According to the World Economic Forum, the African continent has one of the highest youth populations in the world- a whooping 70 percent. As a result, half of the world’s population growth is projected to happen in Africa over the next 30 years. Inevitably, this impending reality prompts questions about whether governments across the continent can cater to the infrastructural, social, economic and policy needs that the population will demand.
African youth are majorly confronted with challenges surrounding economies that grew but could not create sufficient jobs and today, unemployment has by far become one of the continent’s biggest problems. However, Africa’s young, ambitious, and talented youths in the face of unemployment and tough realities, are now leading the innovation charge as the rapid growth of tech ecosystems across the continent is a clear proof. They have explored the tech ecosystem birthing great ideas that have become solutions to pressing societal challenges as well as innovative and creative means to make life easier. Most of these ideas such as the Piggy Vest electronic piggy bank, Cowrywise and so many more have evolved into institutions and big companies that are now fully operational as organizational bodies. Nevertheless, there are still many more young Africans with brilliant ideas that are not able to access the help needed to bring those ideas into existence.
So far, the ongoing pandemic has affected almost every sector of the global economy, making it hard for many ideas to come to life. However, despite these unforeseen circumstances, a few stories stand out.
Uchi Uchibeke – Founder of AfricaHacks, inventor & Nigerian-Canadian based serial Founder; and Christine Dikongue – Co-founder of AfricaHacks, business technology consultant, impact innovator, and Cameroonian-Canadian based entrepreneur; saw a need to provide opportunities for African youths and people of African descent to develop solution driven companies. This is exactly why they created AfricaHacks, a youth-focused organization accelerating over 15,000 youth’s creativity in Africa and beyond.
By encouraging the birth of new tech-based ideas, AfricaHacks is using innovation and entrepreneurship in empowering Africans to build sustainable tech companies to deliver impact that can inadvertently help to make the continent a better place.
The structure takes participants from ideas, connects them to potential team members, tools, resources, competitions, and pitch opportunities on the Start by AfricaHacks platform; a scalable platform of over 10,000 users that connects anyone with an idea to partners/team-members to validate the idea and build a minimum viable project. Through this platform, the innovators can participate in a Hackathon, then AfricaHacks transforms their Hackathon projects to companies on the Startup creation program.
“After attending over 30 Hackathons at Stanford, Waterloo, Harvard, Princeton, Penn, and others, I knew that an impactful Hackathon was needed for African and black youth because Hackathons made an impact on me and my career. Today, I have worked at IBM, Shopify, RBC, Securekey, filled patents, and published papers because at Hackathons, I worked with, learned from, and competed with the world’s best” said Uchi.
AfricaHacks Hackathons are run across the continent with member events like BothoHacks in Botswana and NaijaHacks in Nigeria. Its Hackathon, NaijaHacks, is Africa’s Biggest Hackathon with over 4000 applications, 1500 participants and sponsors from the US, Canada, UK, and many other countries.
Unlike many other Hackathons, AfricaHacks has a strong support structure being the only Hackathon globally that has a post-hackathon incubation process and connects with its community weekly through events, opportunities, and support.
With a mission to be the platform that accelerates youth’s creativity in Africa and beyond, AfricaHacks is moving a step further to achieving a key milestone of supporting 100,000 young people with tech and business workshops, devices, startup incubation, and mentorship at the (5th to 12th) December 2020 AfricaHacks North America-Africa Hackathon and Conference. This is the first and largest global black tech competition and conference, gathering participants to connect, validate their ideas and get support to build a minimum viable product in less than a week. They will also have the opportunity to win hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes and join the AfricaHacks Startup creation program. This conference will go a long way in having birthing new innovative tech ideas as well as substantial solutions to enhance life.
Aiming to be the entrepreneurship platform for African youth and youth of African descent, AfricaHacks is very inclusive as it welcomes beginners and has a Beginner category with prizes, expectations, and programming tailored to first-timers. According to Uchi, “we believe that the current skill level or situation of a person should not determine if they can build a company so our goal is always to take people from zero to hero.” The company also strongly believes in the power of collaboration and how much can be achieved when organizations come together with a central aim. Through partnerships the company will be able to secure additional support and connections that will lead to increased investment and potential pre-seed funding for Startups that join the Startup creation program and subsequently expand the partnerships beyond the African continent.
Having emerged in a global pandemic, the company has been faced with several challenges. At the onset, the company was not just faced with the effects of the pandemic on the business world but also faced with the challenge of creating awareness that would spread across the African continent and the world at large. “When we started in April, we were a new organization, so no one knew about us and we had to be creative to be out there” said Christine. Another challenge was to understand the skills needed on the core team. Major adjustments and changes were made to ensure the company is moving in the right direction with the appropriate skills that will help scale and propel the company.
According to Uchi, the journey has been a learning process. “We definitely have made mistakes and COVID-19 challenged many of our funding and other assumptions but staying true to the mission and keeping the vision insight has helped us weather through the challenges, leadership change, and other mistakes we made as a team,” he said.
In working to support Africans to build tech companies, AfricaHacks stands on the belief that by empowering Africans and black youth economically, companies, organizations, governments, and partners can make lasting impact on participants and their future employees.