The first edition of Afrikonnect took place from March 22 to 23, 2018 at LaFactory, located at Technopark Casablanca in Morocco. The event was organized by StartupYourLife and LaFactory in partnership with Outlierz Ventures with support from the US Department of State Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and GIZ.
Afrikonnect brought together more than 300 participants, comprised of business angels, VCs, entrepreneurs, C-suite executives and innovation experts. The participants were drawn from a variety of African countries beyond Morocco, including Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Senegal and Tanzania.
Afrikonnect aims to be an annual platform to accelerate collaboration between large corporations and startups with high growth potential in Africa, and to promote co-investment among Africa-focused investors. To this end, more than 50 B2B meetings were organized between leading Moroccan corporations in banking, insurance, agriculture and transportation sectors, and growth stage African startups relevant to these sectors that were looking to forge partnerships to scale up in other African markets.
The companies included Paystack (fintech) from Nigeria, Lori Systems (logistics) from Kenya, Airshop (transportation) and Jamii (insuretech) from Tanzania, amongst others. Large corporations who participated included Attijariwafa Bank and BMCE Bank of Africa, two leading Moroccan banks with a strong presence in Francophone and East Africa; OCP, the world’s leading fertilizer exporter; Royal Air Maroc, a pan-African airline; and RMA Assurance.
Below are some of the highlights from the two-day event:
- Several major Moroccan corporations joined Afrikonnect to co-innovate with African startups
There were some key attendees in particular who participated. First was the Secretary of State for Investment at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and New Economy for the Kingdom of Morocco, who welcomed the conference’s participants via an opening talk. Jennifer Rasamimanana, the Consul General at the US Embassy, also spoke, as one of the openers, about the importance of forging coalitions to support startup ecosystem growth.
Senior executives from Holmarcom, the event’s New Economy Partner, were also in attendance along with Ismail Douiri, Co-CEO of Attijariwafa Bank. Douiri participated on the fintech panel alongside three African startups from Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania in the fields of payments, microcredit and microinsurance, respectively. Douiri spoke about Attijariwafa’s Smart-UP initiative, which was deployed throughout the Maghreb with the purpose of engaging African startup ecosystems where Attijariwafa has a presence to co-build innovative solutions with employees of the bank.
Karim Lotfi Senhadji, MD at OCP Africa, participated as well. OCP was able to take stock therefore of innovative approaches to agriculture and logistics. In his keynote speech on the conference’s Agritech Track, Senhadji explained why OCP has a particular interest in startups that can help them innovate more quickly, especially when it comes to communication with small farmers and new approaches to logistics optimization.
In the Transportation space, Sanaa Tazi, VP of Digital and Data Management at Royal Air Maroc spoke about the importance the airline puts on finding new ways to ameliorate the customer experience. Othmane Bekkari, VP of Customer Relations, was also in attendance.
- More than 50 B2B meetings organized between African startups and large corporates
A key feature of the Afrikonnect program was its B2B Matchmaking activity, hosted by Outlierz Ventures. They were pre-organized meetings between top startups and relevant firms. Industries covered included fintech (payments, microcredit, etc.), insuretech (conventional insurance, microinsurance, etc.), agritech, logistics and transportation.
From a continental perspective, large firms are quickly realizing the importance of implementing innovation mechanisms to accelerate the better digitization of their services and value offering. Partnering with nimble startups is a great way to do just that. To this end, Afrikonnect was successful in presenting real world case studies to illustrate the potential of what true corporate-startup collaboration can look like to develop tailor-made, low-cost solutions.
- Representation from some of the most iconic investment funds in MENA and Africa
The conference featured the presence of Dubai-based Wamda Capital, which invests in startups across the MENA region and Africa not only through its fund (which counts Careem among its portfolio) but also through its media. Orange Digital Ventures, Orange Group’s corporate VC arm, with a fund of €50 million euros dedicated exclusively to backing African ventures, was also in attendance by way of Marième Diop. Peter Orth of 4DX Ventures, an American fund dedicated to African startups which has invested in the continent’s best startups, including Andela, Fluterwave and WaystoCap, a Moroccan startup, also made an appearance and spoke on a panel. Adding to the list of course is Outlierz Ventures, a seed capital fund based in Morocco and dedicated to African startups, which counts among its investors the most renowned seed funds and business angels of Silicon Valley (including Y Combinator and 500 Startups). Outlierz’s Managing Partner, Kenza Lahlou, and Director of Investments, Winston D. Reid, both were in attendance as participants and organizers of the event.
- Mature, high-potential startups, proudly made in Africa
Afrikonnect boasted a number of high-potential startups that came to Casablanca from across the continent. They include Jamii in the microinsurance sector (Tanzania), Paystack in the payments space (Nigeria), Lori Systems in logistics (Kenya), and WaystoCap in trade (Morocco).
“Afrikonnect has succeeded in proving that the digital transformation of large groups can and must rely on the innovative services of entrepreneurs and African startups with high potential. New business models are redefining traditional sectors. It is now high time that large corporations use the nimble capabilities of startups to co-innovate and, together, reveal the future success stories of the continent,” said Kenza Lahlou, Managing Partner of Outlierz Ventures and co-founder of StartupYourLife and Mehdi Alaoui, founder of LaFactory, both organizers of Afrikonnect.