Unleashing Africa’s corporate innovation potential

Africa’s decisive transformation is gaining speed, driven by entrepreneurship and innovation. By giving increased access to new ideas, knowledge and technologies, the digital revolution is playing a key role in the emergence of innovation on the continent.

Navigating intrapreneurship 
and open innovation paths across the continent 

The movement goes beyond the concept of technological leapfrogging, regularly vaunted in recent years. Africa is not a continent seeking to ‘catch up’ by activating the innovation lever. It is inventing its own model and generating innovative and pragmatic solutions to its own particular developmental and growth challenges by activating various drivers.

Among innovation drivers: intrapreneurship and open innovation

They are multiplying across Africa and for Africa. While they are not new in Nigeria, Ghana or South Africa,
 they have recently gained ground in other countries, creating pan-African momentum. In order to gain further insight into this trend, we decided to dive into a learning expedition around this topic.

The expedition took us to the African continent first,
 to discover local initiatives that connect the worlds of established companies and entrepreneurs/innovators, or that unleash the ‘intrapreneurial’ potential of employees, including: 

  • A Moroccan start-up catalysing the open innovation of large organisations via hackathons;
  • A Senegalese telecom group supporting an employee intrapreneur with his start-up initiative in the health sector;
  • An Egyptian crowdsolving platform enabling African companies to find African solutions to the industrial challenges they face;
  • A start-up in Kigali driving the digitalisation of Rwanda through the development of its platform;
  • An HR start-up and a bank co-building an innovative offer for small and medium-sized businesses in South Africa.

At a time when some are putting up walls, others are building bridges between Africa and the rest of the world, to get the best out of both and leverage the continent’s potential for innovation. Our learning expedition therefore continued beyond the borders of Africa to show:

  • How start-ups from the African diaspora can join forces with a large corporation, headquartered in Paris, to extend the adventure to its African subsidiaries;
  • How international start-ups are taking growing interest in Africa, particularly fintechs;
  • How a telecom multinational provides African developers with its technology via a pan-African platform, as part of an open innovation initiative.

Five key factors of success emerged from these open innovation and intrapreneurship initiatives:

  • Secure the strategic buy-in of top management;
  • Engage operational teams via cultural change management;
  • Be agile while adopting a structured approach;
  • Manage the short and the long term when partaking in open innovation initiatives between start-ups and large companies;
  • Adopt an open mindset. 

In addition to promoting these kinds of initiatives and innovation in Africa, our ambition is to inspire:

  • Companies in Africa and the world to innovate in and for Africa;
  • Employees to turn to intrapreneurship;
 
  • Entrepreneurs to work with established companies.

Our interviewees advise CEOs to:

  • Find ways to constantly reinvent their business;
  • Familiarise themselves with the many case studies 
in African entrepreneurial ecosystems;
  • Trust these ecosystems;
  • Consider innovation as a commitment, not as an end 
in itself;
  • Focus on the growth of entrepreneurs.

 Our advice to intrapreneurs is:

  • Build alliances within your organisation;
  • Get out and network with other professionals from 
various fields to get new ideas;
  • Spur on ideas with the ‘lean start-up’ methodology;
  • Don’t fall in love with an idea, fall in love with solving 
the problem;
  • Adopt the “Captain one minute, pirate the next” 
mentality.

In the face of uberisation, companies that survive will be those that succeed in ‘self-disrupting’, by bringing the best of the start-up world into their organisation and turning internal resources into innovators who,
 in open cross-functional teams, will then create new offers, new products and services, new business units or new start-ups.

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