By Maxime Baffert and Julie Ranty, co-directors of Viva Technology

In Africa, digital technology has developed at lightning speed. While with 388 million users, the internet penetration rate – 31% of the population – might be weaker than on other continents, nowhere else has seen such rapid progression. This development springs mainly from the increasing use of mobile phones; over a billion people will have a mobile phone by 2020.

Contributing to the progression of internet access across Africa, is the emergence of a dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem of investors, start-ups and structures that accompany businesses. Thus, according to Partech Ventures, funding raised by African start-ups have been multiplied by 8.7 since 2012 and reached 366 million dollars in 2016 for only 77 start-ups. Also, according to a GSMA study, the number of incubators, accelerators, fab labs and other types of co-working spaces in Africa exceeded those in Asia in 2016. And at the forefront of this trend, are Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, as well as Morocco and the Ivory Coast.

Three specificities of digital development in Africa make this evolution even more interesting.

This progression follows in the footsteps of neither North America nor Europe, or even China. Africa has made a huge digital leap forward and has gone from the quasi non-existence of even telephone connections to 4G. The impact of technology is thus even stronger in Africa than elsewhere, as shown by the adoption, in impressive proportions, of the most innovative services, including within banking and mobile payment, as well as access to energy. And according to the World Bank, 80% of Kenyans now use their smartphones to carry out their financial transactions.

Furthermore, the specificities of the continent, and the numerous difficulties companies come up against on a daily basis, obliges entrepreneurs to show particular ingenuity and efficiency while mobilising minimal resources.

This frugal concept of innovation is therefore driving African start-ups to develop new business models that could gain a foothold in western countries.

However, this is only the beginning of the digital revolution on the African continent. Even if the big telecommunications operators and the internet giants are starting to take a particular interest, no one occupies a dominant position yet, leaving a number of opportunities open to all major players including American and Chinese giants, and traditional big companies as well as start-ups. And currently, Jumia, Afrimarket and M-Kopa are the first examples of African success stories and are the pioneers leading a new generation of African entrepreneurs.

It thus seems relevant that Africa should be the focus for the next edition of Viva Technology (from 24 to 26 May 2018 in Paris). The African perspective will infuse the event, through the presence of more than a hundred African start-ups who will be at the summit to meet partners from around the world, as well as via conferences devoted to showing how digital technology constitutes a tremendous lever for development across the continent.