Africa Tribune : What are you looking for at the Dubai exhibition GITEX? (Interview conducted on 11 October).
Gerald Maithya : We are trying to offer a platform to African startups so that they can meet investors and present their innovations to Africa, but also to the rest of the world, and GITEX represents a particularly interesting platform at this level. We also brought a dozen startups, primarily in Fintech, but also in EdTech, HealTech and AgriTech: Synapse, Praxilabs, Subsbase, Q-Hop, BancX, Terragon, Omnibiz, Afya Rekod, BuuPass and Meals.
What does Africa represent to date in Microsoft’s global strategy?
We have been present for 30 years on the African continent. Last year we developed the ATO program, the Africa Transformation Office, which follows Microsoft for Africa, to strengthen investments in digital transformation on the continent. This program is particularly interested in digital infrastructures, skill building, SMEs, start-ups, but also strategic partnerships.
African SMEs and start-ups are constantly growing and represent a real development lever for Africa. We have targeted 10,000 startups that we want to support over the next five years. To do this we have activated our network and we work closely with around forty organizations based in Africa such as Liquid Cloud and AGRA (…)
We develop data centers and we are also working on the development of the cloud. Finally, we work closely with international organizations such as the African Development Bank, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and Afreximbank to support the digital transition in Africa. This entire global strategy is now led by the Africa Transformation Office.
What is your strategy to penetrate the African market while the purchase of a license remains prohibitive for the basket of the average African housewife?
According to our information, there are nearly 140 million SMEs in Africa, the majority of which are based in Egypt and Nigeria. On average, we identified 25 challenges that SMBs face, from order entry to inventory management to payment terms. Microsoft offers solutions for each of these problems. We define a long-term strategy to be able to offer software solutions at competitive prices. We also collaborate with banking and telecommunications players because we want to help SMEs get easier access to financing. We are looking for the best solutions at the best prices for African SMEs.
What place does artificial intelligence (AI) occupy in your programs for Africa?
Many African startups are investing in artificial intelligence today. Artificial intelligence allows them to find new solutions to specific problems. There are challenges in every sector of activity that AI can respond to, be it healthcare, agriculture or education. We offer African startups the opportunity to use our platform and our AI tools to develop their own programs.
What is FarmBeats: AI Edge & IoT for Agriculture – Microsoft Research for Farmers?
It is a precision farming solution that relies on AI. In the past, several studies have demonstrated the need to increase global food production by 2050. Nevertheless, with the limited amount of arable land and available water levels decreasing, we have developed this solution to optimize agricultural production. It is intended for farmers and allows them to increase their production while reducing their costs. This solution is based on the collection of data from all over the world. For example, it allows farmers to calculate their water or input needs. This is a program that focuses on the environment, but also on agricultural productivity.
To what extent does the Microsoft group participate in the strengthening of African skills?
Microsoft has opened the first Africa development centers in Kenya and Nigeria to support African talent. At the same time, we spend a lot of time with students at universities to help them develop their skills. We also plan to develop ours Advanced Technology Laboratory (advanced technology laboratories, editor’s note) in Egypt. We want Africa to no longer be just a consumer of technology, but to become a producer of technology.
What do Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub ?
It is also a global program that focuses on African startups. It provides free access to the group’s technology, tools and network. He supports entrepreneurs at every stage of their development to consolidate their business model. It gives startups free access to Microsoft’s group tools and platforms.
Selected startups are eligible for a global mentoring program through our network and also benefit from exclusive offers from our partners. They can receive advice from technical experts at any stage of the implementation of their project, as well as training organized by Microsoft for Startups Founders School. Finally, Founders Hub also allows startups to sell their products to the group’s customer companies.
What are the big upcoming projects on the continent?
We have set ourselves the ambitious goal of supporting 10,000 African startups in the next five years. In six months we have already reached 1,000 startups. Recently we supported a Nigerian startup to raise $6 million from our partners. We are also working with a South African startup specializing in M-banking. South Africa represents the first market for African startups and we are preparing the launch of a major program in December in Cape Town.
Your strategy is mainly oriented towards English-speaking African countries. What about the projects developed by Microsoft in French-speaking countries?
It’s underway. We decided to focus on the most important markets to start this program targeting the 10,000 African startups: Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Morocco. Having said that, we are also interested in other geographies and particularly in Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal, which have a very dynamic technology ecosystem that we will be looking at over the next six months.