At Microsoft, we are a large commercial enterprise, we have been doing software development and making money from software for a very long time, so from a business perspective, we have something to contribute, we can add value to the process that these young entrepreneurs are going through and finally when we think of the knowledge economy, the digital economy, it is made up of exactly these kind of young individuals, bringing their innovation into this economy, so we believe our participation is a sound, smart business move but it is also a a community impact move at the same time.
Platinum sponsorship of Demo Africa gives us the opportunity to take our partnership beyond this event. Our partnership is all year long. We are already working with the Lions@Africa team for the next Demo , we are looking at the 400 to 500 young entities that we come across throughout the year, on how we can make sure we are actually supporting all of them. There is a lot more that can happen beyond this event which touches many more people, I guess the privilege of being a platinum sponsor is that we have a year-long involvement with Demo and we work across a more broader impact, not necessarily just the event.
Investment in startups
We have a mechanisam in Microsoft 4 Afrika where we make investments in many different ways. We give innovation grants, we make direct investments, we create working capital. The entrepreneurs put what they have before us, we have certain criteria, we look and see whether what they have makes investment sense or not. Really, the reality of what makes sense in an investment is always going to be if it is relevant, if it is sustainable, does it have commercial relevance, is it actually going to address a problem that can create value for the community? On those bases, we invest as much as we can.
Let’s take the market in the Nordic countries, or the market in Japan, or the market in the United States, when a young person has a really smart idea, there is an underlining ecosystem that enables them to then take that idea and turn it into a business, or turn it into an employment opportunity or turn it into something that is valuable.
But in Africa that underlining ecosystem does not exist , one of the most significant challenges for all young entrepreneurs is access to finance combined with access to the market, these two things are fundamentally what makes a business to succeed, we believe that in contributing towards the creation of an investment climate, we are enabling more than just the direct investments in entrepreneurs, because we are actually encouraging other organisations to follow suit, we are encouraging governments to poarticipate in this ecosystem, we are encouraging the ecosystem to feed itself so it is crucially important to make these investments
There is the old saying that necessity is the mother of invention. Africa is simply this single biggest hotbed of innovation. Africa is almost like a petri dish in a laboratory that is growing opportunities for innovation.
I think it is important to realise that innovation is not somebody writing an application on a tablet or phone, innovation is the business model, the way people go to market, the way governments address their citizens, it is about attracting innovation, for instance, it is how do we provide electricity to the communities across the continent in a way that is faster, cheaper and more reliable than what the legacy system have been doing? That is innovation. So when I think about the innovation landscape in Africa, it is almost never ending which is so exciting.