ECOWAS-Africa Finds Its Silicon Valley for Entrepreneurs

When you think of Africa, you think about the beauty of its landscapes and the Big Five National Parks. But many don’t know that Africa’s Western region or ECOWAS breeds a powerful entrepreneurial ecosystem that could rival America’s West.

The 2015 African Entrepreneurship Award (AEA) powered by BMCE Bank of Africa received technology business proposals from over 420 entrepreneurs within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).* This volume was unprecedented and rivals competitions in Silicon Valley.

African entrepreneurial ecosystems benefit from the same developments that support Silicon Valley: favorable business climates, an emerging middle class, the vast number of support programs (start-up incubators, business mentors, entrepreneurs’ networks…) and entrepreneurship competitions.

*This data excludes Nigeria, which will be examined as an exclusive zone. 

Ghana and Senegal Lead the West

ECOWAS STORY CHART1In the ECOWAS zone, it is not surprising that Ghana generated 30% of AEA business proposals submitted in the 2015 competition. This former British colony is known for its universities including the Meltwater School of Technology (MEST). MEST is one of the most inspiring and influential incubators in West Africa. This reinforces the approach that universities are a critical component of entrepreneurial ecosystems. With this University connection, Ghana leads as a model for the rest of the region.
Senegal and Ivory Coast generated respectively 27% and 12% of proposals, round out the top three countries in ECOWAS. This reflects the World Bank’s 2015 Doing Business report which reports these two nations are among the world’s top 10 countries who have improved the ease of doing business in 2013/2014.

The Diaspora Fuels African Entrepreneurialism

The ECOWAS economic zone attracted African entrepreneurs from all over the world. Willing to benefit from a more favorable investment climate and desiring to leverage their expertise.  many young professionals in the African diaspora wish to invest in their home countries.

During the premier edition of the Award, 28% of entrepreneurs who submitted technology ideas to benefit ECOWAS countries lived in the diaspora. Among those 28%, many are from neighboring countries in Africa. This demonstrates the fact that 50% of African emigration is within Africa.

Young Entrepreneurs Bring Technology Solutions
As the youngest continent on the globe, Africa possesses young, risk-taking entrepreneurs needed to fuel technology innovation. Within the ECOWAS region, the average age of entrepreneurs is 30 years old. In Guinea-Bissau the average is 26, compared to those in Nigeria ripen their business concepts at 33. By comparison, entrepreneurs in Europe are much older such as 38 years in France and over 40 years-old in the UK.

ECOWAS story chart2
It is known that the youth of Africa suffer from unemployment. This harsh, economic reality fuels entrepreneurship because it is an alternative solution to traditional jobs. Likewise, fewer opportunities for higher education exist, young Africans enter the business world earlier than their European and American counterparts.

Women Beat the Averages                        

Over 20% of the entrepreneurs from this region were women. This beats the averages found in Silicon Valley for women-led technology businesses. Africa’s women are leaping ahead of the world’s leader in technology businesses.

Technology sectors and education among the most acclaimed branches

Four sectors represented the bulk of AEA applicants during the premier edition in this Western region.ECOWAS STORY CHART3

– Education: 19% of business ideas

– Environment / Energy: 15% of the business ideas

– Agriculture: 9% of ECOWAS entrepreneurs wish to invest in agriculture to improve crop yields, a sector representing an astonishing 25% of the continent’s GDP.

– Telecommunications and new information technologies were prevalent in most of the ideas as the Award sought to encourage use of technology to solve Africa’s challenges.


Go West

Africa’s Western region, ECOWAS, led the premier edition of the Award in volume and achieved several winners. Just like America’s West during this last century, Africa’s West breeds this century’s future entrepreneurs who will write the economic history of Africa.

For more information on ECOWAS, visit our country stories and entrepreneur stories.  

cover photo credit: Stig Nygaard

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