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How a Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist Is Paving the Way For Economic Transition in Africa By Investing In Young Entrepreneurs With an ambitious goal to build a strong tech industry in Africa, Hiruy Amanuel proves that to create significant economic changes, investing in the well-being of others comes first

By Julian Lim

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Hiruy Amanuel
Hiruy Amanuel

Startups play a vital role in economic growth and prosperity. However, the emergence of prominent startups in developing countries seldom occurs. The fundamental cause is not because of a lack of talented individuals in these communities. Rather, it's due to the absence of educational resources and opportunities, which inhibits people from starting their own businesses.

Africa presents a unique case. As a continent, it undergoes yearly economic growth and has one of the world's fastest-growing economies. This factor, coupled with a growing youth population, presents a foundation for rapid economic and social development.

Hiruy Amanuel believed that he could help Africa's social and economic expansion with the proper investment strategy. As a well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist, he recognized an untapped tech industry that could thrive within Africa. Having a prolific investment portfolio under his belt, he placed his efforts not only into fostering a strong African tech sector but providing African youth the skillset for a brighter future.

Finding the missing niche

Amanuel and his co-founder Amadou Daffe initially had ideas to invest in Africa. However, the question of where and how became of critical importance.

After careful consideration, they found training individuals with software development skills would be highly marketable, given the advancements in technology and the global need for software developers. They targeted Ethiopia to begin the training programme, as there was a lack of prior investments within the sector and a substantial youth population.

Investing in people's skill sets

As an investor, Amanuel knew that if they were to build the foundation for a strong tech sector in Ethiopia, this would require highly skilled and ambitious young software developers and updated technology for them to work with. As such, the team planned comprehensive software development courses and curriculum, which led to the foundation of Gebeya Inc., a platform to train and employ skilled African software developers.

This presented a glimmer of hope for many; one out of three individuals from the ages of 15-35 struggles with unemployment, and many live in poverty and sub-par living conditions. There was an eagerness to build a brighter future, and youth saw the Gebeya training programmes as a start to build the foundation they would need to thrive in the growing tech landscape.

The training programmes increase social development and equip trainees with the confidence and skills to tackle current issues. The programmes also encourage a pool of entrepreneurs and tech visionaries, heightening the continent's development as a whole.

Overcoming the challenges

Developing an industry of highly skilled and qualified software developers came with many challenges. Within three years of training, the team of trainees worked through three Internet outages, some of which lasted six months.

Remarkably, this only fueled Amanuel's desire to develop Gebeya Inc further. To place a spotlight on Ethiopia's tech market, Amanuel began to explore other areas of tech. For example, they created their own animation studio, G-Media. Additionally, he became a strategic advisor for ETM, now a prominent software startup that implements smart software into companies. Another was to consult and advise for Qene Technologies, Ethiopia's first mobile gaming company and Kukulu game which was at the time the first mobile 3D runner game in Africa. It went on to win the 2018 appsafrica award for best media app. By creating a well-rounded network through the sub sectors within the African tech industry, these brands began to reverberate and draw more attention from the global market.

Already in 2020, Gebeya Inc. managed to gain investments from global venture capitalists and telecom companies such as Partech and Orange Digital, which showed promising signs that international investors notice the potential of the Ethiopian tech industry. Further in 2020, the Ethiopian government has deregulated sectors previously designated only for local investors to drive foreign investment.

Building towards the future

"While COVID-19 has changed the aspect of work for many businesses, we still believe that the Ethiopian tech sector is set to continually thrive. Post-COVID, I see Ethiopia becoming one of the most influential and prominent countries in Africa," says Amanuel. Due to a consistent rise in GDP and the country's ability to minimize the economic backlash from the pandemic, there's no doubt the country can handle what's to come.

Regardless, his team continues to plan and build for the future of Gebeya Inc. and the tech ecosystem in Ethiopia. They aim to attract more foreign investment by developing these companies and increasing the number of trainees to expand the number of employable tech workers across Africa. The tech sector in Africa has the potential to contribute a tremendous amount to the economy. More importantly, the advancements in social developments across Africa will lift many families and people out of poverty.

Citizens represent the building blocks of all communities. When you invest in the people's skills and well-being, allowing them to thrive, economic growth, and social development trail behind—Amanuel's efforts further prove this. With ambition and a clear goal, Amanuel managed to ignite an entire continent's economy and build a pool of talented individuals who can contribute to the world's tech industry.

Amanuel currently advises early stage African startups to help them get investment ready and has plans to launch his own accelerator programme to continue to drive the tech engines that keep innovation alive and well on the continent.

Julian Lim

Tech entrepreneur, researcher and editor at Startup Fortune

Julian Lim is a technology entrepreneur and researcher. Julian has graduated from NUS in intelligent systems and started his career pursuing data analytics and research. He’s also an editor and senior writer at Startup Fortune, covering technology, startups, AI, blockchain and entrepreneurship.

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