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African entrepreneurs must keep their eyes on the prize, create continent specific solutions – Zandre Campos

Zandre Campos is the CEO of ABO Capital, an international investment firm with headquarters in Angola and offices in Dubai and the United States. A leading global voice and expert on Africa, he is a recipient of the Distinguished Business Excellence Award by African Leadership Magazine and the Africa Award by CEO Magazine. In this exclusive interview with Exclusive Africa’s editor, Wale Ameen, he shares his thoughts on sundry issues bordering on Africa’s entrepreneurial landscape, the budding opportunities in emerging markets like Angola, and the role of investors.

EA: What trends can we expect in 2023 in terms of Africa’s development across the continent?

Zandre: As the world’s fastest-growing and youngest continent, Africa has the potential to shape the global economic system for years to come. For example, we can expect to see increased demand for technology and automated services throughout Africa – including a steady rise in high-speed internet and mobile networks.

Now, Sub-Saharan Africa has almost half a billion cellphone subscribers, a figure that we anticipate reaching 615 million by 2025. Eventually, we expect to see a mobile app ecosystem sophisticated enough for developers to co-create technology that also expands accessibility in banking and education. For example, initiatives like SpaceX and its broadband internet system project will help meet the needs of consumers across the globe, allowing for a meaningful change for businesses in Africa, including facilitating remote work.

Moreover, we are likely to witness a growing use of renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and water-like desalination. This will bridge the gap in access to energy in rural areas, historically underserved by energy grids. Together, this can improve the lives of millions of people and support the development of African communities. Also, we should expect an increase in the presence of or similar businesses like Amazon and others.

EA: Beyond 2023, what, in your view, is the future of work, especially given the context of AI, and how will it influence work as we know it?

The pace of progress in technology continues to accelerate, and forward-thinking leaders stand to benefit from embracing this. Instead of resisting change, including recent – sometimes awe-inspiring developments in artificial intelligence, we must apply it to our advantage and learn to function together. The pandemic really brought this concept to light. Some businesses really leaned into remote and hybrid work settings, leveraging technology to keep their teams connected and streamline their operations. On the other hand, those who chose not to, or those who did not have the same resources on hand, were inadvertently left behind.

Today’s entrepreneurs continue to face a moment of reckoning, where they can opt to stand back or move forward full throttle. With the widespread adoption of AI and ChatGPT, how we work is about to change again. However, we can choose to see this as an advantage and an opportunity to maximise our productivity, foster creativity in our employees, and attract more talent on a global scale.

With the advent of more powerful workplace tools, we can unlock a new wave of productivity across organisations and minimise the drudgery of manual tasks, giving employees more space for creativity. Technology is not going backward, and we must embrace that it will continue to fundamentally transform our education system, increasing new ways of teaching and the quality of information provided to our young people. In reality, we need to prepare ourselves for the new Future (What is next to the internet?).

EA: Looking ahead, what futuristic, innovative disruptions do you see springing up that will impact the entrepreneurial landscape in Africa?

Zandre: Africa, like any other place, does not exist in a silo. Our continent is continuously shaped by the external environment of its flourishing global community. This means that technological breakthroughs or other cutting-edge developments in one region will undoubtedly affect others around it, including Africa.

In our increasingly interdependent world, this phenomenon is becoming more and more prevalent. Therefore, forward-thinking initiatives like SpaceX’s recent satellite Internet project hold a lot of promise for bringing a technological boost to African countries, including reducing connectivity issues and lagging in broadband access. SpaceX will not only contribute to the economic development of Africa, but it will also add to various sectors, bridge the technology gap, spark further creativity, and allow entrepreneurs to bring production capabilities to the continent.

With the right tools at our fingertips, we can help unleash Africa’s full entrepreneurial potential. What I expect is to have creation coming from Africa to the world. SpaceX was created by an African, but our side of Africa. Waiting for the next big thing coming from Africa to the World (Bruna Boy).

