Sun, Aug 26, 2018 - Page 15 News List

Start-up trains new business heroes in Cameroon

By Inna Lazareva  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, YAOUNDE

Off a dusty path in the capital, Yaounde, flanked by chickens roosting in the grass, one of Cameroon’s most successful digital start-ups is capitalizing on its success to foster a new generation of entrepreneurs.

Founded in 2013, Kiro’o Games has grown to become Central Africa’s first major video games studio.

It draws on African mythology rather than Hollywood for inspiration, as in its fantasy role-playing game Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan.

Kiro’o’s online educational platform Rebuntu, launched in June last year, trains young Cameroonians to navigate obstacles in real-life business.

“Our generation has the duty to bring something really new that will finally generate growth,” founder and chief executive officer Olivier Madiba said.

Subscribers pay 10,000 Central African francs (US$17.50) to access a digital training manual, featuring cartoons and advice on how to find good projects, hire the right staff and secure investor funding.

They can also seek online and in-person mentoring from Kiro’o staff.

In volatile Central Africa, better known for conflict, disease and poverty, training locals to set up international companies might seem like mission impossible.

Unlike neighboring states, Cameroon has been relatively stable for decades, but is blighted by high youth unemployment.

Many young people with professional education are forced to take up lower-skilled jobs, such as farming, driving taxis and running market stalls.

However, Kiro’o digital communications head William Fankam believes there is another way: Create your own work.

“We are wall-breakers,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that the gaming team is determined not to let the region’s challenges halt their progress.

The company has broken down barriers in education, with its game designers managing to acquire expertise, despite a lack of specialized training in Cameroon.

And it has also overcome the obstacle of financing, Fankam said, developing its own model to raise funds from investors.

The entrepreneurs’ training program aims to share Kiro’o’s pioneering approach with others, he added.

That might seem counter-intuitive in a competitive environment, but in Cameroon, there is a need to stimulate a dynamic and creative business community, he said.

“We realized we can’t evolve alone,” he said. “We want to create an ecosystem where we’ll have many start-ups with different services, which would have an impact on the Cameroonian economy and wider in Africa.”

In just more than a year, about 1,000 Cameroonians have signed up for the training.

The Cameroonian Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has paid inscription fees for more than 800 of them, who are looking to set up technology-focused businesses.

Kenneth Fabo, who runs JeWash, a home dry-cleaning and ironing service in Douala and Yaounde, said the program is helping him devise a crowdfunding strategy to grow his business.

“They taught us a certain method that helped us prepare to fundraise effectively,” he said, describing how he received training to ensure the business is managed transparently and responsibly in a way that reassures investors.

Kiro’o Games — despite its unique selling point as an African company producing culturally relevant video games — struggled to raise money at the start, Madiba said.

“All conventional investors, the banks, the businesses, rejected our project,” said Madiba, whose childhood ambition was to make computer games. “So we decided to invent our own fundraising process.”

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