Q: Please tell us about yourself, educational background and the career path that you took.
Allahoury: I’m Almoktar Allahoury from Niger and I’m 32. I worked for 7 years in the field of corporate consulting for major firms in Europe and Africa with Accenture Consulting and Performances Management Consulting. Since 2013, I have been the CEO of CIPMEN, the first business incubator in Niger, which aims to launch successful startups and build a vibrant ecosystem that supports entrepreneurs. I had the chance to be selected in 2015 for the Mandela Washington fellowship: The flagship program of the President Obama to empower Young African Leaders (YALI). I have a Master’s Degree in information system management from Limoges engineer school in France.
Q: Can you share a few words about CIPMEN (Centre Incubateur des PME au Niger), its creation (connection to Orange), its programs and its participants?
Allahoury: CIPMEN (stand for Incubator Center of SMEs in Niger) is the first business incubator of Niger created in 2013 to support innovative SMEs to grow fast in the sectors of IT, renewable energy and environment. Based on a sustainable business model, CIPMEN is a nonprofit organization built on efficient public private partnership. The initial funds came from private companies’ Corporate Social Responsibility programs like Orange, Total, Bank Of Africa, Gamma Informatique, Lundin Foundation, and etc. After 18 months of activity, CIPMEN exceeded all strategic and operating metrics. Currently, we support around 20 entrepreneurs in different programs. With this being said, CIPMEN is already sustainable at 50% with own generated revenue. Today our main challenge is the expansion of the building and the team to host more entrepreneurs to breakeven earlier. Also, to build the favorable ecosystem for entrepreneurs, we work on financing and technical trainings projects.
Q: Please tell us about Hack4dev?
Allahoury: HACK4DEV is a flagship program of CIPMEN sponsored by Telcom Operator Orange to provide ICT solutions to improve access to health, education services and agribusiness sector. It is a HACKATHON (competition) which brings together IT and business developers with the goal of producing applications prototypes in 24 hours. Before the competition, all the participants are trained on mobile application development technics by CIPMEN teams. The competitions are organized by region than, the regional winners compete for a national prize through a pitch contest which is showed on TV and internet for a public vote.
It’s a powerful way to detect talents who can launch successful startups for local development. The national winner of 2015 edition has developed an application named Garkoua for pregnancy monitoring by the midwife and the pregnant woman to reduce the deaths in childbirth. In Niger, one woman over seven dies due to complications related to pregnancy.
Q: In your opinion, how important are entrepreneurship, incubation, technology and investment, operating not independently but jointly, towards optimizing economic development in Niger and in Africa as a whole?
Allahoury: In fact it is crucial for these drivers to operate jointly towards optimizing economic development in our countries. It’s now well known that startups need vibrant and favorable ecosystem to develop even if there are many opportunities in the country like it’s the case in Africa. Our entrepreneurs operate in a not-so-easy (resilient) environment and incubators are central in this context to mitigate their vulnerability to external shocks. They play the role of middle man between the demand of investment of startups and the offer of investors which is rare in Africa when it comes to finance early stage, innovation and capital risk. Fortunately, trough technology and the networking, entrepreneurs can touch foreign capital. Technology is an accelerator of business whether for sale, manage, or communicate,... Today, with international competitions, business angles networks or crowdfunding platform it is possible for African entrepreneurs to raise money from abroad. However, we see today more and more initiatives of successful African entrepreneurs who want to help the young new generation of entrepreneurs to success. I could mention Tony Elumelu, Strive Masiyiwa or Mo Ibrahim. In fact it’s how it should work if we want a sustainable economic development. Theses role models are crucial in the process of mind changing and the creation of a vibrant ecosystem in our countries.
Also, next to incubation, technology and investment, the ecosystem needs infrastructures (fab labs, laboratories, small production units, and etc.), a suitable legal environment for business and good universities that produce talents.
Q: Finally, can you please share some words of advice for young entrepreneurs (interested in either STEM related businesses and/or non-STEM businesses) from Niger (and neighboring countries)?
Allahoury: Africa is a land of opportunities because of the variety of problems to solve and no one is better than us to do that. Even if the context is difficult to start a business, young Africans need to understand that there are not enough jobs for everyone, but we need job creators. Particularly in STEM, we don’t need lot of investments to produce a high value add product.
Many people argue that banks don’t lend to startups and the taxation in our countries is very high. It’s a fact and it will take time to change the ecosystem. That’s why I recommend to young entrepreneurs to start small (lean) and use love money. When they have proven their concept, it’s easy to raise money. Finally, I have to add that success is linked to hard work and strong motivation. With the scourge of corruption, many young people are tempted to choose the path of easy money.