with the custom of an hour-long networking session. The month’s sponsor, BGI Ethiopia, lavished guests with a tasting of its drinks.

Felekech (Fei) Zewde, AWiB’s 2020 president, called house to order at 6:30 p.m. In her opening, she introduced the vision and mission of AWiB, the 2020 Board, BGI Ethiopia, and the weekend activities.  Before introducing the speakers of the night, she presented questions to the audience to name the top three global technology brands:  Apple, Microsoft, and Google.

Panelists Elias Tesfaye, Mamil Masresha, and Noel Daniel were invited to introduce themselves and their work.

Elias Tesfaye was born in Ethiopia but moved to the US at the age of 10.  As a college student, he got his first job working for an Ethiopian entrepreneur, developing a GPS-based application used to report dangerous traffic zones.  When his mother returned to Ethiopia to start a poultry business, he joined her on the trip and eventually moved back.  He started doing consultancy in the family investment Bell Cash.  Soon, building on his e-commerce work experience from the US, he developed Hello Market, an app to buy and sell products—like the Amazon platform—with pick up options from any place in Addis.  Later, he developed another company and product, Hello Solar, which is a $2.3million investment.  The product enables rural communities to get solar electricity.

Mamil Masresha, the only woman panelist of the night, was born in Addis Ababa.  A graduate in accounting from the Addis Ababa School of Commerce, she started her career in an import and export company in Rwanda.  Then Mamil moved to the hospitality industry in the United Arab Emirates.  Five years ago, when she came to Addis for vacation, she observed that change is happening in terms of work ethics and the job opportunities.  She planned to start a tech-based job marketing company targeting the hospitality industry.  In collaboration with app developers, she launched Sira App, a job listing application and call center to connect employers and job-seekers.  Sira App has reached more than 15,000 people.

Noel Daniel is a returnee from New York.  He is the co-founder and managing director of Kudu Ventures, which invests in startup technology companies.  The company was started following Africa Tech Got Next, a platform Noel started with his partners to bring forward African tech talent in youth.  The platform showed Noel the gap in accessing finance for those talents to convert their ideas to marketable products.  In collaboration with other investors, he founded the capital venture company.

All the speakers alluded that lack of policy and legal framework, infrastructure, reliable Internet service, access to finance, education, and incentives are challenges for tech companies.  For instance, because of the lack of adequate legal framework, Kudu Ventures is registered as an IT consulting firm.  The long haul to process license with Ethio Telecom is another challenge for the technology companies.

On the other hand, the growing population is mentioned to be a great market opportunity that can attract huge foreign investment once the necessary policy and legal framework is in place.  From his experience of working with the rural community, Elias said, “We underestimate the capacity we have in this country.  The delivery of Hello Solar to the remote areas is made based on trust between us and the Isuzu drivers we (use).”  Elias believes that we are positioned in unprecedented opportunity in which we are not required to develop tech products but use the diverse tools that are already available to make life easy.  Although the effect of COVID-19 on the economy affected the companies, the discount of price by Ethio Telecom resulted in increasing the number of users on the Sira App database.

For the question, “How do you see women’s participation in the tech industry?” Noel responded that his company started Kudu Women, a program to support startups by women.  The venture capital is staffed with women except Noel, and is invested in two women-founded startups.  He is of the opinion that the participation of women in the industry would increase if those women that are successful in the industry mentor other women and hire women in their companies.  In Elias’s company, Hello Solar, 50% of the staff in Addis is women.  But in rural areas, they couldn’t hire women because of the cultural barriers.

In her journey in the tech industry, Mamil shared the misrepresentation of women not being interested and/or qualified are common challenges.  She, too, has not been taken seriously in her dealings to set up the company; in several instances she used men team members to advance the interest of her company.  Mamil mentioned Bethelhem Alemu, Samrawit Fikru, and Yoadan Tilahun are the role models she looks up to and resorts for support.  In addition, the ILO, EU, and the Ministry of Labor & Social Affairs were part of Mamil’s support in setting up the company.

In response to the question what drives Elias to do what he is doing is, he said it’s the impact of his products on everyday life of the users.  Electric power enables the rural communities to have access to information on all national affairs with the use of radio, light for children to study, and countless activities.  For Noel, the answer to the question is on the uniqueness of the products they invest in to solve real problems faced by society.

The questions from the audience include:

  • What challenges Mamil faced in accessing finance for Sira App and the kind of collaboration she has in other cities
  • What criteria Hello Solar used to select regions to distribute solar panels and how affordable the products are for the rural community
  • What return Kudu Ventures makes in investing in the startups and how to be viable for Kudu’s investment
  • What advice each of the speakers would give to those interested in joining the tech industry

Mamil responded that engaging marketing partners and developers in her business helped in easing the challenge on access to finances.  The grant her company secured from ILO was another financial source the company was built on.  Sira App is currently operational only in Addis but plans to expand to other cities in the nation and east African countries in the next two years.

Hello Solar operates targeting rural communities with no electricity.  The products’ prices range from 3,000 to 27,000 ETB, with a verification feature in products worth 10,000 ETB and above.

Kudu Ventures’ investment varies from incubation to acceleration programs with minimal return share of 2-2.5% of the startup business based on negotiation.  The capital firm is comparable to a bank model with no period limit of investment return and interest pay.

In his advice to the next generation and those who are interested to join the tech industry, Elias said it is important to understand the way things get done and make use of the most from every situation to increase the use of technology.  Mamil encourages young people to outline what they would like to achieve and select mentors.  She is open to give guidance and mentorship.  Noel advises those interested in the tech industry to do their due diligence, be informed as much as possible, and to be attentive to the community problems.  He emphasized on the need to understand the community’s challenges as opportunities are born there, and aim beyond money in any startup idea.

Kemer Temam, AWiB’s president elect concluded the event thanking the speakers for sharing their experiences and guests for joining.  Next month’s event is “He For She” on Nov. 5, featuring men who champion women.

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