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Tech conference collaboration boosts African start-ups

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Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies with a delegation of 13 South African start-up founders at  the VivaTech conference held in Paris last week.
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies with a delegation of 13 South African start-up founders at the VivaTech conference held in Paris last week.

French tech conference VivaTech will partner for the first time with AfricArena, an African tech ecosystem aggregator, in a move seen as a boost for African start-ups and innovators.

The announcement was made last week at the Paris-based conference dedicated to advancing technological innovation and start-ups.

Maxime Baffert, co-managing director of Viva Technology, said the partnership would see the two tech conferences collaborate to promote and grow African tech excellence and build bridges between European and African entrepreneurial and investor arenas.

"The collaboration will lead to increased connection between a new generation of entrepreneurs in their race to launch new products and services to improve the lives of African communities and commerce while conquering global markets.

"As part of our Afric@Tech focus this year, we are thrilled to lay the foundations of a long-term and ambitious collaboration. This partnership is aiming at paying tribute to the vibrant energy of Africa's promising entrepreneurial ecosystem."

French president Emmanuel Macron.
French president Emmanuel Macron.

The two are set to launch a joint challenge for African start-ups that aims to find solutions to some of the continent's biggest problems.

The challenge will begin next month. The top three finalists will be flown to Cape Town to pitch their respective innovations at AfricArena on 15 to 16 November.

AfricArena founder Christophe Viarnaud explains: "The prize is sponsored by French president Emmanuel Macron's Presidential Council for Africa, and consists of providing the winning start-up with support through a network to access capital, or funding, and market access, particularly in France."

Funding for Africa

At the tech conference, Macron announced the establishment of a EUR65 million (R900 million) programme through the French Development Agency, which will focus on investing in African start-ups at VivaTech.

Macron said the French Development Agency had been working on the new initiative for the past six months and that the agency would be investing EUR30 000 to EUR50 000 per start-up.

Innovation was "the best way to provide the solution made by, and for African people... because when you speak about innovation, when you speak about digital, it's by providing services for people to learn, to be able to be educated, to work, to get access to energy, and so on. But you speak as well to job creation for people," he noted.

Star start-ups

For the first time in Viva Tech's three-year history, the summit featured a dedicated zone for African start-ups this year. The start-ups were given an opportunity to pitch their solutions to potential investors

Two South African start-ups won in their respective challenges. Johannesburg-based artificial intelligence company Vizibiliti Insight won EUR5 000 for coming first place in the Verizon challenge, where CEO Courtney Bentley pitched an alternative credit scoring solution.

The Sun Exchange, a solar and blockchain start-up that sells users solar cells and helps buyers earn crypto-currency by leasing the equipment to schools and businesses, won the AFD Energy Blockchain challenge.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies led a delegation that included 13 South African start-ups who were exhibiting at the summit.

"It's obviously becoming a very significant global showcase for technology and technology companies, but also the focus on Africa, and the focus on start-ups is very significant for us," noted Davies.

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