JOHANNESBURG - Africa's tech-savvy young people, given their basic needs, can change the continent’s future. This was the message delivered by philanthropist and Microsoft founder Bill Gates at last year’s Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture in Johannesburg.

The truth behind his words was there for all to witness at this year’s African Union Private Sector Forum, where youthful, keen and budding entrepreneurs from various countries in Africa pitched their business ideas to an audience that included investors, financial institutions, advisers as well as government representatives from across the continent.

The young people, mostly in their early 20s, were truly inspiring with their innovativeness and ingenuity. All the businesses spoke to the theme of the gathering, Accelerating Africa’s Industrialisation through Digitisation & Youth Technopreneurship.

Some of the businesses were at conceptual stages, others had already gone through several prototypes, while some were already in full existence.

A common element among all of them is harnessing the power of technology to address diverse, yet pertinent societal challenges.

Products discussed included a home device that would be used to monitor the vital signs of a foetus, a non-invasive and rapid malaria testing kit as well as drones that remotely monitor farms and provide real-time data and alerts to the farm owner.

Other interesting proposals included app-based businesses that address various challenges in the provision of primary health care and seek to introduce efficiencies in the cross-border trucking business.

Opportunities

Digitisation clearly presents a wealth of opportunities for Africa’s technopreneurs.

Thanks to technology, Africa’s entrepreneurs will in time be able to compete with the best. In this ever-changing business world, competitors are no longer the traditional large organisations. Instead, they are agile organisations and entrepreneurs that integrate technology into their own businesses to disrupt existing firms and markets.

Buoyed by technology and endless prospects, Africa has a vibrant tech start-up community - something we at Barclays Africa are actively fostering through our Rise programme, which annually benefits 10 start-up ventures at our Cape Town hub as they are introduced to knowledge and experience from industry experts and our executives.

We are doing this to help them realise their dreams of coming up with the next big thing.

We are, of course, not the only company that creates an enabling environment for tech start-ups: there are about 310 active tech hubs across the region.

Although overall economic growth had been hard hit by a slump in oil and commodity prices a few years ago, Africa remains resilient. The future is looking brighter and digital; leveraging technology’s transformative power will bring enormous competitive advantages to Africa’s entrepreneurs.

KeaObaka Mahuma is the head of SME, Enterprise and Supply Chain Development at Barclays Africa.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

- BUSINESS REPORT