EA: What are the key ingredients to building a successful business in Africa?

Zandre: From my standpoint, there is no differentiation between building a successful business in Africa and globally. The first step to running a successful business – in Africa and elsewhere—is identifying what you are enthusiastic about and becoming as well-versed in that space as you can. Then, you can capitalise on Africa’s rich culture, abundant natural resources, and its homegrown talent to help realise your business objectives. I’ve always said: We have so much potential in our own backyard. Use it to your advantage. But again, step one is understanding your market. That will help you pinpoint your exact differentiators and needs as a business, which will in turn enable you to more effectively reach your consumers with your unique value proposition.

Lastly, and again, this is not limited to Africa, but having the confidence to make mistakes. Do not be so consumed by fear that it arrests all progress. Fear of failure can be so paralysing, but remember that momentum breeds more momentum. There has not been a single leader in history who hasn’t overcome adversity. So keep going for what you believe in. I believe that to build a business at any level, once you believe it will be successful then, it will be, not only in Africa, but worldwide.

EA: A number of issues have recently sprung up within Africa’s tech startup ecosystem. Issues such as mass layoffs and founders being accused of ethical and moral impropriety. What is your take on these, and how can founders keep a clean sheet?

Zandre: Believe in your business and support your people. As an African entrepreneur, it’s easy to get caught up in red tape and local politics as you’re trying to get a business off the ground. That can be particularly discouraging in the preliminary stages of launching a business, as it can put a number of projects on hold. But don’t let that distract you or discourage you from chasing your goals. Continue to identify the changes that must be made to avoid pain points and to push and persevere until you make some progress. Once you make that initial headway, it will inspire your next steps and continued success.

EA: What are the keys to staying on course in the face of pressure to secure funding, declare profits, and create a larger than life image of both the founder and the startup?

Zandre: Ultimately, it’s about keeping your eyes on the prize. Don’t lose sight of what you believe in. Keep going, even when it gets challenging – and it will. There are so many hurdles along the way, and it’s easy to get discouraged by those early failures or missteps – especially when you’re trying to do something big.

There is never a shortage of obstacles and critics when you’re working towards accomplishing something, but you need to stay focused. Remind yourself of what drove you to start what you’re doing in the first place. Let that purpose drive you; everything else will fall into place. Remember that struggles are a normal part of the process. But there’s no success without vision. So think big, and keep at it. Whatever happens, stay focused.

EA: What are the biggest challenges to the growth of Africa’s tech startup scene, and what are the solutions?

Zandre: Truthfully, there’s been so much growth in Africa’s tech startup scene in recent years. In fact, while startup funding plummeted elsewhere, Africa bucked the trend and continued to attract the support of prominent tech investors left and right. But this growth has not been even. More specifically, the proliferation of tech startups has been mostly limited to four African nations: South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, and Nigeria.

These countries boost some of Africa’s largest economies and have also been leading the way in terms of developing startup-friendly regulations. With these factors combined, it is no surprise that the majority of VC funding has flowed to these four nations.

Africa is home to a whole lot more than the “Big Four,” however – and it’s time that investors start looking toward other emerging markets, like Angola, which are full of untapped – and lucrative – potential. That’s why the concern is for solid educational training in Angola that will allow young people to be facilitators of technological innovation on this continent. From strategic locations and good and stable governance, to growing privatisation, Africa is ripe with economic potential that tech startups can capitalise on. For the young tech genius, my advice is to stop looking at the world’s solution and begin by creating a solution for Africa’s problems.

EA: Tell us about your investment firm, ABO Capital. How has it helped in empowering African startups, and what parameters does ABO Capital consider to determine investment worthy ideas?

Zandre: I founded ABO Capital with the singular mission of building opportunities for developing countries in Africa, while contributing to economic development around the world. We advance this mission by focusing on – and investing in – a range of different sectors, including education, technology, financial services, energy, manufacturing, distribution, and real estate.

