Silicon Valley firm to invest in East African ICT talent

In the spirit of spreading the success of Silicon Valley to the world, executives of a technology investment firm based in Silicon Valley were recently in the region scouting for talent to invest in.

In the past few years, the region’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector has attracted world attention with its innovations.

Catching the attention of the global hub of ICT innovation is no mean feat. Such is the high esteem in which “the Valley,” as it is fondly known in technology circles, is held across the world.

The visiting executives from I/O Ventures were drawn by success stories in the region’s ICT innovations from M-Pesa, the mobile money transfer service run by Safaricom, to Ushahidi, an Online tool for mapping crises.

“It is hard to replicate Silicon Valley anywhere in the world given its unique environment in terms of talent, availability of capital and culture,” declares Mbwana Alliy, an associate at I/O Ventures, the angel investment/venture capital firm that is interested in supporting East African start ups.

The culture includes the attitude towards the possibility of failure in a venture, according to Brian Wilcove, a partner at Sofinnova Ventures, a $1.2 billion venture capital firm that is based in Silicon Valley and invests in technological enterprises that can provide new technology at a low cost or if it has a rapidly growing market.


“It is more culturally acceptable to fail in the Valley than other areas,” Mr Wilcove adds.

It is this culture that Mr Alliy and his colleagues at I/O Ventures want to bring to the region.

Apart from Kenya and Tanzania, the team is also considering ideas from Brazil, Chile, Singapore and Eastern Europe.

“We are trying to bring the Silicon Valley spirit to the world and it will take time,” Mr Alliy says.

Under this initiative, start ups, such as those that use mobile phone text messages and Internet enabled business or those that tap into the masses, will be helped to become successful enterprises through a $25,000 investment from I/O Ventures.

“There are some promising ideas we have seen, that with the right mentoring and team can be great businesses,” Mr Alliy adds.

If successful, and such startups are transformed into successful enterprises across the world, the Silicon Valley spirit will come alive across the world.

Beneath the façade of a typical US neighbourhood that meets a first time visitor to Silicon Valley, is an unmatched reverence across the world for its role in ICT innovation.

Nothing about the Valley, however, indicates this high esteem in which it is held, and its contribution towards driving the multi-billion dollar sector globally.

Apart from names of recognisable brands in the ICT sector, from Microsoft, Yahoo and Apple, to Ericsson that are boldly emblazoned on storied office blocks that look a tad similar, it looks ordinary.

However, this has not discouraged the humble giant from attracting all kinds of players in the sector, from application developers and device manufacturers to venture capitalists and institutions of higher learning.

Source – The East African – By COSMAS BUTUNYI