CTIC Dakar: Untapping the Potential of Francophone Markets

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Abdoul Aziz Sy, program manager at CTIC Dakar,  candidly spoke to IPEye about the incubator, which empowers  entrepreneurs in the area of IT and mobile services. CTIC Dakar works with high potential, high-impact entrepreneurs,  in the construction and strategizing of  their business model and blueprint, while connecting them with the ecosystem required for success. Abdoul had the following to say on a range of topics concerning CTIC Dakar:

On the inspiration/motivation behind CTIC Dakar:

CTIC Dakar was born from a shared acknowledgement that the economic development of the country as well as the private activities of certain high profile firms or operators went hand in hand with the development of the ICT ecosystem. By developing a strong and educated ICT community, the tech firms ensure a good market for their products and services and the government ensures employment and opportunities for the Senegalese population. The latter is, in majority, made up of people aged between 18-35 years. The same age group has traditionally carried the use of technology and innovation. The assessments were made by organizations from both the public and private sector. Several of the latter, under the impulsion of the Professional Organization of ICTs and the Foundation for ICT incubators, united their efforts to launch the first tech firm incubator of francophone West Africa.

On the management and operation of CTIC Dakar:

Several government agencies are part of the steering committee, notably the SCA (Accelerated Growth Strategy) as well as ADIE (Gvt IT Agency). CTIC Dakar is also under the tutelage of the ICT Ministry and the Finance Ministry. However, the chairman of CTIC Management Board is and will always be the private sector ICT organization (OPTIC). The government bodies are just partners, not leaders in the partnership.

‘The public-private partnership which has fostered its creation has allowed us to benefit from different levels of expertise and support and bring a great leverage to our companies’

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On what sets CTIC Dakar apart from regional hubs: 

What sets CTIC apart is: 1) its “not-easy-to-set-up” public-private partnership and 2) its revenue model based on incubates revenue growth. The public-private partnership which has fostered its creation has allowed us to benefit from different levels of expertise and support and bring a great leverage to our companies. The most important benefits for CTIC are the free office space, the free Internet connection, easy sponsors for all events, mentors and recently, funding for our startups (we raised USD230,000 in 2014 for our companies and mostly from our official partners)

Furthermore, our revenue model really sets us apart from a lot of incubators. We don’t take any equity (market not ready) but instead we take 9% of the revenue growth of our companies. In other terms, if they don’t grow, they don’t pay. We also generate revenue from events and business services (business trips in Africa, training, consulting to other incubators like CIPMEN in Niger). In 2013, we have been able to cover 75% of our expenses with our own revenue and we aim at reaching a 100% in 2016.

On CTIC Dakar’s interaction with other hubs:

Being part of the amazing Afrilabs network has helped us a lot with getting in touch and working with other African hubs. For instance, this year we are carrying out the pan-African, ICT-for-good-governance program OpenSocietic with several countries in West Africa and their tech hubs: CIPMEN (Niger), ETRILABS (Benin), AMN (Côte d’Ivoire), Cc hub (Nigeria), iLab and Accountability Lab (Liberia). We are also pretty close and exchange regularly with Nailab, iHub, MEST, Wennovation Hub and the VC4Africa folks.

‘Investors now understand the untapped potential of the Francophone markets and, with its good connectivity and education system, Senegal is the ideal base to start a tech investment and scale it to other countries’

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On investors and investments in Senegal:

So far, the Senegalese market size (more than the culture) has not encouraged the rise of venture capitalists and Business Angels. Banks take very little risks as everywhere on the continent and successful individuals usually invest in their own affairs. Its just a matter of time, we just need more successful individuals in the IT field to have them reinvesting and becoming Angels. So far we can count less than 10 of them in the country. Also, investors now understand the untapped potential of the Francophone markets and, with its good connectivity and education system, Senegal is the ideal base to start a tech investment and scale it to other countries.

On unique projects incubated at CTIC Dakar:

The Opensocietic.org project is special because it is the only program, in francophone West Africa, that uses entrepreneurial skills and ICTs to reinforce Good Governance in countries like Senegal. It optimizes the relationship between the private, public and non-profit sectors and has allowed us to use all the skills an incubator could possibly use. The program was created by CTIC, in partnership with the OSIWA foundation, to allow a better interaction between citizens and their governments. We launched a call for applications in May, organized workshops in 4 countries to foster the understanding of that specific issue, organized a regional forum on the subject of ICTs for Good Governance and we finally selected and funded 6 startup projects with USD10,000$ each. They create web and mobile tools for the citizens of 5 different countries. It is a very different project from what CTIC usually engages in and has been a rich and very useful experience.

 On discussing IP with CTIC Dakar users:

Of course they ask the question “what happens if someone steals my idea?”, etc, we explain to them that in the IT sector, you cannot protect much of your tech apart for your brand, logo, etc, and even if you did so, you wouldn’t have the means to go to trial with larger companies. Thus, we mostly tell them to go fast, to build a real customer relation and to be innovative in their business model.

In all projects, the Intellectual Property is owned by the project bearer and its partners. CTIC has no ownership in any of the companies or their technologies.

On technology and innovation in Senegal in 5 years:

Interesting progress has been noted in the past few years in terms of internet penetration (25%), telephone use (110%) and development of the digital economy (see the recent “Lions Go Digital” report by McKinsey, placing Senegal on top of African countries for its internet contribution to GDP). However, the technological potential of the country is still not fully expressed, mainly because of a lack of political involvement and the fact that most of the growth linked with ICTs is created by Orange, the main local network operator. The lack of local private investors in the field is also blatant and risky for the long term ownership of tech companies by Senegalese people.

On CTIC Dakar 5 – 10 years from now:

As far as CTIC Dakar is concerned for the next 5 years, we expect to grow as fast as we already did. We are now working on acquiring a new building to be able to support more than 50 companies at any time (against 20 currently). The challenges for us will be to keep on attracting and training great people in the team and to manage political ambitions of our partners. The vision for CTIC is to develop the business core of its operations and to be inevitable, not only in Dakar but also in the rest of the country and in all Francophone Africa. Whether that impact comes through the development of other hubs (like CIPMEN in Niger) or an increase of our own resources and offices remains to be seen. Regarding the 10 years from now, we’ll either be sipping cocktails on a beautiful beach celebrating our ROI… or working hard with passionate entrepreneurs!

‘We are looking forward to the day when we can look with pride at a flamboyant and thriving ICT ecosystem in Senegal’

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On the rewards of working at CTIC Dakar:

It has brought CTIC much joy to see some of the firms who were first incubated become renowned names in the African digital world, like People Input for instance, which has now more than 40 employees and offices in 4 countries. The success of our clients remains a great pride, not only because of what it means in itself, but also because our business model is based on their success. Our revenue grows as much as theirs. However, hopefully, our biggest contribution will be to the ecosystem in general. We are looking forward to the day when we can look with pride at a flamboyant and thriving ICT ecosystem in Senegal. That would be our greatest accomplishment.

To keep up with all of the fantastic work being done at CTIC Dakar, follow them on twitter @cticdakar

About: Tracy Ayodele

Tracy Ayodele is a Canadian lawyer, called to the Bar of Ontario, and a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School. She has a keen interest in IP policy, social innovation and the intersection of technology, development and start-up culture in emerging economies. She is a spirited legal researcher and writer, and co-authored “Hot-tubbing in Canadian Patent Litigation: A Preliminary Assessment” published in the Intellectual Property Journal.

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