Digital Entrepreneurship in Africa
How a Continent Is Escaping Silicon Valley's Long Shadow
The hope and hype about African digital entrepreneurship, contrasted with the reality on the ground in local ecosystems.
In recent years, Africa has seen a digital entrepreneurship boom, with hundreds of millions of dollars poured into tech cities, entrepreneurship trainings, coworking spaces, innovation prizes, and investment funds. Politicians and technologists have offered Silicon Valley–influenced narratives of boundless opportunity and exponential growth, in which internet-enabled entrepreneurship allows Africa to “leapfrog” developmental stages to take a leading role in the digital revolution. This book contrasts these aspirations with empirical research about what is actually happening on the ground. The authors find that although the digital revolution has empowered local entrepreneurs, it does not untether local economies from the continent's structural legacies.
Drawing on a five-year research project, the authors show how entrepreneurs creatively and productively adapt digital technologies to local markets rather than dreaming of global dominance, achieving sustainable businesses by scaling based on relationships and customizing digital platform business models for African infrastructure challenge. The authors examine African entrepreneurial ecosystems; show that African digital entrepreneurs have begun to form a new professional class, becoming part of a relatively exclusive cultural and economic elite; and discuss the impact of Silicon Valley's mythologies and expectations. Finally, they consider the implications of their findings and offer recommendations to policymakers and others.
The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding from Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin and by Knowledge Unlatched.
Paperback$40.00 X ISBN: 9780262538183 336 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 9 figures
A well-researched and brilliantly written book. Digital Entrepreneurship in Africa shows that the continent's startup ecosystem may be different from that of other places, but it has a richness of young people and problems that create a fertile ground for innovation and wealth creation.
Professor of Entrepreneurship, University of Nairobi's School of Business
This book rises above the aspirational discourse of Africa leapfrogging developmental stages to prosperity and digs far below the Afropessimism in the limited literature that counters it. Through a nuanced and compelling empirical analysis of the rich evidence collected through an extensive engagement across Africa, Friederici, Wahome, and Graham offer novel insights into the diverse and innovative forms of digital entrepreneurialism across the continent and, importantly, why startups and innovative businesses have not scaled up sufficiently to contribute to economic growth.
Executive Director, Research ICT Africa; Adjunct Professor, University of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance