Tanzania’s top tech players share pathways to success

From up left: Godfrey Magila Founder and CEO, MagilaTech, Murtaza Ebrahim Founder, CEO, Imperial Innovation, Iain Usiri Co-Founder and CEO, Ramani, Edwin Bruno Founder and CEO, SAG, Faith Pella Founder and CEO, Y9 and Princely Glorious – Co-Founder, Ona Stories. PHOTO | COURTES

Summary

  • Tanzania has a growing technology and innovation industry. However, finding success in this nascent space requires strategy and acumen.

Dar es Salaam. Tanzania’s technology space is replete with talent and innovators that are breaking new ground every day, but mostly under the radar.

According to Disrupt Africa, African tech startups raised $2.7 billion in total funding in the first three quarters of 2022, almost 30 percent more than the $2.1 billion banked in the entirety of 2021.

While startups around the globe recorded a significant decline in funding last year, Africa continued its upward trend with $4.8 billion raised by the end of December.

However, despite these positive figures and a promising outlook, Tanzania has not fully tapped into this investor cash and continues to lag behind its peers in terms of attracting tech financiers. But this does not mean that the local tech space is without lucrative projects and prospects. More so, the current focus by the Ministry of Information, Communication, and Information Technology, working closely with the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), to make Tanzania Africa’s online business hub, means there’s more to look forward to for local players and foreign investors looking to invest in technology in the country.

CEO of the Tanzania Startup Association (TSA), Zahoro Muhaji, once said that there are young innovators who attract millions of dollars in investment but choose not to publicise their wins. “I met a young startup duo that had scored $500,000 (Sh1.15 billion) in investment, but they were not enthusiastic about making the news public for various reasons,” Zahoro said.

But despite the fear of making tech wins known on the local scene, Tanzania has a growing list of established and new tech players who want to change the narrative by showing that the local techsphere is growing and attracting investors. However, for Tanzania to fully maximize its tech potential, they share some insights on what should be done.

This group of tech billionaires runs businesses worth billions of shillings in assets and projects and creates value. From recording millions of dollars in investment to entering lucrative partnerships, they have mastered the art of commercializing the technology space.

In our inaugural The Citizen Tanzania Top Tech Billionaires, we bring to light not just the achievements of key players and stakeholders in Tanzania; it also helps chart a roadmap to better awareness, understanding, infrastructure, policy amendments, and other opportunities that young people in the tech and innovation space can tap into. According to Murtaza Ebrahim, CEO and founder of Imperial Innovation, an electronic manufacturer with expertise in software development and hardware construction, the challenges are vast. This is something that Godfrey Magila, CEO and Founder of MagilaTech, echoes and adds: “A lot of my success in this sector has had to do with luck, and this is an element that many of us in this sector have to rely on.” MagilaTech is a software developer and cyber security company.

However, of all these problems and challenges, Edwin Bruno, the CEO and founder of Smart Africa Group (SAG), a conglomerate that runs interconnected platform companies that solve African challenges using R&D, business development, and strategy, remains a big advocate for creating avenues of opportunity for young people. Having started his journey while a second-year student, he attests that “it takes a lot of hard work and thinking outside the box to create an empire that serves the community you are in.”

In serving the community, Ms Faith Pella, another crucial key player in the technology sector who’s the CEO of Y9 – a fintech firm and co-founder of KilimoFresh, an agri-fintech company, believes in the old adage that charity begins at home. For her, technology should not discriminate against or leave others behind, but also, because of its nature, "technology should begin to be available at very early stages."

“Technology entrepreneurship should be taught in schools so people understand what they are getting into,” said Magila, who was fortunate enough to pass through the DTBi incubator and learn this aspect of technology. It was at the incubator that he was taught that for his work to be a success, he had to be more than passionate. He was advised that his products had to have an impact on society while making him money at the same time. Today, Magila runs a multimillion-dollar tech business with over 120 employees.

Iain Usiri, the CEO and one of the three co-founders of Ramani, a cloud network of third-party micro-distribution centres for Africa’s trillion-dollar consumer packaged goods (CPG) supply chain, believes that technology, if done well, is able to create a community of people who understand the importance of a sustainable value chain that co-exists within a nurturing culture.

As creators of a platform that helps microdistributors manage their businesses with an eagle’s eye view of all they possess, Usiri shares that the key lies in the team you put together and how you nurture each individual to understand the goal.

Perhaps there’s no one who has mastered the art of leveraging tech disruption in an industry quite as well as Princely Glorious, the young innovator who is the co-founder of OnaStories, an Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and digital storytelling company; shows that in a highly digitised world, there is so much information to process and at times, this leads to a failure to find focus. To him, young people in the tech business, and any other business at that, could do with “very guided and tailored coaching,” something he is passionate about doing.

With challenges ranging from lack of capital to poor understanding of the sector, lack of opportunity and exposure, unsupportive communities, regulations that haven’t fully captured the space, and more, these tech gurus share some of their blueprints for coping in the sector and some of the ways in which it can be improved to create better opportunities for Tanzanians.