Africa’s Startup Centers – Accra
Accra’s startup scene really started to come into its own when the non-profit arm of the Meltwater Group established MEST (Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology) in Accra in 2008. This immediately bolstered Accra’s startup scene which was in its infancy to a modicum of global prominence. Over the last 8 years, several other centers have emerged, but Accra has credibly established itself as one of the startup centers of Africa. Today there are an estimated 150 startups in Accra.
MEST takes 35 of the top graduates in Ghana every year and makes them go through intensive entrepreneurial training over the course of a year. Some of the top startups in Ghana have emerged from this program, and they in turn have established venture capital funds or gone on to create incubators or hubs that encourage further growth in entrepreneurship within Ghana. One of the key differentiators where MEST really succeeds is in giving its students a global mindset, rather than simply fixating on issues confined to Accra or even Ghana.
MEST’s foundation has led to a proliferation of hubs or co-working spaces, of which there are approximately 10 in Accra. One of the most notable is iSpace which was set up in 2013 and aims to provide a space to both mentor new businesses and allow them to flourish. A great interview with the founder can be found at Venture Burn. Hub Africa also established itself in 2013 and has been a critical player in building entrepreneurial talent in Ghana. Hub Africa recently joined the Impact network of hubs across the world. On its own, Hub Africa has helped build 35 startups in Ghana.
Soronko Solutions is another neat player in the Accra startup scene, they run both a for-profit software development firm and a nonprofit foundation which helps with skills development in Ghana. It has been quite successful in both areas. They have a number of very commendable initiatives such as Tech Needs Girls, which helps provide coding and programming skills for girls.
Most recently, Seedstars which runs a global competition for startups to raise funding held Seedstars Africa in Ghana and over 10 local startups participated. The event was a huge success for Accra in August 2016. Despite being a little hokey, it is still impressive that earlier this year, Accra Connect was able to create a list of 100 Ghanaian Startups to Watch.
There are government programs to support entrepreneurship in Ghana, but very few entrepreneurs are even aware of funding and grants available.
There are several examples of successful startups from Accra such as Dropifi which provides customer insights, customer engagement tools, and business analytics. Nandimobile provides businesses with the ability to communicate with customers using SMS in unique and innovative ways. In Africa where many people lack data plans, low-tech innovation is tremendously useful. Hatua Solutions provides technological solutions to allow businesses scale and grow.
Ghana provides the added attractiveness of English and French fluency amongst most of the population as well as an English common law base. Nigeria provides these benefits but in a substantially less stable and corrupt environment. Ghana struggles in providing a stable electric grid, but those in Accra are largely sheltered from the issues of load-shedding. Another issue is the legal issues associated with funding startups in Ghana. The Ghana Investment Promotion Act (GIPA) makes it very difficult for a foreign investment firm to fund a company in Ghana. It is explained very well by VC4A here. This is the main reason why companies like Dropifi have had to relocate to Silicon Valley or elsewhere to grow. However, the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre has shown an inclination towards helping VC firms in investing within the country in the last few years (the VC4A article is from 2014).
Despite the issues, we think Accra is well-positioned to grow and we are excited for both Accra and Ghana’s future. As always, any questions, please ask.