By investing in these areas, we equip our startups and entrepreneurs with the tools to compete in a 21st-century economy. This diversified approach powers African startups and benefits African people alike; I also find it most reflective of our sheer vastness and richness as a continent. Because we have so much to offer the rest of the world, it makes complete sense to concentrate on the diverse mix of industries that make up our economy. One initiative we’re currently working on is “Tech By Tech” which focuses on products and services geared towards technological excellence in Angola.

When I look at where to lend my support and what to invest in next, one of the most fundamental criteria for me is always, How does this benefit or create value for the average person in Africa? Is it helping us somehow inch forward? Does it bring us closer to more opportunity or add something to our broader global community? At the end of the day, that’s what matters and centers me.

EA: Can you share with us some success stories of startups funded by your company?

Zandre: What I can share is that through our work at ABO Capital, we’re empowering the next generation of African leaders and innovators. This is most evident in all of the success stories of our School and students at Complexo Escolar Privado Internacional (CEPI), who inspire me every day. They are the future of our startups, and our continent at large. From participating in international math competitions to embracing bilingual education through our partnership with a world-renowned Canadian education system, Maple Bear, our students bring so much pride and promise back home. They are our beacons of hope for a brighter tomorrow. That’s why I believe education is the best investment of all – it’s the foundation of everything else.

We’ve also been working on a project called “Tech By Tech” project, which I’m very proud to be a part of. It features the manufacturing and sale of specialised services such as Ca7s, a music streaming platform; Gabriela, a document management system using AI; and Sawisa, a clinical management system, all of which help to streamline technological advancement in Angola; and recently working with one of the largest banks in Angola (BAI) finding a solution that can integrate AI in their process. .

Looking ahead, ABO Capital remains laser-focused on expanding high-quality education to Africa’s youth, with a special emphasis on Angola. That’s one of the most direct pathways for generating economic opportunities in Africa’s emerging markets. As part of these efforts, we’re currently finishing the construction of another school in Angola closer to the city center in Luanda, and we’re preparing to roll out the Maple Bear curriculum across the remaining primary to high school grades at CEPI. In the future, we look forward to expanding the Maple Bear franchise to other schools – in Angola and beyond.

EA: What is your view on education infrastructure in Africa, and how do you see it evolving in the coming years?

Zandre: We need a creative overhaul of our education infrastructure that meets the changing needs of our young people. In Africa, this starts with a new mindset. We must become comfortable with the notion that it’s acceptable to adjust our education system to better serve our students – and that a methodology from decades ago may not necessarily hold up today.

Education, like other systems and economic sectors, must continuously adapt. It’s not a fixed blueprint. The way that we teach our young people must reflect today’s realities, including an increasingly competitive global economy. Over the coming years, we will see partnerships with the private sector become more common in Africa and add to its educational development.

Government ministries and schools should consider partnering with businesses large and small to offer students more hands-on work experience, internships, and mentoring. After all, one of the best ways to learn is by doing. So more exposure to professional settings should be a key consideration in our school systems. Transforming Africa’s education infrastructure and expanding access to it is paramount for supporting the workforce of tomorrow.

EA: Why should investors and venture capital firms support African entrepreneurs and startups to harness their economic potential?

Zandre: While venture capital funding has dwindled worldwide, Africa’s entrepreneurs and startups have defied this trend. Investments continued to pour in. Now, venture capital firms and investors have the opportunity to further support emerging markets and natural development throughout Africa, such as Angola, which continue to show strong and exciting growth prospects. In fact, Angola is now Africa’s eighth-largest economy, and its GDP per capita has surged from $710 to $6,581 (adjusted for purchasing power parity). Its strategic location and infrastructure, from coastlines to railways, offer enormous potential for various businesses to draw in tourists to our continent. Business leaders and investors with foresight should not overlook Angola, as it remains well-positioned for further growth.

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