Stéphan Eloïse Gras speaking at an event
Digital Africa is an impact-driven initiative, backed by the French government, on a mission to support African tech entrepreneurs and innovators by providing technical assistance, financing projects and businesses, and creating a regulatory environment that supports African innovation. Since its launch in 2018 by President Emmanuel Macron, Digital Africa has grown to a community of 6,000 African entrepreneurs across diverse sectors, and has run several impact programs including Talent 4 Startups and Africa Next.
In this original interview, TechCabal spoke to Stéphan Eloïse Gras, executive director of Digital Africa, about Digital Africa’s journey so far and their plans for the next generation of skilled African innovators.
Koromone: Can you speak a little bit into how Digital Africa is helping to connect Europe to Africa, and what that means for our ecosystem?
Stéphan Eloïse Gras: Digital Africa is a French-based initiative working to provide African tech entrepreneurs with the skills and resources needed to create and scale digital innovation in order to boost their economies.
One of the major ways we are connecting Europe and Africa is through partnerships. We bring together organizations and governments on both continents to work on projects that are meant to provide support for early-stage startups.
These partnerships help to accrue and distribute resources that are deployed to supporting entrepreneurs and startups in the ecosystem. An example is the bridge fund, which we launched in partnership with the French government. It provides urgent funding for startups between 2 rounds of resources.
Another example is the Africa Next program, which we launched alongside African VCs like Ingress Capitals and CC Hub. In this program, we share investment opportunities and organize online pitch sessions for early-stage startups.
KK: Can you talk about some challenges you’ve experienced in the course of your work with Digital Africa?
SEG: One challenge we’ve faced is ensuring that the programs we launch are tailored to fit the needs of the communities and ecosystems we want to work with.
Another challenge is managing resources in a way that is both transparent and agile.
Digital Africa is a public-funded organization, and so there are a lot of processes required in order for funds to be disbursed. Combining this with the need to be very responsive in how we respond to funding requests can be challenging as well.
KK: The Digital Africa white paper predicts that by 2030, a combined 800 million African youths – counting from 2020 – will be on the job market. Should we be optimistic or nervous about this figure?
SEG: We should be more excited than preoccupied by the sheer size of that number. At Digital Africa, we provide people with the capacity to either find jobs, create jobs, or upskill. With this, young people will be capable of creating opportunities for themselves within the digital economy to sustain the population growth. That’s the exciting part.
What’s preoccupying on the other hand is how to redistribute the value within the community so that it is retained in Africa and not taken to an external economy.
KK: That’s an interesting way to look at it. What do you think the strengths of the continent as a whole are when it comes to entrepreneurship?
SEG: I see a lot of creativity and resilience. Another really big strength is the sense of community rather than an individualistic approach.
KK: My final question is about female entrepreneurship. Can you talk about how Digital Africa is helping to close the gender gap that exists in our technology and business ecosystem?
SEG: At Digital Africa, we commit to 50% of our beneficiaries being women. We actively look out for female entrepreneurs to support and mentor with skills. Beyond skills, we are also determined to ensure that we provide a safe-space for women when it comes to raising money.