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Ethiopia’s bid to become an African startup hub hinges on connectivity – TechCrunch

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Ethiopia is flexing its ambitions to become Africa’s next startup hub.

The country of 105 million with the continent’s seventh largest economy is revamping government policies, firing up angel networks, and rallying digital entrepreneurs.

Ethiopia currently lags the continent’s tech standouts—like Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa—that have become focal points for startup formation, VC, and exits.

To join those ranks, the East African nation will need to improve its internet environment, largely controlled by one government owned telecom. Last week Ethiopia’s government shut down the internet for the entire nation.

Startups, hubs, accelerators

Ethiopia has the workings of a budding tech scene. Much of it was on display recently at the county’s first Startup Ethiopia event held in Addis Ababa.

On the startup front, ride-hail ventures Ride and ZayRide have begun to gain traction (Uber has not yet entered Ethiopia). Their cars are visible buzzing throughout the capital and ZayRide will expand in Liberia in August, CEO Habtamu Tadesse confirmed to TechCrunch.

While in Addis, I downloaded and used Ride—founded by female entrepreneur Samrawit Fikru—which quickly flashed connections to nearby drivers on my phone and allowed for cash payment.

This month’s Startup Ethiopia also showcased high-potential early-stage ventures, such as payment company YenaPay and online food startup Deamat. YenaPay has worked to build a digital payments imprint in Ethiopia’s largely cash based economy. The startup has onboarded over 500 merchants, including ZayRide, according to co-founder Nur Mensur.

Deamat blends e-commerce and agtech. “We connect small-holder farmers with consumers. People can use their phone, pay with their phone, get any kind of agricultural products they want and we deliver,” co-founder Kisanet Haile told me after pitching to judges that included Nigerian angel investor Tomi Davies and Cellulant CEO Ken Njoroge.

Ethiopia has several organizing points for startup, VC, and developer activity. Tech talent and startup marketplace Gebeya is located in Addis Ababa (with offices globally) and offers programs and services for ventures and tech professionals to gain developer skills and scale their digital businesses.

BlueMoon is an Ethiopian agtech incubator and seed fund. Its founder Eleni Gabre-Madhin has extensive experience working abroad and played a central convening role in the debut Startup Ethiopia event.

In terms of developer and co-working type spaces, Ethiopia has iCog Labs—an AI and robotics research company—and IceAddis, one of the country’s first tech hubs. Founded in 2011, IceAddis’s mission is to develop Ethiopia’s IT ecosystem, co-founder and CEO Markos Lemma told me during a tour. The hub runs programs such as Ice180, a six-month startup accelerator bootcamp that has graduated 40 ventures. IceAddis also offers a 24 hour co-working space for techies and startups who want to burn the midnight oil with internet access.

Angels and mentors

Startup Ethiopia featured two angel and support networks for Ethiopia’s startups. Tomi Davies and Ethiopian diaspora returnee Shem Asefaw announced the first Addis Ababa Angel Network, supported by African Business Angels Network, which is expected to accept startups this year.

Startup Ethiopia also showcased Ethiopians in Tech, an entrepreneur support group with Silicon Valley roots. SV based Bernard Laurendeau, a director at data analytics firm Zenysis and EiT founding member, made the trek from San Francisco to meet with local startups. So did Stackshare founder Yonas Beshawred.

Talk of leveraging Ethiopia’s diaspora, which is particularly strong and successful in the United States, for tech was mentioned several times at Startup Ethiopia, including on my panel.

Connectivity

The biggest hurdle for Ethiopia’s startup community (that I could identify) is the situation with local internet.

Mobile and IP connectivity in the country is managed by state-owned Ethio Telecom, though the government — led by newly elected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Sahle-Work Zewde — has committed to privatize it.

At Startup Ethiopia, I moderated and sat on panels with Ethiopian government representatives to discuss the country’s net situation. This was to the backdrop of the tech event’s WiFi not functioning properly over two days—something that was readily pointed out during Q&A by Ethiopian techies and Liquid Telecom CTO Ben Roberts, who flew in from Nairobi.

Several officials, such as State Minister of Innovation and Technology Jemal Beker, named specific commitments to improve the country’s internet quality, access and choice within the next year, with  Ethiopia’s Ministry of Innovation and Technology — Getahun Mekuria — seated in the front row.

Shortly after officials made these public pledges, the government shut down the country’s internet to coincide with national exams.

The government didn’t issue an official reason for the shutdown — and an official in charge of ICT policy did not respond to a TechCrunch inquiry — but press reports and a source speaking on background said the stoppage was done to prevent students from cheating.

Valid reason or not, I received several messages from local techies and startup heads (when the internet was intermittently switched back on) complaining about how the shutdown had totally crippled their businesses.

It appears the situation with internet in Ethiopia may be a bit of steps back before steps forward. After shutting things down, the government announced policy steps last week to break up the national telecom and IP monopoly and issue individual telco licences by the end of 2019.

