Can An African Tech Entrepreneur Change the World?

{ Posted on May 15 2010 by Bill Zimmerman }

I wrapped up a month of travel last week, including a visit to Washington DC to attend Africa Gathering, a conference highlighting innovation and entrepreneurship focused on the continent, to share my experience of operating a startup incubator in Cameroon. Many thanks to the organizers, Mariéme Jamme and Ed Scotcher, who were kind enough to invite me to speak.

I chose to address the acute need for creating enabling environments on the ground for new technology companies, the present lack of seed-stage financing to fund their growth and opened with the ambitious question, Can an African tech entrepreneur change the world?

This might sound like hyperbole, but I believe (as do many others) that something big is happening here. A combination of pivotal factors including access to broadband, a youthful demographic and widespread mobile adoption, coupled with entrepreneurship and investment, will enable the African digerati to radically shape their future—not in a figurative sense, but in a real, measurable way. Teddy Ruge of Project Diaspora has been an outspoken proponent of this ideal for years. Much of his thinking is neatly captured in this piece which recently appeared in the Globe and Mail, guest edited by the indomitable Ory Okolloh.

I had a tough act to follow after Nick Tadd, Teddy, Steven King of Omidyar Networks and Tidjane Deme of Google, but managed to pull off a (mostly) coherent talk despite the jet lag.

The visuals from my presentation are below. Rather than reproduce the content of my talk in blog post form, I’ve made detailed notes along with slides in PDF form available here (508 KB).

Overall, the event was a rare opportunity to share ideas, network, make partnerships and connect offline with loads of people whose work I’ve followed online for quite some time. I left the conference with my head spinning and delved into many conversations in DC over the too-short days that followed.

These and other photos from day two of the conference can be found on Ralston Smith’s flickr set.

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I'm an engineer, ex-Microsoftie, founding board member of AfriLabs, co-founder of ActivSpaces in Cameroon and VC4Africa. Drawn to innovation, creativity & all things tech. More at


  1. […] Being an IT professional, I’m particularly interested in stories about technical innovations throughout the African diaspora. So I’m always scanning the Internet and blogs for the latest news and information in the technology space. Ran across an interesting post on Cameroonian blog – 27 Months. […]

  2. Bill, I love your question, you are a man of big things, and only big things do come your way. I like that.
    This is actually a though question, it’s like asking is it possible for a dead man to rose again? Or is it possible for us to see Michel Jackson walking here on planet earth? And see people being surprise and the press try to asked him what magic, he replied there is no impossibility.

    As for me I do know, that what is impossible with others is possible with me, because there isn’t any thing impossible with Jesus, for He’s the specialist in those things called impossibility. Take the example of President Barack Obama.
    Someone like me knows fully well that I can do All things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me, so as a Entrepreneur, I Can change my country Cameroon, I can change Africa and the World at large.
    BY Ngale M Simon/Wise Man