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OceanHub Africa, Cape Town-based Ocean-Impact Catalyser Disrupting the Growing Blue Economy in Africa

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Oceanhub Africa Team

OceanHub Africa, founded by Alexis Grosskopf and Stéphanie Canac is an organisation based in Cape-Town, South Africa that aims to accelerate the development and adoption of ocean-minded innovations, to unleash the power of African ocean innovators and place Cape Town at the forefront of a more sustainable ocean economy. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Alexis and Stéphanie shared their journey and vision to be the movement that inspires more ocean-conscious entrepreneurs and form the tribe that demonstrates the commercial viability of an ocean-minded economy. Excerpt.

 

OceanHub Africa OHA and problem its solving:

OceanHub Africa was launched in July 2019. It is a non-profit ocean-impact catalyst initiative, supporting ocean-impact ventures in Africa through online acceleration programs and leading an international ocean-minded ecosystem. The organisation is a response to pressing ocean challenges. Having realised that there were B2C organisations in the ocean impact space raising people’s awareness and shifting individual behaviours, some B2G organisations lobbying policy-makers to regulate for ocean conservation, but limited to no B2B organisations helping ocean businesses reduce their impact and support their transition towards a sustainable ocean economy (or Blue Economy).

This, combined with the fact that Cape Town – where OHA was initially launched- sits virtually at the crossroads of three oceans, has good business and entrepreneurship support, strong Marine Science universities and an appeal for sustainable development. It appeared highly relevant to launch OHA.

Set milestones, achievements and impact:

Our mission is to inspire and assist innovative impact start-ups and nurture an environmentally conscious and profitable economy that would effectively mitigate the oceans’ over exploitation, pollution as well as the effects of global warming on the oceans. The first acceleration programme was successfully completed in 2020 despite the challenges and saw 6 startups of different stages (prototyping to growth stage), technologies (digital and hardware) and industries (aquaculture/fisheries, shipping/ship-building, marine renewables/biotechnologies, coastal tourism/ocean-sports, awareness/education) graduating during the Ocean Innovation Africa Summit in Nov 2020.

Our second cohort started earlier in April with 6 new promising African-based, ocean-minded, impact-for-profit innovative businesses.

OHA is supported by a range of partners such as WWF, Mission Blue, 1% for the planet, Dassault Systèmes, Amazon, Sigfox, the V&A Waterfront, French and African Diplomacies, and International Universities. It is a founding partner of the 1000 Ocean Startups coalition to accelerate Ocean Impact Innovation, bringing together the global ecosystem of incubators, accelerators, competitions, matching platforms and VCs supporting startups for ocean impact. Our objective is to scale at least 1000 transformative startups by the end of the Ocean Decade to restore ocean health and achieve SDG14.

Challenges:

Oceans are a common good which means that we need all stakeholders onboard to achieve and sustain our impact. Bringing organisations together and setting common objectives has proven challenging at times but that was the reason for launching Ocean Innovation Africa, a platform bringing authorities, universities/research centres, investors/entrepreneurs, foundations/NPOs and ocean industries together with the objectives to  inspire more entrepreneurs, entice more private investors and catalyse more partnerships, and ultimately to accelerate the development and adoption of new sustainable technologies and policies to place the African continent at the forefront of a decidedly more sustainable ocean economy.

Funding:

Self-funded from the start, we are client-funded through consultancy projects and success fees on fund raises or commercial contracts for the startups we accelerate. That being said, we are looking for funding to support our growth.

COVID-19, business and survival strategy:

Initially, OHA was supposed to be an in-person program – enabled by the support of the V&A Waterfront. But our first cohort started in April 2020 when lockdowns were gradually placing our global economy on hold. We had to pivot in a matter of weeks to a fully online, more localised (SA) program and review our financing model. Indeed, regarding the latter, we had hoped to raise marketing and open innovation sponsorships from corporations to finance our activities but these two budgets were frozen in the face of the uncertain future of the then recent outbreak.

