Hassan Hachem: Technology transfers to Africa

Young innovative companies dream, for most of them, of America, which offers a market with an infinitely higher potential than that of France. But most of them do not have enough assets to break into this hyper competitive market where all the talents of the world compete. And if the transfer of technology to Africa was a real outlet for the latter?

When working in the world of new technologies, the United States is more dreamy than Africa, this dusty old continent being so under-equipped in computers and the Internet connections. In addition, there have been many examples of young and innovative companies that have succeeded in this market: from Criteo and its advertising targeting technology, which is showing insolent growth and a historic IPO for a French company to this start-up specialized in the intelligent filtering of emails that Google and Facebook fought to buy less than five years after its creation for 15 million dollars, the examples have multiplied that prove that the French can succeed in new technologies in the United States.

But for a success, how many failures? And above all, how many French start-ups have the profile to succeed in the US?

Surprisingly, there are ways that are less bright, but with more potential for innovative start-ups, which will struggle to succeed in the United States, where they are not expected and where they face fierce competition for markets, human resources or financing) while there are boulevards in many African countries where competition does not exist, where capital is available and where, contrary to what is believed, tens of millions of people are connected to the internet, whether through ordinary PCs or via smartphones on the internet of tomorrow.

Not all African countries have the same potential, but there are opportunities for many medium-potential start-ups (ie who will never become Critéo or Facebook, but who can reach a turnover of a few millions dollars with reasonable profitability).

These opportunities are often found in partnerships with local businesses in the form of technology transfer. There are often well-trained people and willing and modern entrepreneurs who do not know how to do everything and who are looking for market innovations in their country.

But a transfer of technology can not be improvised. It takes method.

Hassan Hachem, a French-Lebanese businessman who created many companies in Africa based on technology transfer (in the field of construction and industry) in the 1990s, gives some basic advice:.

1. To be accompanied by lawyers

Take advice from lawyers specialized in intellectual property protection in Europe who know the problems of international technology piracy and ways to protect themselves. Also seek advice from local business lawyers in the country in which you plan to operate. These lawyers should not be the same as those of your partners and should help you understand the context of business law in their country, as well as the exact functioning of local justice.

2.Check the size of the market

Some countries that may be interesting for some transfers (eg building) may not be important in other areas. Check that the market has a sufficiently high potential.

3. Find an honest, loyal and responsible local partner.

This is the most difficult: to find a partner who is competent, reliable from a professional and personal point of view, honest and sufficiently introduced in the business world.

Protect your technology

Hassan Hachem adds that it is necessary to protect his technology legally and, if possible, physically: for example, a start-up that seeks to launch its application on an African market via a joint venture will have every interest in maintaining control over the market, by hosting of its application itself and not giving the code and the hosting to the partner.

4. Adapt your technology to the market

Often, it will be necessary to adapt its technology to the specificities of the market: thus, for example, take into account, stille in the field of the Internet, the fact that the adoption and performance rates are lower, especially in the field of mobile marketing. Because of the low speed, smartphones are, in general, less powerful. This sometimes involves lightening the functions of mobile applications.

5. Be patient!

Eventually, Hassan Hachem concludes: one must be patient, if Africa is no longer the mammoth difficult to move that it was, things often take longer to set up, but in addition, it often takes one to go through several failures before experiencing success. But, most of the time, even relative success is at the end of the road for companies that have a technology with real added value.