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Building the Bridge between Africa and Silicon Valley

Stephen Ozoigbo, the CEO of the African Technology Foundation, spoke with BE about the burgeoning tech scene in Africa

Image: Stephen Ozoigbo

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Africa is one of the fastest growing, emerging markets in technology. Recently, Black Enterprise sat down with, Stephen Ozoigbo, the CEO of the African Technology Foundation, to talk about his entrepreneur and investment journey, and where he sees the startup landscape going on the continent.

Black Enterprise: We’re sitting here with Stephen Ozoigbo from the African Technology Foundation. Tell me about your background.

Ozoigbo: I’m an ex-investment banker. I worked with Smith Barney, Citi Group, and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, right before the 2008 crash. Following that, I completed my MBA in global business and started advising governments internationally on investments, internationalization, and innovation. That took me all the way to Europe, where I advised the government of Catalonia, Spain for five years, and ran their FTI activities from Spain, to the west coast, to the U.S., with the focus on Silicon Valley for the technology companies we brought in. We incubated quite a number of startups from Barcelona, and we also took U.S. companies to Barcelona.

Across the technology spectrum, we ran a lot of initiatives. One of the most notable ones is the mobile world congress in Barcelona, which is the biggest technology platform for mobile ecosystems, economies, and technologies, and that has been in Barcelona for the last five years. About four years ago, we took Google down to Barcelona and set up a smart city’s initiative called “Barcelona Go Mobile,” and this was to turn on all of the small businesses in Barcelona to becoming mobile ready. We did Cisco as well, to connect WiFi, creating city connectivity.

I am always looking at that connection between Silicon Valley and the rest of the world, because this is home to me. But, I always keep it international, in terms of emerging markets, and where needs being met can be most felt with the most impact.

Black Enterprise: Okay, so how are you now building that ecosystem between Africa and Silicon Valley?

Ozoigbo: So, as ironic and hypocritical as it sounds—being the African guy who is doing all of this stuff for Europe for the past five years—has always led me to situations where people ask, “What have you done for Africa?”

That challenge brought up projects with the White House about funding and the State Department. When I was winding down from the Barcelona operation, I became fully focused on the Africa operation. Then, we set up the foundation.

Over the last three years, we’ve focused on governments and institutions. We took Evernote to Africa. We took Relativity Studios to Africa. We’re working with Microsoft’s Africa initiative, and we’ve touched the lives of over 3,000 entrepreneurs in the west with our program Demo Africa. We were just announced as the managing partners for the State Department and the Lions Africa initiative, which is really a public-private partnership inside of the U.S. government that allows for innovation and entrepreneurship between the U.S. and Africa.

Africa (Demo Africa/Image: Stephen Ozoigbo)


Black Enterprise: So, tell me more about Demo Africa.

Ozoigbo: Demo Africa is our flagship program. It was launched by the U.S. State Department, and it started five years ago, with a focus around getting African entrepreneurs to build global companies.

We started online with an application process, and got over the 600 who submitted; from there, we chose the top-40. They got to go to a major city in Africa and pitch in front of investors and entrepreneurs. Then, we brought the top-five to Silicon Valley for further incubation and immersion.

So, we’ve done that consistently for five years. For two years, we did this in Nairobi, Kenya. The next few years we had it in Enugu, Nigeria. This year, we had it in Johannesburg, South Africa—I just came back from there.

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