At that stage, we started our first consulting project – thanks to the support and trust of our partners, in particular the V&A Waterfront and WWF South Africa.

On current projects:

We are currently accelerating 6 startups from Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania and South Africa, as well as continuing our support in the form of an Alumni Program to our first cohort of 6 (all South African startups). In parallel, we are delivering on a couple of consulting projects to promote and support coastal community projects in the South West Indian Ocean region, as well as another one on plastic pollution.

Finally, we are working on setting up an African Ocean Impact Fund – but still a long way to go.

Ocean economy development in Africa:

Oceans are the life support of our planet. They drive our climate, provide food and water to all living things, and connect our continents. The annual value of the global Ocean’s Economy (formal and informal) is estimated at $2.5 trillion and is expected to grow substantially, doubling by 2030. However, our societies are already generating tremendous stress and strain onto these ecosystems and this vast untapped economic potential needs to be addressed in a radically more sustainable manner. We believe it is down to businesses to implement that change and up us to promote more Oceans-conscious innovative businesses: innovations led by science, technology and entrepreneurship will provide the necessary leverage points to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), at the right pace and scale.

Africa offers a particularly high potential in terms of Blue Economy developments, paving the way to ocean community-based resource management and offering an ideal ground to test and scale impact innovation. Africa’s ocean economy – three times the size of its landmass – is on top of the continent’s political agenda and seen to be a major contributor to continental transformation and growth of industries such as fisheries and aquaculture, marine renewables and bio-technologies, boat building and shipping, coastal tourism and ocean-sports, etc. The development of the Blue Economy is an immensely important first step towards creating Sustainable Development pathways and this is what OceanHub Africa (OHA) and the Ocean Innovation Africa event (OIA) do.

The future for OHA:

Growing our network of partners in African coastal cities to support our pan-African growth and impact. And of course, setting up our accelerator fund.

 

F O U N D E R S   B I O G R A P H P Y

Alexis Grosskopf is the co-founder and CEO of OceanHub Africa. His desire to build this startup incubator, specializing in technologies that have a positive impact on the ocean, was born out of his entrepreneurial and technological skills, his determination to tackle issues related to environmental protection and his identification of a real need to develop solutions that support blue growth.

Alexis holds a degree in mechanical engineering, business management and environmental engineering from the Universities of King’s College and Imperial College in London. His career has revolved around the themes of innovation and sustainable development, starting with research on solar hydrogen production, then moving on to consulting in environmental engineering and management at Bureau Veritas before joining Bouygues Construction as head of Research, Development and Innovation in the renovation sector.

His activity then turned towards the development of innovations through entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship. In 2017, he moved to South Africa to take charge of the activities of the French South African Tech Labs, an incubator with social impact in the field of information technology, before diving into the oceans with OceanHub Africa in 2019.

Stéphanie Canac is the co-founder of OceanHub Africa. Stéphanie co-created and implemented the acceleration program (content, tools, partnerships, mentors, application and selection process, etc.) and she has a mentoring role with accelerated startups. She participates in consolidating the local and global ecosystem, having in particular co-created the first international coalition of entrepreneurial support organizations focusing on ocean impact innovation (incubators / accelerators and VC funds) and representing the initiative in front of various institutions, such as the United Nations.

Stéphanie has former experience as portfolio manager at Silvertree Holdings, Cape-Town based VC fund (1.5 yr), supporting management teams on strategic decisions, setting up/ scaling operations and raising funds and as strategy consultant at A.T. Kearney (3 yrs), working across industries on strategic, operational and organizational projects as well as strategic due-diligences. She is a graduate from a MSc in Economics and Strategy for Business from Imperial College London and from a Master in Corporate Finance from Dauphine university in Paris.

 

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Claire Rutambuka: Showcasing the beauty of diversity

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Claire RUTAMBUKA is an entrepreneur and the creator of Akâna Dolls. Beyond her professional background in International Trade, she has always been passionate about the creation of small and diverse objects. During her early childhood in Rwanda, she was fortunate to have toys and in particular a doll that she cared very much about. It was not only a privilege to have a doll but even more so to have one with her skin color. 

