The word “entrepreneur“ seems to carry a certain gravitas. Names like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates often come to mind when thinking about the most well known entrepreneurs. One might think of Silicon Valley as the hotbed of tech entrepreneurs, but a new wave of young, technologically inclined entrepreneurs is spreading in the developing world.

Long have been the days of governments and large non-government organizations (NGOs) dictating development in poorer countries. The age-old stereotype that the young are more technologically savvy than older ones holds true today. While better might not be the right word, younger people around the world are very connected into the technology world.

Because of this, some young entrepreneurs are combining technology and small business solutions to take the lead in changing the lives of fellow countrymen. Instead of a nation’s path being decided by outside investors, young entrepreneurs are putting their own country in the driving seat.

Many of these young entrepreneurs are tired with the status quo, and want improvements quicker than they are coming. So, instead of waiting for an NGO to fix a problem, they are taking issues by the scruff of the neck themselves. “Youth in Egypt want change and they’re not going to wait for it,” according to Waleed Abd el Rahman, a Cairo resident who runs a tech business forum there.

Rahman is working with a number of start-ups. One is developing an app that aims to help users navigate Cairo’s famously traffic-clogged streets. Another is working towards making private tutoring less expensive by providing online alternatives. Fed up with nuisances of their daily life, young Egyptians are taking charge, hoping to make a positive social impact and change the world.

Importantly, the spread of mobile phones throughout the developing world is only making tech entrepreneurs’ lives easier. More than a luxury item, the cell phone is a productive tool in Africa. Small businesses can track their finances and solve problems or inefficiencies. Africa is not the only place that tech entrepreneurs and mobile phones are making an impact. Both are blooming in India as well.

Shivani Siroya, from northern India, began a small company that developed InSight, a way for people to better keep track of their finances by staying up to date via text messages. They can keep track of their income and expenses through the service.

Even expats and foreigners are jumping on the entrepreneur train. Sean Blagsvedt, who lives in Bangalore, India, started Babajob. The platform helps informal workers look for better jobs by texting or calling from their mobile phone.

Gregory Rockson, originally from Ghana but living in San Francisco, started a tech company called mPharma when he heard that people back home were dying of treatable diseases, simply because they could not get medicine fast enough. By the time someone had found medicine for one heart disease patient, he was already dead.

To fix this, mPharma shows which pharmacies have which medicines in an online database. Pharmacies log what drugs they have so that doctors can see exactly where they can get them, cutting down precious time wasted going pharmacy to pharmacy looking for the right medicine. This is a perfect example of a young entrepreneur trying to make change in his country for the better.

Greg Baker

Sources: Washington Post, PBS, NPR
Photo: PBS

Ampion Venture Bus, a Pan-African entrepreneurship initiative, helps develop tech entrepreneurs in a unique way — a bus road trip across different parts of Africa. The bus journey enables tech experts with dreams to solidify their startup ideas into real business projects.

Entrepreneurs board the Ampion bus with an idea. On the five to seven day bus journey, the entrepreneurs interact directly with their target users. They also fine-tune their initial idea, launch and pitch it to potential investors. On the bus, the entrepreneurs learn from each other and receive advice from mentors.

The Ampion bus stops at innovation hubs along the road. The end of the five to seven day trip is planned to coincide with a regional tech event, in which the entrepreneurs who just finished perfecting their idea can pitch to more investors.

The Ampion Venture Bus trip is unique because the bus drives through rural areas. Many startups in Africa focus solely on issues in large urban metropolitan areas, and popular startup events usually occur in big cities.

“In Nairobi, for example, you might have a start-up event every other week. But we drive to rural areas, go to places where we are often the first organization ever to organize an entrepreneurship event,” explained Fabian-Carlos Guhl, CEO of Ampion.

At the end of the road trip, the most promising, successful startups join the Ampion Fellowship. This is an incubation program that provides a startup with funding, office space and mentoring.

The best of the Ampion Fellows receive a trip to Germany in order to modify their businesses even further and to meet with more potential investors.

“Travelling on the bus helps the teams to work closely together. In agriculture, for example, we go to farms, talk to farmers and see what challenges they face – and then our local and international teams try to develop solutions that suit them.”

Each trip, the Ampion bus carries 200 promising young entrepreneurs in five buses, divided into categories of interest. The company aims for females to account for 50 percent of bus-goers.

So far, over 30 successful startups have begun due to the Ampion Venture Bus program. Startups have provided innovative solutions to issues in “health care, citizen engagement, education, public transport, sanitation and tourism,” according to How We Made it in Africa.

One successful startup born of the Ampion bus is Based in Zimbabwe, the startup provides users with tools to coordinate and manage funerals.

Another startup is MobiDawa, located in Kenya. The program reminds patients to take medicine at the correct times, provides instructions on how to take medicine and warns them of possible side-effects.

“We want to identify start-ups that have potential to change the face of Africa, and ideally also globally. We want to foster technology that can disrupt an entire industry and generate profit, but also make social sense. We look for brilliant people… we look at their ideas, the quality of their education, their past entrepreneurial projects and their motivation. We certainly won’t accept someone who says ‘I don’t care about sustainability, I just want to get rich as soon as possible’” said Guhl.

– Margaret Anderson

Sources: How We Made It In Africa, Ampion
Photo: Flickr

Transforming Arab Economies

A new report recently released will aid in the effort to inspire Arab economies to implement concrete actions, which in turn will spur economic growth and competition. The report, titled “Transforming Arab Economies: Travelling the Knowledge and Innovation Road,” is joint collaboration between the World Bank, CMI (Marseille Center for Mediterranean Integration), EIB (European Investment Bank) and ISESCO (the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Together, these organizations promote greater investment in a knowledge-based economy model, which is needed to meet the job creation challenge in the Middle East. Inger Andersen, Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank, said, “We hope this report can help countries of the Arab world imagine a new kind of development strategy with a knowledge and innovation-driven model at its very heart.” Through innovation and diversification of their economies, Arab countries will be able to create new enterprises and jobs.

By tapping into the field of technological knowledge, these countries will be able to continue improving their level of access to education and to information communication technologies (ICT). To achieve this, countries in the region need to implement a series of reforms, including more open and entrepreneurial economies, a more skilled labor force, improved innovation and research capabilities, and the expansion of ICT.

In addition to these structural reforms, the report suggests that governments should provide more hospitable conditions in which promising sectors can generate new activities and jobs. Governments should also establish channels through which knowledge can be transferred and disseminated, for example through foreign direct investments and international trade in goods and services.

The finance and economy minister of Morocco highlighted efforts made by the Moroccan government to create a new economic model with its foundations in knowledge and innovation. He also stressed the importance of redesigning current economy structures in the Middle East, as well as improving youth employment and maintaining a global economic presence.

However, in order to successfully create stronger economies in the Middle East, it will take a strong and focused effort. Abdulaziz Othman Al-Twaijri, Director General of ISESCO, said, “The implementation of a knowledge and innovation-based development strategy requires a vision, strong coordination at the top level of government, and a participatory approach to mobilize the population to back the needed reforms.” The approach of the report is intended to reflect the huge differences and challenges across the Middle East, and recognizes that each county must be approached with policies that are customized to their individual needs.

– Chloe Isacke
Source: World Bank, ISESCO
Source: World Economic Forum