Max, Florence and myself are currently in Accra for the first training session of the Mobile Entrepreneurs in Africa project. We have worked very hard for the past months to get all the ducks in a row. Yesterday we started one full month of training, workshopping, demoing, sketching, coding, and prototyping mobile services and business models (prototyping business models? Yes! You may want to check this blogpost, for more.
We have also put together a great combination of experts (see the full program here) from Ghana, other West African countries, as well as Europe and the US, to cover not only technological aspects of mobile Web development (voice, SMS, Web, apps), but also the business side of it. In both cases, a strong human-centered approach is going to put people (communities, customers and users) at the center of the start-up ideas that will result at the end of the training. This is because participants to the training are being asked to work on an idea for a start-up: they are organizing themselves in small teams of people with different skills, in order to make an idea become a prototype.
The hands-on training is starting today, with Max revealing the secrets of ‘the USB key with an OS and mobile development platforms inside’. Yesterday saw a great morning of case studies, with Abiodu Oso presenting the case study of his company, Meganet Nigeria: he shared his experience of making a business with SMS-based value added services, in different countries and catering for different audiences. One of the main takeaways for all of us was the importance of finding the right audience, and considering what value you can add to their experiences.
Also, Derek Appiah – Head of Business Enterprise relations at Vodafone Ghana – highlighted the importance of creating an ecosystem of value, big companies like Vodafone will benefit in the mid-term from having a thriving set of start-ups that can provide more services, and make the entire sector grow. He also announced that Vodafone is going to sponsor the challenge of ideas at the end of the training: participants will compete for a 15000 GHC prize (10k GHC to the first, 5k GHC to the second); this will help start-ups to get through the toughest moment, when they need to make things real.
The afternoon was all about sharing ideas and forming teams: some participants had already registered as part of a team, with an idea for a project in mind. Not all of them, however, belonged to one. So we decided to have an interactive session during which whoever had an idea had two minutes to pitch it and to try to attract other people. Lots of ideas, and most of them pretty neat! Some were similar to others, so got combined. To make things easier, we have used a technique that I had adopted for another event (praise the Design Jam team), called the ‘team grid’. People write down on a note their name, few skills they have and some that they would like to learn during the training (a bit like in the picture below).
Then they stick up their note under a project name, so everyone can see what the main skills of a team are, its strengths and what competences are missing. With this format, team members decided to move around, and new teams got formed. We have now 11 groups, and few other ideas that are teamless – for the moment…
Today, one more case study, with Bernard Otabil from Esoko, a mobile platform used to push and pull market information from the field, via web and SMS (note: they have just announced yesterday a new – interesting – expansion of their offering; can’t wait to hear more). And then the floor will be for Max and the ‘dev-platform-in-a-USB’.
On a different note, two days ago Max, Florence and myself were interviewed – for 1 hour – on a TV show called ‘Young Entrepreneurs’ that runs every week on the Ghanaian national Digital Terrestrial channel, Skyy Digital.