When Claire Rutambuka became a mother years later, she was surprised that she couldn’t easily find such a doll for her children that would showcase the beauty of little black girls. That’s how the idea of creating “Akâna Dolls” came about. Akâna is a word of Rwandan origin that can be translated as “little child”. It’s also a nod to the founder’s origins. 

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The brand was born from a mother’s desire to meet a need; namely, giving all children the opportunity to choose a doll they can relate to and adults an additional choice when it comes to gifting. After the first realization of the “Kaliza” doll, the ambition is to gradually expand the collection to include more skin shades and hair textures, so that every child feels represented.

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Hakeem Abogunde: Building Slash, a solution for Africa B2B market

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Hakeem Abogunde, CEO Slash Africa. SLASH is a decentralized B2B marketplace where buyers and sellers meet to facilitate and protect their transactions. Buyers can place orders and make payment into “Slash Account”. Slash will hold the fund until item(s) is delivered. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online (BAO), Hakeem shares his journey into tech entrepreneurship and how he is building the solution for Africa’s B2B marketplace with Slash. Excerpt.

 

Alaba: To start with, could you share your journey into tech entrepreneurship?

Hakeem: Growing up as a kid, I was the type of guy who loved the internet. I spent most of my time reading, studying, and researching information and news on the internet. Most times, I would be on my computer from night till the next morning; that’s how attached I was to the internet space. 

My journey as a tech entrepreneur started in 2005 when I dropped out of school to pursue my career as an entrepreneur. I joined my sister in her wholesale business at Lagos Island. During this period, I witnessed how people traveled from different parts of Nigeria to Lagos just to purchase products and resell them in their various locations.  This journey was usually stressful, time-consuming, and costly. As an internet expert, I began to think of how I could use the internet to connect with these people and stop them from traveling to Lagos. Unfortunately, the internet wasn’t as popular then, and the only functioning platform available was Nairaland. On Nairaland, I would post some of our products and connect with a few people who were online at that time. 

After a few years in the business, I joined a Multi-Level Marketing company where I led a team of over 500 sales reps. In the Multi-Level Marketing company, we usually went offline to meet with customers, sell our products to them, and get paid based on the sales volume. As an internet expert, to increase my team’s sales volume, I started selling the products online using different social media platforms. However, I later realized that most of these platforms were not efficient. It was then that I decided to build my own e-commerce website. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to write code then.

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So, I enrolled in a web programming course online, and as a fast learner, in less than 3 months, I was able to build our own e-commerce site from scratch. That actually increased our sales volume by 10 times. I started falling in love with programming and became a freelancer. I worked as a freelancer, developing mobile and web applications for both individuals and companies for 5 years. After, I decided to build a startup.

 

Alaba: You are currently building a solution for Africa’s B2B market through your venture, Slash Africa. Kindly tell us more and the inspiration behind it?

Hakeem: Slash Africa is a decentralized B2B marketplace that connects African retailers with suppliers globally and enables them to carry out secure transactions without any intermediary. 

I got the inspiration when I was working with my sister in her wholesale business. I discovered a huge economic inequality between suppliers and retailers. For instance, one of the biggest problems Nigeria is currently facing is artificial scarcity perpetuated by most suppliers in other to increase the price of their products. This creates a market environment that heavily favors them, leaving retailers at a disadvantage. Having experienced this myself, I think now is the best time to democratize Africa’s wholesale market. This will give retailers access to varieties of quality products at very competitive prices and also save them more money and time.

 

Alaba: What sets Slash Africa apart from other Africa B2B market solutions, and how are you positioning it to become the go-to solution for Africa’s B2B market?

Hakeem: We are the first decentralized marketplace in Africa. We allow both small and big suppliers to list their products and enable direct interaction between suppliers and retailers, allowing them to define their terms and conditions of transactions without an intermediary. This will increase the level of trust and transparency and also gives everyone equal access to the market. Additionally, by operating on a decentralized fulfillment management system, we make our operation faster and minimize cost.

