Gabon, a resource-rich nation in central Africa, possesses the potential for a thriving tech ecosystem. With its youthful population, ranking third in gross national income among African countries, and an internet penetration rate of 72%, the country provides a strong foundation for digital innovations.
Moreover, the fact that 91% of Gabonese reside in urban areas further enhances its prospects. Nevertheless, the tech ecosystem is still in its early stages and has yet to reach its full potential.
To bridge the gap and unlock the country’s digital economy and startup potential, a consortium of companies and private investors established the Société d’Incubation Numérique du Gabon (SING), a startup incubator, in 2018.
Their aim is to address the question of why Gabon, with all its resources, has not become a powerhouse in the digital realm. SING’s initiatives include providing access to capital, equipment, expertise, and office spaces to aspiring startups in Gabon. A unique requirement for these companies is to have a Gabonese member in their founding team.
SING has garnered support from Gabon’s Ministry of Economy and has secured funding from the World Bank to train up to 750 individuals in Gabon and host an exhibition program for 50 startups. Despite the relatively small market of just 2.3 million people, SING has successfully exhibited over 140 startups and raised nearly $1 million in startup capital.
The approach adopted by SING mirrors the ambition of French-speaking tech ecosystems to catch up with their English-speaking counterparts. Several countries, including Tunisia, Senegal, and Côte d’Ivoire, have collaborated with private entities to accelerate the growth of their respective tech ecosystems through programs like the Startup Act.
SING’s strategy is sector-agnostic, supporting a wide range of startups, from fintech and logistics to healthtech and cybersecurity. They focus on accepting startups with founders possessing expertise in the problem they are addressing and a viable business model. After the 3-4 month incubation process, startups are expected to have a “functional prototype,” and SING may then take up shares in the company.
The incubator’s emphasis on unique and locally-tailored solutions stems from Gabon’s small population. Startups coming to SING are encouraged to cater their business models specifically to address the country’s challenges and potentially expand to other regions of Africa. This approach aims to promote complementary rather than competitive growth within the ecosystem.
SING sustains its operations through four revenue streams: renting out office spaces, offering advisory services, receiving funding from the government and Gabonese companies, and securing support from external donors like the European Union.
SING runs two incubation programs: a 4-week training course based on the “Traction” methodology, culminating in a Demo Day event, and a 3-month acceleration program that includes maturity assessment, roadmap creation, and execution guidance by a dedicated startup manager. Startups completing the accelerator can sign a contract for further acceleration or commercial development.
By Elijah Christopher