Co-innovation will open windows for Africa businesses

Startups are solution-rich but may lack adequate runway or market access. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Markets, even those that would be considered boring and unappealing to serve, are in a constant state of flux. Finicky customers, geopolitics, financial markets, technological advances, lobbying, and regulations either grow the opportunity or make it one of diminishing returns. This state is what gives the enterprise c-suite sleepless nights and causes startup founders to rise early with a mix of fear of missing out and the smell of opportunity. The agenda for both is the same; to grow and ensure the sustainability of their businesses but with each is dealt a different hand.

Enterprise, though with an available purse, is often wrought in policies, processes, and politics that make agile innovation a difficult pursuit. Startups, on the other hand, are solution-rich but may lack adequate runway or market access from which to establish themselves and exploit opportunities. Unfortunately, executives from both sides often look at this dynamic as zero-sum.

Barriers to entry across many sectors are reducing and with traditional moats breached, co-innovation offers the best opportunity for both the enterprise and startup to collaborate to improve on the current opportunities or seed entirely new markets delivering strong consumer and shareholder value.

It is indeed unfortunate that in Africa, the concept of co-innovation is yet to catch on, starting from the academic institutions, the different hubs and labs that provide a launchpad to startups and through to the corporate class. Unto each, its silo. Academic institutions are a treasure trove of knowledge, where cross-industry research and development should be happening as a default from both faculty and students.

The outputs from this RnD (research and development) process should ideally find their way to market either on programs facilitated by the institutions or on the shoulders of the graduates who are charged to do all that pertains to the certification attained. These tertiary institution graduands end up either employed or dive into the startup world by choice or forced hand.


Those who opt for employment may find that intrapreneurship is not supported, and where it may be entertained, the quagmire that is intellectual property and fair value realisation if off-putting. Those who go on to start their ventures, then face an uphill task of getting a seat on the table as equals, either as competitors or partners.

We need to reevaluate and reestablish our ecosystem relationships lest opportunities are mopped up from right under our feet from those who co-innovate to compound value and reach.