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A Bus Tours Across Africa, Developing Startup Ideas Along The Way

Ampion’s trips through the African continent aim to create new ideas for businesses designed to serve local markets.

Leaving soon: four buses full of entrepreneurs and software programmers. Destination: Africa’s tech hubs.

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There are plenty of hackathons these days, but not many like the ones organized by Ampion, a German nonprofit. It crams 40 people on a coach, drives them thousands of miles across deserts and over borders, and brings in security details where necessary.

“It’s like a pressure cooker for ideas. You either love or hate your teammates afterwards,” cofounder Fabian-Carlos Guhl says. “The overall goal is to allow young Africans to create startup companies.”

Having organized similar tours in Germany and Europe, Ampion set up its first trip in Africa last year. Several start-ups were born as a result, including Sterio.me, a phone platform for teachers to organize student homework (it was recently named in Fast Company’s “10 Most Innovative Companies in Africa”), Saisai, which sets up wifi hotspots in public areas, and Bribed, a site for tracking corruption.

This November, four more Ampion buses are set to travel in all four corners of the continent: from Nigeria to the Ivory Coast in West Africa; from Zimbabwe to South Africa; from Tanzania to Rwanda, in East Africa; and from Algeria to Tunisia, in the North. They all come equipped with satellite Internet connections, so there’s no problem getting online wherever the tours end up.

Teams work on their ideas throughout the five day journey, and every evening the tour stops at a “tech hub” for an evening gathering, and to sleep at a local hotel. About 160 people will participate in all, including 100 local entrepreneurs and mentors from Europe and the U.S.

“We try to build bridges. We’re connecting the African market to well developed ecosystems such as Silicon Valley, London, Berlin and so on,” says Guhl. This year’s buses will likely contain several reps from Google and Yahoo, as well as a sprinkling of investors interested in Africa’s burgeoning start-up scene.

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Funding comes from companies like SAP, Microsoft and Merck as well as Indiegogo (see the campaign here). Merck asked to Ampion to recruit three teams of health entrepreneurs, because it’s interested in hiring people locally.

Guhl says the biggest challenge for start-ups in Africa is access to funding and the lack of an “ecosystem” for getting businesses off the ground. Plus, many young Africans have a “risk-averse” mindset, he says, and would prefer to land a job in a big company rather than striking out on their own.

The five day trips sound like the perfect way to get people out of the comfort zone and focused on disruptive ideas.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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