African startups punch above their weight at global tech event
Eight companies from Ethiopia and Uganda made inroads at GITEX in Dubai, showcasing their offerings to potential customers and thought leaders
Among the more than 5,000 exhibitors showcasing the latest tech products at the global GITEX tech event in Dubai in October was a delegation of eight tech and outsourcing companies from Ethiopia and Uganda getting the attention of thought leaders, businesses and potential customers.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Baheru Zeyenu Seid, CEO of AFRICOM Technologies in Ethiopia. “Our expectation was that not that many people would be there or interested in us, but there were more than 170,000 attendees at the event, and people wanted to know about us.”
“We introduced our country, our existing potential, and moved the perspective away from images of war and famine to the reality of a young population and a large number of engineering and tech graduates,” Baheru added.
Started by five young graduates in 2004, AFRICOM Technologies is now a leading Ethiopian IT solution and service providing company, providing data analysis, software development, AI training, social media content management, and HR outsourcing.
The company was one of five Ethiopian and three Ugandan IT companies selected by the International Trade Centre (ITC) to receive assistance to attend GITEX this year. ITC sponsored the booths and assisted with travel expenses.
“The technology at the event was incredible,” said Wondwesen Zewdie, managing partner and COO of the R&D group of Ethiopia. “You see things on TV, but to see it in person is really something else.”
GITEX prides itself in giving a fair representation of tech companies in emerging economies, and said this year the exhibition saw its biggest-ever participation from Africa.
“Africa has quite a number of small and medium enterprises in the software development and business outsourcing areas trying to be innovative,” noted Christine Tusiime of ClinicMaster, a Uganda-based IT company that also attended.
ClinicMaster’s software integrates healthcare information management and medical billing. Their service automates transactions in hospitals or clinics based on a patient’s visits and daily procedures.
“What surprised me the most at GITEX are the new technologies being used, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence in the health sector. We learned so much from others,” said Tusiime, ClinicMaster’s business development officer.
ClinicMaster’s user-friendly desktop application attracted clients looking for lower-tech solutions. The company is now working on ways to better adapt their system to international markets.
“Our intention in attending GITEX was to network and find potential partners so we can expand our product within our region of east and southern Africa, but we were surprised by the opportunities in Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Jordan,” added ClinicMaster CEO Wilson Kutegeka.
Outsourcing to create jobs
R&D of Ethiopia, an impact outsourcing and private sector development firm supported by ITC, also got a lot of traction at the two-day conference, including with Amazon Web Services.
“Even before GITEX, we were in talks with AWS on becoming their training partner in Ethiopia as we also do corporate and youth training. We were further encouraged by them in Dubai, so we have registered in the AWS site and we are in the process of accrediting four staff so we can become implementing partners,” said Wondwesen.
In addition to AWS, Wondwesen said his company is now engaging with more than 20 different firms that they contacted at GITEX. “We are having conversations with companies looking for talent in Ethiopia, and we had a great meeting with the Dubai chamber of commerce,” he said.
Baheru also maximized the networking potential of the event. “Using the GITEX tool we booked close to 40 meetings. From that, we got engagement and are continuing discussions and developing business partnerships.”
Wondwesen believes that technology, particularly outsourcing, is a powerful way forward and a strong alternative to conventional ways of job creation and foreign direct investment which concentrates mainly on manufacturing.
Outsourcing, he maintains, creates more sustainable jobs while its ratio of resource utilization to forex generation is significantly lower.
“The scalability and economic inclusivity impact of tech outsourcing is immense,” explained Wondwesen. “Your market is the world.”
R&D worked with ITC on the outsourcing part of its businesses for months prior to the event to strengthen and streamline the export marketing strategy of their outsourcing business.
“Coming to GITEX was a chance for us all to see how it works. We tested the waters, got lots of traction so now we are getting ready to come back next year. But we will do it differently, we will go big,” he said. “Ethiopia has been under-represented in the past; we want to change that.”
About the project
The Netherlands Trust Fund V (NTF) (July 2021 – June 2025) is based on a partnership between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands and the International Trade Centre. The programme supports MSMEs in the digital technologies and agribusiness sectors. Its ambition is two-fold: to contribute to an inclusive and sustainable transformation of food systems, partially through digital solutions, and drive the internationalisation of tech start-ups and export of IT & BPO companies in selected Sub-Saharan African countries.