African And African-Diaspora Startups Sought For Accelerator

Written by Veronica Pamoukaghlian

Not every startup in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond has what it takes to become a successful multinational business.

But with a $2-trillion economy, Africa is home to some of the world’s most disruptive technology, with new startups and early-stage entrepreneurial activity that have caught the eye of Ghanian and Zimbabwean business partners Ethel Cofie and Dave Chakombera.

They have created Africa Twenty 10, a startup accelerator they said will bridge the gap between great ideas, talent and the global market.

Cofie, a Mandela Washington fellow, was inspired partly by her own failure.

After completing her academic training in the U.K. and a stint in the corporate world, Cofie launched a startup in Ghana but it failed to bring in enough money.

She returned to the corporate world. While working on large-scale projects in Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, she tried to understand why her entrepreneurial endeavor had failed.

“I asked myself … how I could ensure that others like me did not take an entrepreneurial nosedive, and how I might help others learn from my experience,” she said in an interview with AFKInsider.

Cofie (@missedcofie) is a Ghanaian tech entrepreneur and pioneering member of Women in Tech, a group working to form an African alliance of female techies. She was invited to the U.S. in August as part of President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. She participated in the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

Cofie, whose most recent corporate role was as head commercial solutions for Vodafone, kept asking questions about how she could help other entrepreneurs succeed where she had failed. She asked until she came up with an answer: Africa Twenty 10 Accelerator.

Working with Zimbabwe-based co-founder Dave Chakombera, Cofie created a mentoring and accelerator opportunity for African startups with a focus on companies looking to work internationally. The founders say they have partnerships with Microsoft 4 Afrika Initiative, Appfrica Venture Capital Fund, Expand HR Services, and iSpace.

Like Cofie, who has been an advisor for entrepreneurial projects, Chakombera, also a Mandela Washington fellow, has a experience working with startups.

He has worked for Ernst and Young and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. He said he believes that for African businesses to reach their full potential, they need to work across multiple markets throughout the continent. Africa Twenty 10 is an ideal springboard to help them make the leap, he said in an interview with AFKInsider.

The founders of Africa Twenty 10, Cofie and Chakombera hope to find a mix of projects with commercial potential, projects by women, and projects with a strong social focus.

Starting in January to February 2015, participants will be introduced to cutting-edge methodologies with an emphasis on lean startup, product and customer development, and organization-scaling methodologies.

Africa Twenty 10 will help them expand the work they have been doing in their communities and scale up their businesses, “by leveraging on our contacts across Africa and beyond as we look for markets and partners for participants,” Chakombera said.

To enable participants from all over Africa and the diaspora to benefit from the program, Africa Twenty 10 will run on a virtual platform. Program leaders will work from their home countries — Zimbabwe in the case of Chakombera and Ghana and the U.K. in the case of Cofie.

All Africa Twenty 10 mentoring will be done over the Internet, allowing African and African diaspora-based entrepreneurs access to leading experts from all over the world.

One of the key elements of any successful accelerator and startup development platform is what happens once the training has run its course. Chakombera said he’s confident the program won’t be a “one-hit wonder.”

“One of our core objectives is continuity,” he said. “We will assign mentors to successful participants for continued guidance and technical assistance. Participants will also have continued access to the accelerator and its network. We will have a monitoring program to track the work of participants and assist them along the way.”

Cofie said she expects a large number of startup companies to apply for the accelerator. When it comes to selection criteria, she said she’s keeping an open mind. “We are trying to be open and stay agnostic, so each company will be evaluated on its market size and capability to truly scale up,” she said

Both Africa-based and African-diaspora startups are invited to apply through Dec. 10 at AfricaTwenty10.com.

Sign up for the Moguldom newsletter — business news you need to know about economic empowerment for the digital age, delivered to your inbox.