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Murky backwaters of local tech deals killing innovations

Not all innovators benefit from partnerships that bring on board financiers with different business models. FILE PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH
Not all innovators benefit from partnerships that bring on board financiers with different business models. FILE PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

Perhaps I am a little naive in my optimism that since technology affords us opportunities for transparency and openness in our interactions, that we would strive to purge detrimental habits, cultures, persons and even organisations lest we we kill the nascent opportunity that lies in the Silicon Savannah and beyond.

I made a startling discovery following the recent negative mention in the media, of a well-respected technology hinged business.

The resulting sidebars pointed to the existence of murky backwaters where in the pursuit of additional business, capital or other such growth engines a number of promising technology firms, mostly start-ups, find themselves fighting to survive and disengage from partnerships that are more yin than yang — alluding to balance that is expected in any mutually beneficial relationship.

My two questions to those who share candidly during face-to-face conversions but would not raise a voice in public spaces — physical or digital, is first — what is the basis of subsequent fallouts and second – why not raise your voice on the perceived rouge nature of a partner?

On the first, I would best summarise the feedback as reverse engineering. For a number of techpreneurs, it becomes apparent soon after the start of a partnership post legalese, that the better-heeled partner is working to reverse engineer the process, the technology or the model — whichever it is that is delivering competitive advantage. 

On the second, the lack of strong associations, the current limited breadth of possible partners and limited mediation options outside of lawyers, make techpreneurs opt to cut their losses and at best pivot or reinvent themselves, having shared ingredients of a secret sauce with an ally now turned foe.

While this is most definitely not confined to the burgeoning tech scene in Africa and is possibly the mainstay in other industries, I can only hope that we develop strong independent institutions for dispute resolution and nurture a true culture of collaboration and competition and where extended value can be realised, opt for acquisitions, acquires and mergers, which are all possible recommended paths. 

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