Africa has the potential to develop future great innovations - CEO of Africa 4 Tech

The Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Africa 4 Tech, Stéphan-Eloïse Gras has expressed great optimism about African's ability to develop future great innovations. She said this could be possible if rural areas across the continent, where more than 60% of the population currently lives, are enhanced with affordable internet connectivity.

Her comments come after a successful end to the first-ever open innovation bootcamp dubbed Africa 4 Tech, which took place in Marrakech, Morocco. The event also witnessed the announcement of Four Digital Champions who have developed digital innovative solutions in four designated fields - education, energy, health, and agriculture.

Stéphan-Eloïse Gras shared her impressions about the Africa 4 Tech bootcamp with Nana Appiah Acquaye. 

What was your impression about the just ended Africa 4 Tech event?

I feel energized on the heels of our first Africa 4 Tech summit. Africa 4 Tech brought together a pan-African and international community that is designing solutions for the world's most pressing challenges in health, energy, agriculture and education.

The feedback we’ve received has been uplifting and encouraging across the boards — from corporate leaders, academics, scientists, entrepreneurs and policy-makers. They all shared knowledge and expertise with a cheerful sense of celebration. It confirms the intuition my business partner, Gilles Babinet, and I had when starting Africa 4 Tech: that the continent is the foundation for a new model of digital innovation and that we need an international platform to globalize it.

Were you satisfied with the innovations churned out at this years event?

We are very impressed by the high-quality of the solutions and the projects designed within a mere 48 hours by people who barely knew each other!

The 40 Young African innovators that we invited shared their skills and views with experienced managers from international corporations committed to open innovation processes, such as Sanofi, Michelin, OCP, EDF, Engie, Air Liquid, and Société Générale. 

For example, we ran a health data collection workshop, in partnership with Sanofi, and it was quite unprecedented for the sector: for the first time ever, we brought together doctors, leaders from major pharmaceutical industry, data scientists and African innovators to work on diabetes management. Each team  — 14 in total — embraced their challenge to deliver innovative services or projects such as Greenwings (programming drones to help reforestation), Irriconnect (a platform to train farmers on water management), a micro-grid to help a village of less than 200 houses (Tiegba in Ivory Coast), a game to help patients with sickle-cell diseases, a blockchain added to solar micro-grids to empower local communities (Elethron), and a platform to scale up and fund pan-African ed-tech. All these solutions designed at Africa 4 Tech will be showcased online on our website in a few days so stay tuned!

How do you intend to assist the four selected innovators so as to have their innovations benefit a large community in Africa?

Our four Digital Champions had the opportunity to present their ideas and projects at the opening of COP22 during a side event that we organized on Monday, November 7. Our goal is to give these four innovators greater international visibility by bringing them to major conferences in Africa and Europe and sharing their exciting vision with the world. We are providing mentorship to help them with their businesses and we want them to pay forward their Africa 4 Tech experience by training others and running local workshops in their communities. These are Africa 4 Tech's first ambassadors and the faces of the organization for the next year. 

Do you foresee in the near future greater innovations coming out from Africa's young developers?

If you look at how many young students are learning code and embracing digital, there is no doubt that the next Albert Einstein and Elon Musk are African. Future great innovations will come from enhancing and facilitating mobile in cities, but also rural areas across Africa — where more than 60% of population currently lives.

What can be done to encourage more digital innovators on the continent?

People often say that the continent needs more venture capital or more talent, but I disagree. Organizing Africa 4 Tech has taught me that it's education and international exposure that are most critical. We need more internationally renowned scientific incubators, entrepreneurial training, and seed capital along with mentoring programs to help existing talents to scale up, become part of international innovation networks, and share their ideas globally.

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