AWIEF and Entrepreneurship Forum Addresses the Shortage of Women-led Tech Start-Ups in Africa

Africa may have the highest proportion of women entrepreneurs in the world, and woman business owners are glaringly absent in the African technology ecosystem.

This is according to the webinar “Women in tech: Is it more complicated in Africa,” which was held by the Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF) and AfricArena on the 4th of June.

Speakers at the event discussed possible causes as to why so few woman entrepreneurs were entering the technology sector on the continent, and what could be done to change this state of affairs.

Marieme Diop, a VC investor in African tech startups, explained how in Sub-Saharan Africa, 27% of women are entrepreneurs with Uganda and Botswana leading the field, where 16 % of company founders are female. This is in comparison with the rest of the world, where only 7% of company founders were women. She asked why, if Africa had such a relatively high proportion of women company owners, were there so few female-led business startups in the technology ecosystem in Africa.

The Systemic Problems

Carine Vavasseur, an ecosystem builder in Senegal, explained that technical training was a major factor in the imbalance of woman entrepreneurs in the tech fund portfolio she is involved with. Most of the specialised training was completed by men, she said.

There were also large cultural issues in Africa which affected women's capacity to enter the technology environment: women, being traditionally seen as managers of households and children, could not embrace early education and vocation as men could.

“There is a strong link between education and having more women in technology,” said Damilola Teidi, Director of start-up support for the Pro-Creation hub in Nigeria. “If you don’t get a lot of women studying tech-related subjects, it filters through, and at the end of the day, you don’t see a lot of tech entrepreneurs.”

Vavasseur also discussed a STEM programme she was involved in, where only 20% of the applicants were female.

She noted that women also get more funding in the incubation stage of the business than they do in the more advanced stage, and often as their enterprise developed, they tended to lose ownership of the business. Africa also lacked women investors and needed more women to train as data analysts to help develop their businesses. 

Some Solutions

According toTeidi, in order for Africa to change the imbalance in gender education on a foundational level, the continent needed to start to address the problem in High School, when students can choose whether they go into the Sciences or other areas. Young women should be encouraged to follow a technical direction should they so wish, she said.

Lamia Housni, Head of Curiosity Lab in Morocco, explained how specific soft skill programmes also needed to be implemented to improve and develop trust. “We used this in an incubation programme that we launched with AWIEF, bringing mentors in to help the women gain confidence and leadership skills and help build corporate partners,” she said.

Andreata Muforo, a partner at TLcom, highlighted the importance of mentorship programmes where entrepreneurs can come together and support each other.

“African tech entrepreneurs are very much alone,” she said, adding that last year Tlcom started an initiative where female tech founders brought the few there are together to build networks, support one another and share their experiences in a safe space. 

The webinar also highlighted the importance of educating men founders to employ more women in higher positions in their companies early on, and finding ways to enable more women to apply for more mixed programmes, whether by promoting soft skills or networking. 

In terms of long-term solutions, the webinar highlighted how exposing women in business in general to the various technologies available would help bring about change and encourage new and innovative ways to grow an enterprise.

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