Ghana

Ghana's reputation as a safe destination for investment attracted Mark Davies in 2001 to set up BusyInternet, a multipurpose tech hub that started incubating start-ups. Hosted at BusyInternet, I started the Ghana New Ventures Competition that begot SMSGH— the leading value-added service provider that made USD5 million in revenue last year. SMSGH celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2015 with the opening of its own ultramodern office built without external investment or debt.

In 2008, the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology was set up as a two-year software training school, which then accepted student's ideas in its incubator program. Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology has so far invested USD15 million in more than 20 early-stage companies, some of which are Retail Tower; Dropifi, a customer support widget by the first Ghanaian start-up to be accepted into the 500 start-ups accelerator in San Francisco; Nandimobile, a business directory service; Leti Arts, a games developer focusing on African characters; ClaimSync, an electronic medical claims processing company (which was acquired by Genkey, a biometric solutions providers); and Saya Mobile, a mobile street messaging platform that was acquired by Kirusa of the United States (Nshehe 2014).

The start-up ecosystem is not only building up in East Legon (where Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology is located alongside two other incubators, Mobile Web Ghana and ServLed), but also in Osu and Labone, where co-working spaces Impact Hub Accra and iSpace, respectively, are located. These incubators and co-working spaces constitute the nerve center for the start-up ecosystem in Ghana.

mPedigree and Sproxil are leading Ghanaian start-ups that have gone global with technology that allows one to authenticate medications and other materials via SMS. Farmerline and Esoko have similarly gone global with mobile web technology that allows farmers to communicate among themselves in their local dialect, get weather updates, access markets directly, and negotiate prices for their produce. Ghana's SMSGH has expanded into three African markets and is increasingly global (Venture Burn 2015).

The goverment's effort to channel capital into the ecosystem resulted in the establishment of the Venture Capital Trust Fund, a fund of funds managed by third-party fund managers, and recently started the Ghana Angel Investor Network to enable early-stage investments. The government plans to build a technology park in the free-zones enclave in the port city of Tema to enable business process outsourcing and provide for additional development of technology companies. In addition, there is the Ghana Cyber City initiative, a private sector-led effort to build Ghana's Silicon Valley, which would be located in East Legon, nestled between the University of Ghana and the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration close to where the current start-up ecosystem is developing.

SMSGH is a model of a next-generation company with an interesting story. It was started by Alex Bram and Ernest Apenteng, childhood friends who attended the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi. The university was built by Ghana's founding father, President Kwame Nkrumah, to advance the cause of science and technology education. Like most Ghanaian families, Alex's and Ernest's parents expected them to complete their university education and get white-collar jobs. However, in their penultimate long university vacation, they decided to enter the Ghana New Venture Competition instead of going to London to earn some money from a part-time job.

The Ghana New Venture Competition program - according to Gregg Zachary (1997), author of Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century -was a revolutionary movement to activate the entrepreneurial spirit of the Ghanaian youth. In the afternoons of the three-month-long program, the program brought in successful Ghanaian entrepreneurs to tell the participants their life stories and how they made it on their entrepreneurial journey. According to Alex, it was during one of these sessions that he decided to become an entrepreneur.

After college, he partnered with his friends Ernest and Leslie Gyimah to start Urban Hive, which later became SMSGH, a mobile value-added service provider that focuses on communication, content, and commerce. The company has been growing year on year for the last ten years, earning USD5 million in revenue in 2014. SMSGH is a role model in many ways and proves that although the entrepreneurial environment is tough, it is possible to break through and build a great business from nothing, with no investments or debt. The company is a market leader with a great execution team of 42 employees and an exceptional chief technology officer in the person of Kwadwo Sienti, who joined later. The company now has expansion offices in Kenya for East Africa, Cameroon for Central Africa, and Nigeria for the greater West African market. The company's next 10 year plan is to become Africa's most useful mobile applications company by blending communication, content, and commerce into a mobile-cloud platform that works for 200,000 businesses, serving 250 million people across the continent by 2025.

Ghana has other innovative next-generation companies such as Rancard Solutions, a multinational mobile telecom software and advertising business; DreamOval, a data science enterprise software and cloud services company; and Farmerline, a platform that empowers small-scale farmers with innovative mobile technology and information services.