In Côte d’Ivoire tech startups still struggle to get going due to a lack of finance and poor Internet infrastructure. However, there are grounds for optimism as the telecoms market is now making progress with rising smartphone sales providing opportunities for app development.

Côte d’Ivoire: Start-ups finance themselves by first developing services for other companies
Interview, on the sidelines of a L’Atelier numérique(L’Atelier Digital) broadcast on the BFM Business channel, with Régis Bamba, an engineer from Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) who has founded a startup which specialises in Cloud services and in creating mobile solutions and apps. 

L’Atelier: Is Côte d'Ivoire fertile ground for new technologies and innovation?

Régis Bamba: Yes it is, basically because sales of smartphones are now on the increase. In addition, Internet connection is becoming easier and a bit cheaper. So the telecoms market is making it feasible to develop broadband apps. 

Is it basically a pre-pay system over there or do Ivorians pay a monthly subscription like in France?

It’s a pre-payment system. You get around 10 GB for €20-22 on average. That’s expensive for Ivorians but the operators also offer a system of a flat rate for an hour or a day, which makes it more affordable. But when you’re a startup with five developers who need to download software, there’s not enough bandwidth.

So how can prices be made more affordable for the consumer?

I believe that the more competition there is, the more prices will fall. A new operator had just arrived on the scene in Ivory Coast. Suddenly another operator launched a much more affordable package. I don’t know whether that was due to the arrival of the new operator or to something else. But in any case I think that the more competition we have, the more prices will fall.

What about development of startups in Côte d’Ivoire? Is the ecosystem providing enough stimulus?

Startups over there have a number of concerns. It’s not easy for them to obtain finance from banks. There haven’t been any success stories for tech startups so far, so banks are rather reluctant to lend funds. There’s also a problem with human resources. It’s difficult for example to find a developer with the necessary skills to carry projects through. And then there’s the Internet, which is making progress but still doesn’t always work very well.

In that case how do startups obtain finance and raise funds?

Most of the time they finance themselves. A startup will seek to provide services to other companies in order to build up business and also find the right business model.

So is that how you self-financed your ‘Taxi Tracker’ app? What’s the app all about?

Yes, I developed Taxi Tracker with my own funds. It’s a simple app which responds to a major insecurity problem we have in Ivory Coast.  When you take a taxi, it lets your family and friends know where you are and also notes the driver’s licence plate. It basically enables you to tell your nearest and dearest: “OK, I’m in such and such a taxi. I’m here. I’m going there. I’ve now arrived safe and sound.” The system helps to meet the local need for greater security. It’s already been downloaded around 5,000 times in three weeks.

Does that mean that Ivorian startups should be developing apps for local use rather than for the international markets?

Yes, that’s right.  Basically because there’s no app market in Ivory Coast. It’s a totally virgin market.  So there’s a lot that can be done at local level. Most tech startups work to solve local issues before trying to tackle more international needs.
By Virginie de Kerautem