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.”
Through a combination of tactics, including YouTube videos, a campaign on creative funding platform Kickstarter and tapping non-conventional backers like the Cameroonian diaspora, the group went on to raise 130 million francs from nearly 90 international investors — “a dream that everyone told us was impossible,” Madiba said.
Arielle Kitio Tsamo, founder of CAYSTI, an initiative that trains youth in technology, and winner of the 2018 Norbert Segard Foundation prize for African innovation, said her company had benefited from the Kiro’o support.
“They helped us structure our business model,” she said, adding that the scheme also connected her with government partners.
Efforts to motivate entrepreneurs and share knowledge are vital in Cameroon, where the education system does not provide such training, said Steve Tchoumba, business development manager at ActivSpaces, an incubator and accelerator for tech start-ups.
It provides temporary office space, as well as business coaching and links with mentors and investors, and has also set up partnerships with schools and universities.
“We want to motivate youth to consider entrepreneurship — and specifically technological entrepreneurship — as a potential way of poverty alleviation,” Tchoumba said.
“For every company that is created, there is income for the country, there’s employment for the youth,” he said.
Tchoumba particularly hopes to foster social businesses that can bring wider benefits to local communities.
Multinational companies are also showing interest in West Africa’s start-up scene.
Since last year, Alphabet Inc’s Google has been running Launchpad Accelerator Africa, a training scheme for promising start-ups.
In June, it began accepting applications from Cameroon, Senegal and Ivory Coast, among others.
Despite promising developments, many of the African incubators that have sprung up in the past five years have limited resources, World Bank private-sector specialist Alexandre Laure said in a blog earlier this year.
Challenges include a lack of basic business necessities, such as a reliable power supply, with sub-Saharan Africa having the world’s lowest household electrification rate.
Madiba said dealing with power cuts and other fundamental problems is tough, but added that the group’s resilience has spurred it on to greater things.
“When we started we were just passionate — but at a certain point we became a symbol of something, and we didn’t anticipate this,” he said, referring to the frequent e-mails he receives from Cameroonians struggling to set up a business.
Many tell him they do not give up because Kiro’o shows that success is possible.
“It’s not only a job — you are building a legacy,” Madiba said.
NOTABLE SHIFT: By 2030, 50% of all laptops would be assembled in Southeast Asia, while Taiwan would still mostly focus on research and development, a report said Global laptop and desktop computer supply chains are expected to shift significantly away from China in the next 10 years, a Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute (MIC, 產業情報研究所) report said. By 2030, only 40 percent of global laptop production would remain in China, said the report, which was released on Thursday. “The reshuffling of the global supply chain will be one of the most important trends in the next 10 years,” the institute said in the report. “In the long run, key component makers will follow laptop assemblers in moving out of China.” The Taipei-based institute predicted most key component makers
NO VIRUS BLUES: A SEMI Taiwan official said that the virus does not slow down the global semiconductor industry’s investment in manufacturing equipment The production value of the nation’s semiconductor industry is expected to grow 16.7 percent this year from last year, outpacing the global industry’s 3.3 percent growth, industry association SEMI said yesterday. That would help Taiwan safeguard its second spot in the global semiconductor market with a production value of more than NT$3 trillion (US$102.73 billion), SEMI Taiwan president Terry Tsao (曹世綸) told a media briefing in Taipei for the Semicon Taiwan trade show beginning today. The global semiconductor industry’s production value is expected to increase to US$426 billion this year, SEMI said. In terms of semiconductor equipment investment, equipment billings from Taiwanese firms
Intel Corp has received licenses from US authorities to continue supplying certain products to Huawei Technologies Co (華為), a company spokesman said yesterday. Washington has been pushing governments around to world to squeeze out Huawei, saying that the telecom giant would hand data to Beijing for espionage. From Monday last week, new curbs have barred US companies from supplying or servicing Huawei. This week, the state-backed China Securities Journal reported that Intel had received permission to supply Huawei. China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC, 中芯國際), which uses US-origin equipment to make chips for Huawei and other companies, last week confirmed that it had sought
Merck Group Taiwan yesterday said that it plans to invest substantially on expanding its fab in Kaohsiung’s Lujhu District (路竹) to better serve its local customers, including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電). The company said it plans to expand its production space by 50 percent in the next five years and its workforce by about 40 percent, Merck Group Taiwan managing director Dick Hsieh (謝志宏) told a media briefing in Taipei. Hsieh declined to disclose investment details, but said that the latest investment would exceed the total amount Merck has invested in Taiwan over the past few years. Those investments would be