 

Alaba: What have been Slash Africa’s biggest challenges, and how do you overcome them?

Hakeem: Initially, our intention was to build a platform that enables everyone to create their own independent online store in minutes without coding. But we later realized that most suppliers/sellers, after creating their stores, didn’t have the money and skills to promote their stores. As a result, they didn’t make any sales and they would abandon their store. At that point, we decided to convert it to a marketplace, this enables them not just to create their stores but also connects them with potential customers.

 

Alaba: Raising capital has been one of the major challenges entrepreneurs face. How are you currently fundraising?

Hakeem: Raising funds as a local founder is very difficult if you don’t have any investor connections. Most African investors are not helping the situation either. Imagine this: because an African investor doesn’t know you, they won’t want to have anything to do with you. They also like to copy the US model. Technology in Africa is still at a very early stage, and the level of adoption is still very low compared to the US.  Without local experience, getting people to adopt your solution will be very difficult, and this is where local founders have the advantage. So far, we have been funding our project through bootstrapping and support from families and friends.

 

Alaba: Can you tell us your impression of the current entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem in Africa? How have you seen it transform in the last 5 years?

Hakeem: In the last 5 years, the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem in Africa has been growing rapidly. I see a lot of young entrepreneurs solving problems by leveraging modern technologies. But we need to work more in the area of getting people to adopt these solutions, and that is where local expertise is needed.

 

Alaba: What are Slash Africa’s priorities/plans for the year, and where do you see this venture in the next 5 years?

Hakeem: This year, our priorities involve raising funds, strengthening our team, scaling in Nigeria and reaching $1 million in monthly sales. In the next 5 years, we are projecting Slash Africa to hit $200 million in monthly sales and become the largest B2B marketplace in Africa.

 

Alaba: What is your advice to budding entrepreneurs aspiring to go into tech?

Hakeem: My advice to entrepreneurs aspiring to go into tech is to come with the pure intention to solve a problem and not just for the money. Because when you prioritize money, you won’t have the drive to build the business, and eventually, you will fail. Secondly, you also need to love the people you are building the project for because this will also be your driving force.

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Alassane Sakho: The Senegalese Serial Entrepreneur

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Alassane Sakho is a young and brilliant Senegalese entrepreneur, Telecommunications engineer specialized in the Technical-Commercial field, He founded KALIMO GROUP in January 2023, with the ambition to contribute to the development of Senegal. A graduate of ESMT in Dakar, Alassane is passionate about sales, ICT, Mobile Money and real estate. He began his career in 2010 with the Orange Money Senegal and Orange Business Service projects. Later, he joined large real estate companies as a commercial developer, (SIPRES SA, SENEGINDIA, TEYLIUM Group and the company Fimolux, where he held the position of General Manager of the commercial subsidiary. 

Alassane Sakho has also supported many Senegalese and international companies in their development in Senegal, including Wizall Money, ATPS, MOODS, etc. Its vision extends beyond national borders, initially targeting West Africa, with projects planned in Mali, Gambia, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire, before expanding to other parts of the continent. 

Kalimo is involved in various areas of activity, including real estate development, digital communication, sales, rental and asset management, construction, training, advice and assistance. In addition, the company plans to enter the film industry, with its subsidiary K7film, which will produce short and feature films, animated films, corporate communication, documentaries, etc.

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Apart from his professional activities, Alassane SAKHO is involved in sports, especially football. He coaches youngsters from 8 to 20 years old and has the honour of winning the “Universal Youth Cup” tournament in 2019 in Italy, against big clubs such as Inter Milan, Ajax Amsterdam, Atletico Madrid and AC Milan. Its main objective is to consolidate Kalimo’s presence in Africa and to help foreign companies wishing to set up in Senegal.

Finally, its digital team is ready to help companies or public figures increase their notoriety and visibility on social media. Other areas of activity, such as agribusiness and mass distribution, are currently being explored.

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