To highlight the ever-growing and diversified community of the AfriLabs network, we are pleased to introduce our new series on our community and their impact in their respective countries.
As one of the fast-rising innovation communities in Africa, Cameroon has 2 unique systems; the Anglophone and the Francophone Ecosystem – a reflection of Africa’s diversity based on culture and its geographic sphere.
In 1998, governing telecommunication in Cameroon enabled the introduction of two private mobile operators (Orange in 1999 and MTN in the year 2000), and within ten years, the first digital service in Cameroon began, thereby creating convenience in communication through mobile telephony which came into existence in Cameroon in 1999 with the advent of Societe Camerounaise des Mobile (mobilis) now called “Orange Cameroun.” Despite the emergence of telecom into the country, access to the internet by Cameroonians was difficult, hence the partnership between Equacomm and Camtel came into play to provide more access to wireless internet, as they believed closing the gap could be reduced through the deployment of Wi-Fi technologies throughout the country, considered less expensive and accessible via mobile telephones, whose penetration rate exceeds 80% in Cameroon.
In 2010, there was a challenge as regards licensing of telecommunication companies in Cameroon which affected the service delivery of companies like Créolink, Ringo Sarl, Northwave Sarl (Vodafone), TNT Africa, and Afrikanet Online among others. ART, however, stepped in and began to issue “temporary permits” to operators disregarding regulatory measures which weren’t welcomed by the government. The then Cameroonian Prime Minister, Philémon Yang, signed a decree fixing the procedures for establishing operating networks and providing electronic communication services subject to a licensing scheme, due to the criticism posed by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (Agence de Régulation des Télécommunications – ART), for illegally granting itself the issuance of “temporary permits” to telecom companies subject to licensing.
2010 marked the beginning of hub evolution in Cameroon with ActivSpaces being the first to pivot in the entrepreneurial landscape, alongside Jokkolabs, and EtriLabs. Out of over 25 tech hubs in Cameroon, AfriLabs has a record of 17 which includes; Zixtech Hub, Jongo Hub, NexGen Technology Center, Innova237, among others.
ActivSpaces, founded in 2010, was founded to increase the odds of success for young tech entrepreneurs in Cameroon by creating environments that will serve as catalysts permitting their technology innovations to thrive. They have supported over 87 Startups, 1000+ community members, and have organized over 2000 events in partnership with several organizations. Their mission has always been to train, encourage and support young Cameroonian innovators into becoming world-class technology entrepreneurs capable of building successful technology enterprises.
Zixtech Hub has been actively engaged in Entrepreneurship. The tech hub focused on tech solutions that solve real problems, with the vision of being the leading hub that turns ideas into enterprises. Being located in Limbe, South West Region of Cameroon, it has launched more than 15 startups with 30 Small businesses that have sprung up from them. The hub has trained more than 1500 Entrepreneurs and supported more than 200 businesses in Cameroon, Africa, and Europe.
Jongo Hub since its inception has grown into a community of over 5000 innovators, bringing together creatives, techies, civil society leaders, and engineers. Jongo hub has so far served 180 startups, supported over 300 startups, and also provided to 200 young individuals skills in graphics design, motion graphics, web and mobile app development, photography, Serigraphy, and print technologies. They have trained more than 2000 entrepreneurs in design thinking, Business Development, Business Modelling and Financial Management.
Seedstars, Google Developers Groups, and Startupgrind have hosted some key programs and competitions for startups in the thriving ecosystem in Cameroon.
There has been tremendous growth with public incubators in the 10 Regional Universities in the country receiving support from the State. Between 2017 to 2020, the number of hubs and incubators has grown more than 20 times, and in the area of startup investments, it has been more of a baby step as some startups have raised funds within the ecosystem while most are still in the infancy stage using the lean methodology. However, the country has notable startups like DroneAfrica, the first-ever Africa-made drone manufacturing company, which is a flagship project of Will & Brothers Consulting, founded by William Elong. This startup reportedly raised a fund of 200,000 USD to facilitate its project and was said to have created a major shift in tech and innovation in Cameroon. Other notable startups include; Giftedmom, Hymo medical, Orion, Ouicare, and many more.
A catalyst to the growth of the Cameroon ecosystem is the presence of smaller ecosystems in the regions, the inclusion of this fuels when providing support for enterprises and encouraging collaboration for increased impact. For example, a very vibrant ecosystem of hubs, startups, and other stakeholders often called “Silicon Mountain” based in the English-speaking region thrives based on intensive collaboration and the AfriLabs hub members in that ecosystem have been very active in boosting the enterprises through training and support programs. Over the years, about 5000 ventures have benefitted from these programs which enabled their growth and scalability.
2017 was the explosion point for the ecosystem, with government institutions like APME (Enterprise promotion agency), Ministry of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises working actively with local partners and ecosystem experts in building policies to boost the ecosystem. The government launched the business incubation summit to bring experts together to share on how to restructure the ecosystem, thus some networks like Kmertech and CEEN (Cameroon Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Network) were created for a strategic partnership to enable the growth and sustainability of businesses which in turn will aid the development of the country’s economy. It is interesting to note that most founding members of these networks are also members of AfriLabs, which brings into play the actualization of the vision of a thriving innovation economy in Africa driven by the power of our community.
Though very young and with a lot of work to be done, the diversity of the Cameroonian Innovation Ecosystem is a beacon of hope and could become the model on how heterogeneous communities can thrive. About 80% of the innovation support impact by hubs in Cameroon is through AfriLabs members who have actively been running support programs, training as well as other capacity-building activities to support startups in the various regions.