Technology entrepreneurship is a style of business leadership based on the process of identifying high-potential, technology-intensive business opportunities, gathering resources such as talent and cash, and managing rapid growth using principled, real-time decision-making skills.
For this edition of Dreams Talks we will be highlighting the importance of innovation labs in Africa, the opportunities they create and the future of the tech ecosystems in Africa. Technological entrepreneurs are faced with several challenges to development. Some of the challenges that innovative entrepreneurs face are attributable to inadequate resources, expensive patents and unavailability of equity and venture capital.
Steve Tchoumba, Executive Director of ActivSpaces is one of such people on the continent leading the conversation, he believes redefining how Africa takes on business is the key to opening the golden gate of rapid development and on success on the continent.
Founded in 2010 in Douala, Buea, and Bangangté, ActivSpaces Cameroon, exists to increase the odds of success of young tech entrepreneurs in Cameroon by creating environments that will serve as catalysts permitting their technology innovations to thrive. They provide space for collaboration, innovation hub and startup incubator, and connect entrepreneurs with commercial projects and finance startups. We speak with him on this edition of Dreams Talks.
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Dreams Talks: As Executive Director for ActivSpaces Cameroon what are your primary objectives for the hub?
Steve Tchoumba: Over the years, our objectives have grown and matured. We aim to make significant contributions to Africa’s progress.
Dreams Talks: ActivSpaces Cameroon creates environments where technology and innovation thrive —catalysts that serve to increase the odds of success for young tech entrepreneurs in Cameroon, what has been your core strategy towards achieving these objectives?
Steve Tchoumba: Our strategy has focused on engagement, involving all relevant stakeholders to ensure the success of our startups. Early on, we recognised the importance of collaborating with universities, as they are instrumental in creating and nurturing entrepreneurs. We aimed to establish a correlation between the training young people receive at universities and needs in the job market.
We also engaged with investors to secure funding for the startups we support. This led to the creation of the Cameroonian Angel Investor Network, which has invested in some of the startups we have nurtured. In addition, we’ve collaborated with international actors, donors, and the private sector to foster innovation and develop a sustainable business model for our not-for-profit organization.
Finally, we’ve worked with the government to create a safe growing environment for startups. Overall, our strategy has centered on engagement and collaboration with various stakeholders to achieve our goals and support entrepreneurs in Cameroon.
Dreams Talks: What criteria must a “Start-up” have for Active Spaces Cameroon to accept collaborations and in turn incubate said Start-up?
Steve Tchoumba: I’d like to clarify that we don’t only work with startups; they are just one segment of the clients we support. We also assist entrepreneurs who are young people motivated by technology and may be considering starting a business or acquiring skills to work for startups.
Focusing on the startup user segment, we look for certain qualities, such as drive, industry knowledge, personal investment in time and money, and the ability to attract co-founders and establish networks. These are the criteria we consider when selecting startups for our program.
For the other segment, young entrepreneurs with budding ideas, we look for individuals who are open-minded, willing to learn and have a burning desire to use their skills to make an impact. These are the qualities we seek in this group of clients.
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Dreams Talks: What are the Challenges Facing ActivSpaces Cameroon and ecosystem building in Africa and how is ActivSpaces solving these problems, in-turn creating a format template that younger hubs can adopt?
Steve Tchoumba: Hubs and incubation are relatively new in Africa, so defining our exact purpose was challenging. Other challenges include attracting talent, creating a business model to finance the hub’s activities, and dealing with policy and government involvement, as many private sector hubs need more government support.
To solve these problems, it’s important to tackle one issue at a time. Determine whether you want to focus on training, incubation, or activation, and identify those willing to pay. For young entrepreneurs without funds, you need to find innovative ways to finance your services. Taking equity in startups takes time to mature.
To attract talent, consider hiring part-time staff or people on a project, activity, or mentoring basis. This helps bring in quality staff without incurring high costs. Also, create incentives other than salary and find passionate individuals who want to contribute to Africa’s growth on the global stage.
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Dreams Talks: As Executive Director of the Hub, tell us about your proudest moments in achievements for the Hub gained thus far ?
Steve Tchoumba: I don’t have just one proudest moment; I have several. For me, it’s about meeting up with entrepreneurs, sharing their passion, and seeing their drive. We recently did a program for women entrepreneurs in rural areas. These women are not specifically in tech, but we help them organize and structure their businesses while introducing some tech elements. After the two-week training, we do monthly visits to their companies. Visiting them on-site, seeing them thrive, and witnessing their passion are the moments that truly make it for me.
Dreams Talks: 20 years from now what Will ActivSpaces mean to the next generation?
Steve Tchoumba: Ten years from where we started, I want to believe that we have shown what is capable of technology in Africa and what technology can create. And 20 years from now. I want us to be seen, remembered, as great innovators, not just the hope that was helping start-ups. But innovators that redefined how Africa does business for you. And this is how I hope. We see active spaces 20 years from now.