In this month’s episode of the Afritech XYZ Podcast, we speak to Baobab Network’s Head of Ventures, Arthur Chupeau. From the beautiful city of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, Arthur [fondly called Art] shared his business story and spoke to us about the tech scene in Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic. We share some insights below.
Before it evolved into a Venture Capitalist firm, Baobab was established as a vehicle to recruit UK talent to work in Africa. Today, the Baobab Network is a tech accelerator that backs early stage ventures across Africa. Arthur is in charge of selecting and scaling Baobab's portfolio companies. He has worked across five continents and is vastly experienced in investment banking, private equity, and start-ups. Apart from his experience and his undeniable passion for Africa, his colleagues at work would describe him as a great dancer, amateur DJ and all-round Afrobeats connoisseur.
Arthur worked in Singapore for many years and even founded a fashion startup during his time there. He would often go to Indonesia to design leather goods - as Indonesia is one of the largest producers of leather in the world. Although he sold a few bags, he struggled to scale his business. This was his introduction to the entrepreneurial world. He believes that this experience of failure taught him many things and helps him in his current job at Baobab Network.
Due to his vast global experience, Arthur has a different view of the African technology ecosystem, which he believes is one of the most exciting in the world. Before backing a new startup, he would always look at what has been done elsewhere - not just US and Europe but also emerging markets like Brazil, India, China, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia. He says that the continent needs people that can challenge the status quo.
There has been a lot of news around the diversity of African tech, specifically in Kenya, with more of the startups being funded having non-African founders from either Europe or the USA. What Baobab Network wants to do is nurture the tech ecosystem in Africa and that means backing African founders who are creating solutions that solve real problems in Africa. Baobab Network is targeted towards African founders operating in Africa and has no issue with money going to non-African founders but the main focus is African founders based in Africa, serving Africa and have the potential to scale across the globe.
African Tech and COVID-19
We have seen a lot of interesting innovations coming out of the Kenyan startup space during the pandemic. Startups have been growing and innovating during this period. Arthur mentions that it is already in Africa’s DNA to withstand crises so COVID-19 did not shock businesses as much as it could have done. While the pandemic came as a shock to most businesses around the world, African entrepreneurs were able to adapt quicker because they are used to having to be resilient and innovative. Without a doubt COVID-19 impacted every economy globally - but it was also an opportunity to innovate and accelerate in the African startup space.
Arthur highlights three portfolio companies under Baobab Network who are doing great things during the pandemic:
PocketDoc: A healthtech startup in Morocco building a one stop place, a social network for doctors and health professionals to connect. Doctors in Africa don't have the same access to educational resources as in the west so it is a platform for them to connect and share helpful resources with one another. The platform is not just for Moroccan doctors but for doctors across Africa. The pandemic proved that health professionals feel alone and the platform was necessary to connect them during this time.
Dr CADx - A Zimbabwe healthtech startup using AI and machine learning to provide software for hospitals to read medical measurements. Digitisation has been important during COVID-19 to make such processes more efficient and transparent. The pandemic has also shown that healthtech can indeed be monetized in Africa, and will keep attracting investments.
Beblocky: Ethiopia edtech startup who have built a mobile application which uses AR to teach kids the fundamentals of coding in a gamified way, thereby combating the lack of access to stem resources in Africa.
Favorite African Country: Zimbabwe as there is a lot of tech talent there - a country which captures all of Africa.
Unpopular Opinion About Africa’s Technology Ecosystem: China and Asia at large have a lot to give to the tech ecosystem. Africa can learn a lot from them. When it comes to business models, we need to focus less on the US and Europe and more on Asia.
African Tech In The Next 5 Years: African tech is a nascent market and foreign investors still have a lot to learn about investing in African startups. African entrepreneurs also have a lot to learn about VCs as it is quite new on the continent. Over the next 5 years, we will see a lot of foreign capital come into the continent but also a lot more local investors, especially high net worth individuals, as they will start seeing more success stories out of Africa.
African Pet Peeve: Unstable politics! He would love to remove the old generation of politicians that don’t understand what the people need. There is a huge generational gap and it is time for the youth to take over. A tech ecosystem that works is one where all parts work - right from the government, to education, to businesses, accelerators, etc. Some countries are on the right path however there is more work to be done. We need to challenge the status quo in order for real growth to happen in Africa.
You can connect with Arthur via LinkedIn or Email.