Prospects

On the upside of Ethiopia’s bid to become a tech and startup hub, the country has a strong demographic and economic thesis—in its large population and economy—to support the scale up of problem-solving, digital businesses. Ethiopia’s large and entrepreneurial diaspora populations, with strong ties to Silicon Valley, could also become a bridge to capital and capacity for its early-stage ventures.

And another edge Ethiopia could have over other African tech hubs is its advances in developing a manufacturing industry (and higher-paid workforce) that’s now pulling some assembly from China. That includes a mobile assembly plant in Addis Ababa for Tenssion’s Tecno, Africa’s leading mobile phone brand.

Ethiopia’s startup scene will be stuck in the mud, however, without changes to the internet landscape. As we discussed on the Startup Ethiopia stage, the tech and startups of tomorrow—in Africa and globally—won’t just be driven by IoT, or the Internet of Things.

Tech ventures and their end-users are shifting toward an IoEA future: the internet-of-everything-all-the-time. And it’s impossible for Ethiopia’s startups to move in that direction in a market with one state controlled mobile provider and IP that has the power to arbitrarily nix connectivity.

So on the policy side, the single most effective thing the government of Ethiopia can do to provide an enabling environment for startups is open up its internet market to improve penetration, choice, cost, and reliability.

Do that and it’s likely the other tech pieces assembling in and around the country—ventures, angels, hubs, and entrepreneurs—will sort the rest out.

 

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Today’s Wordle Answer #594 – February 3, 2023 Solution And Hints

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If the answer is still a mystery, the word is “tasty.” Apart from describing food as having agreeable flavor, you could say something or someone is tasty if they’re elegant or tasteful. The word is a diminutive of the root noun “taste,” which is from Old French “tast,” which is the term for the sense of touch (now Modern French tât).

In the original context of its usage around the 1400s, “taste” meant a share or a small portion; or the sense by which the flavor of a thing is discerned; and savor or flavor. But by the late 1600s, it had also taken on the sense of “aesthetic judgment,” or “the ability to recognize and appreciate excellence” (via Etymonline). There are more variations of its usage, however, especially in idioms. For example, if you have a taste for something, it means you have a strong preference or desire for it, and if something’s so bad you can taste it, it means that thing is extremely unpleasant (via The Free Dictionary).

This is all based on the fact that the sense of taste is quite adept at perception and discrimination of refinement or finesse. This is the sense on which phrases like “have a good eye/nose” are also based. On average, the human tongue has 2,000–8,000 taste buds, with hundreds of thousands of receptor cells. To keep the sense of taste as keen as possible, each taste bud gets replaced about every two weeks (via Britannica).

We hope you finish your puzzle before you run out of guesses, and if you have a taste for puzzles, here are more like Wordle to keep you busy.

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A New Cybertruck Spotting Just Revealed Two Big Design Changes

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The first clear change to the Cybertruck has to do with the rearview mirrors. As Electrek correctly notes, the Cybertruck was originally meant to lack side mirrors, favoring the more futuristic solution of body-mounted cameras. Assuming the particular prototype that was spotted on the road in Palo Alto represents recent changes, that’s at least one concession to reality from the aggressively conceptual Tesla truck.

The second, arguably more significant change is to the truck bed. Prior to this sighting, the Cybertruck had yet to be shown with a working, retractable tonneau cover. User Flavio Tronz on Instagram seems to have caught the Cybertruck with the cover half-retracted, suggesting that particular challenge has also been conquered.

In short, the Cybertruck seems to be getting the tweaks and flourishes to be expected for a car that is expected to enter full-scale production soon. The implementation of simple, proven solutions, like side mirrors, suggests that Tesla is getting real about putting their vision of the future on actual roads.

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Is It Safe To Charge Your iPhone With Macbook Charger?

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According to Apple, if you own a Mac laptop or an iPad and have immediate access to the USB power adapter that came with it, you can certainly use it to charge your iPhone without the worry of potentially damaging your mobile device’s battery. It can also be used to charge other Apple products like a pair of AirPods or the Apple Watch. The following Apple USB power adapters are some of the options that can be used to charge your iPhone, provided that you have a USB-to-lightning cable:

  • 5W USB power adapter that came with iPhones that preceded the iPhone 11
  • 10W US power adapter that was included with every iPad Air and iPad Air 2, iPad 2, and iPad mini 2,3, and 4
  • 12W USB power adapter that was packaged with several versions of the iPad Pro

If you have a Mac USB-C power adapter or other third-party adapters that fulfill Apple’s safety standards, they can be used to charge your iPhone as well. Certain USB-C power adapters, when used in tandem with Apple’s USB-to-lightning cable, have the ability to fast-charge an iPhone 8 and later iterations up to 50% battery in about half an hour (via Apple). This includes the 29W USB-C power adapter that accompanied older MacBook models that were released in 2015 onwards as well as the 30W, 35W, 61W, 67W, 87W, 96W, and 140W USB-C power adapters that came with certain versions of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. If you own a MacBook laptop and have its Apple-brand power adapter, you should be able to see its wattage printed right on the device itself and determine if it can be used to charge your iPhone.

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