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CEO Weekends: Ahmed Zrikem of on Need to Boost Africa’s Startup Scene

JUMPSTART AFRICAAhmed Zrikem, has launched a campaign to raise funds to build Africa focused crowd-funding site in a move to stir entrepreneurship on the continent.

Zrikem is a Systems Engineer by trade and specialize in Information Security. He grew up in the US and got his education there also.

Growing up in the US was the best learning curve in his life time, and also allowed him to work for Fortune 500 Companies like Citi Group, Lokhed Martin and many other large companies, which he says opened his eyes to look at opportunities from interesting angles.

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TechMoran caught up with him and he told us what inspires and where he projects Africa’s startup scene is headed.


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What inspired you to launch

I was working as an Information Systems Manager for a global Australian company from Bali, Indonesia (Bullseye Digital) my duty was handling all IT in south east Asia for them, after over 10 years working for others and doing my own things on the side, I have lost reason to work and needed something worth waking up for in the morning!

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Bali is a very inspiring place, freedom of thinking and bouncing ideas is a stream that never ends. I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to be busy doing something that has a meaning. I believe being rich is not about money, it’s about how many people you have positively impacted. Money is only a tool that eventually comes later.

A friend of mine launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund a movie he wanted to do in Bali, that’s where crowdfunding caught my eye, I was amazed how simple and straight forward it was but then came to realize that only allowed couple countries to crowdfund on its platform, that was the light bulb on my head moment! “This could really work for Africa!”.

Here we are now working day and night to make it happen.


Why crowd-funding?

Crowdfunding has 4 major advantages for Africa:

1-      Project creators get to test their ideas before going to market, we enable them to crowd source their projects to a certain extent, and help them meet an international crowd.

2-      It also allows project creators to build a fan base/customers/followers before official launch

3-      Successful projects get to secure funding without giving up equity or taking any loans, and that’s a really competitive advantage

4-      Crowd-funding takes the politics out of getting funded!


Crowd-funding and angel investing, which is better and why?

Crowd-funding and angel investing are complementary, a successful campaign on a crowd funding platform is a strong asset for any entrepreneur who wants to approach angel investors. Through JSA exposure, we want to enable African entrepreneurs to reach out to angel investors and VCs. For entrepreneurs who want to touch base with the international crowd and raise fund without giving up equity it is the perfect match.

Why Africa? Do you think Africa is ready for this?

1-      I am African and I feel the responsibility to impact my community positively

2-      Africa has 7 of the fastest growing economies in the world based on World Bank, but here is the tricky part, this is the result of all the foreign investment from Europe, Asia, US in telecom, mining and other activities.

Developed Countries have strong economies because of their competitive SME’s not because the few big multinationals, It’s SME’s that build sustainable economies, create jobs and stability. We think it is a total win-win

How do people send in their contributions- is it via mobile money or banks or payment cards?

At this point anyone with a debit or a credit card can make a contribution to a project on our platform.

At JumpStart Africa we never touch the money, our payment partners handle all of it (Ayden – Paypal), to secure the transactions and the traceability of each and every payment.
Who are your partners?

1-      Wennovationhub

2-      WikiStartup

3-      MLab (Sponsored by World Bank)

4-      Ihub (Sponsored by Microsoft and Intel)

5-      88mph (Powered by Google)

And still growing

Are there people Africans ready to invest in Africa?

At this point we don’t expect contributions from Africa, the concept is still new to us and it is not in our culture, plus the weak banking system (credit card penetration) in many countries would make it difficult.

Contributions are expected to come mainly from the US, Canada and Europe, since they are the most mature markets for crowd funding.

How many ventures on the site so far?

We already have 5 entrepreneurs coming from 4 different countries (SA, Nigeria, Kenya, Mozambique) who are ready to launch their campaign. We receive many other applications every week, we’ll reveal them when launching.


How do you make money out of it?

For every successfully funded project we take a %9 commission that pays our great team, we’ll re-invest 70 % of or profit in marketing and platform development.

To avoid money laundering and all other risks we have setup our business structure and banking in the US and our HQ is in Silicon Valley California. Being regulated in the US guarantees a high standard of best practice.

Aren’t you in competition with Kickstarter, Indiegogo, 1% club among others?

Rule number one in crowd-funding is pick the right platform to crowd fund. No matter how good your idea or project is, if you’re not targeting the right audience, chances of success are very low. The currently most used platform for African projects is IGG, with a sadly poor %7 success rate for the campaigns related to Africa.

We are not competing with IGG or Kickstarter, since they make most of their revenues in other markets. We are targeting a niche that needs to exist, innovative people are already in Africa but they don’t address the right crowd, that is why we are here.

Where do you expect your business to be in 2 years?

In the next 2 years we envision to be the gateway to Innovation and creativity throughout Africa, we believe every project deserves a chance to be seen by the crowd. Taking the power from Wall street to the street and let the crowd decide what project deserves to see the light.

What are the challenges of running your business? How do you solve them?

The concept its self was not very hard to come up with, since crowdfunding platforms already exist, we had to take the best of what’s already out there and tweak/adapt it to fit the African Market. For example we have many features to help campaigners’ crowd source and enhance their early stage projects, with workshops and customized tutorials.

The most difficult part was implementing this very new concept to Africa and figuring out how to deal with the money in the most transparent way. It brought me to the realization that banking systems in even the most developed countries misfits to crowd funding contrary to what we think, PayPal and other major payment gateways still have a very tough time adapting to the crowd funding model, you add Africa to the equation and this becomes a whole new challenge.

Will Africa’s startup scene grow, to be like Silicon Valley’s or Tel Aviv’s?

Over the past 60 years at least $1 trillion of development-related aid has been transferred by rich countries to Africa. Yet real per-capita income today is lower than it was in the 1970’s, and more than 50% of the population – over 350 million people – live on less than $1/day, a figure that has nearly doubled in two decades. The non-monitored aids encouraged corruption for the past decades in Africa.

JumpStart Africa’s main goal is to boost the startup scene in Africa, We don’t lack innovation or creativity in Africa and we have done our research before coming to this conclusion.

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