The very first time I heard about DEMO Africa was shortly after the very first edition was held in October 2012. This was coincidentally the time I decided to start coding my new startup RAMP (Residents Association Management Portal). I was a bit curious to learn more about what exactly DEMO Africa was all about, after browsing the official DEMO Africa website I discovering it was a launch pad for tech startups of emerging technology & trends.
Fast forward to early 2013, I and my team members had completed 70% of the interface and app framework for our app. Shortly after, applications opened for DEMO Africa 2013 via VC4Africa website. Being a regular visitor of VC4Africa website, I kept on seeing the DEMO Africa 2013 Ad banner every time I visited VC4Africa website, this sort of fueled my aspiration to apply.
Out of over 600 startup application, RAMP and 3 other Nigerian startups made the list of the 40 startups across Africa to participate in DEMO Africa 2013 which held in Nairobi, Kenya from October 22 – 25.
The experience at DEMO Africa was everything I had imagined, exciting, engaging, 100% pure networking and exposure to a bigger picture. Interestingly the Nigerian startups got first hand insight on what to expect from DEMO Africa, courtesy Mr. Harry Hare, the executive producer of DEMO Africa. Interestingly I and the other Nigerian startup founders selected for DEMO Africa had a chance to meet him briefly at IDEA Centre, Yaba when he came into the country briefly.
In his own words, I remember he said all the 40 startups come for DEMO Africa for different purposes, some come to raise funds, others to make strategic alliances & partnerships and others come to network and have fun. He particularly emphasized that DEMO is not a competition, you are not here to compete with anyone, you are here to make the very best of the opportunity you have to showcase & launch your app or product. Therefore meet as many people as possible, start conversations and very importantly market yourself or your product and exchange business cards.
To be candid Mr. Harry Hares advice helped shape my mindset and my approach to DEMO Africa last year at Nairobi, Kenya. I was there to meet people, network, try to eat my cake and have it if possible in terms of establish strategic partnerships and angel investors for funding.
Now the issue of strategic alliances & partnerships inspired my team to take a rather big quantum leap with our product RAMP. Considering that we would be at pitching & launching our startup RAMP.ng in Kenya, we decided to develop a Kenyan Hybrid of our app which is targeted at the Kenyan real estate niche. This move was necessary to establish strategic alliances that could scale our product beyond just Nigeria or West Africa.
Pre DEMO Africa Preparations
The challenge of raising funds to get my RAMP team to Nairobi, Kenya to participate in DEMO Africa was now my biggest headache. Then we were still a new pre-revenue startup and funds were relatively unavailable. I decided to send an email to DEMO Africa’s Exec, Harry Hare to find out if any of the sponsors could be approached, interestingly he forwarded my email to the Special Adviser (IT) of the honorable minister of communication & technology.
To say that Mrs Omobola Johnson is a wonderful woman is an understatement. She made sure that all the 4 Nigerian startups got funding support for 3 members of each team. Interestingly Nigeria was the only country that supported its startups at DEMO Africa. *Smiles.
2 Days of Boot Camp
The main DEMO Africa is actually a 2 day event but there is 2 day boot camp that takes place prior the main DEMO Africa Conference. This 2 day boot camp is usually the time that the 40 startups get to meet, interact and get to know each other. But most importantly this is the period the startups get coaching on how to pitch & launch our products by various mentors that comprise of staff of USAID, Microsoft and Lions Africa. These are the sponsors and partners of DEMO Africa.
For the first time in my life I can confidently say that was the first time I sat in the same room with startup founders from different Africa countries, founders from South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Senegal, Ghana & Nigeria.
2 Days of DEMO Africa
The 2 days of the DEMO Africa Conference is where all the spotlight goes, from the media frenzy & attention to the exhibition & demoing of startups at the DEMO Pits of the 40 startups, to the 6 minute pitch of each of the 40 startups and the pitch review by panelists.
All I can say to startups that make it to DEMO Africa is that the ball is in your court, make the best of the time you have in the spotlight. More than any other thing I always advise to meet people, interact and network. As Harry Hare had earlier prepared my mind set, I made sure I exchanged a lot of complimentary cards, because who knows, your next investor may just be in the crowd.
Our decision to launch a Kenyan Hybrid of RAMP was fabulous as it gave us quite an unprecedented media coverage & attention in Kenya. Quite a number of Local Kenyan Investors in the Real estate sector requested our brochures and business cards. Interestingly RAMP’s pre entry into Kenya coincided with the Kenyan President Kenyatta’s kick off of the Nyumba Kubi Initiative which means Swahili language, “Know at least 10 of your Neighbors”. Which was in response to the unfortunate, September 2013 Westgate mall terrorist attack. This initiative is borrow from neighboring Tanzania. A number of technology enthusiast in Kenya believe we developed RAMP to take advantage of the Nyumba Kubi initiative. But it is rather a rare coincidence that we are happy to use to our advantage.
I would encourage Nigerian startups yet to apply for DEMO Africa 2014, to just go for it. It practically doesn’t cost you anything to apply, well as long as your startup meets the criteria for this year’s edition. Interestingly Nigeria is hosting DEMO Africa 2014, it should be an advantage for us Nigerian Startups in terms of awareness and coverage.
VC4Africa has been a very wonderful platform supporting startups in Africa, match making them with angel investors within and outside Africa. So I would encourage prospective startups to also register on the VC4Africa read articles and interact with other fellow African startups.
Lastly if your startup is scalable across the entire African Continent, I believe you will have a better leverage and advantage of making the best of your DEMO Experience.