Gitex Africa looks to power up continent's digital economy
Connecting start-up businesses with investors to power up Morocco’s digital economy will be a major focus of Gitex Africa, the first time the tech conference has been held outside of Dubai.
The three-day event, which got under way on Wednesday, is the largest exhibition of start-up businesses to be held in Africa.
More than 900 companies, government entities, start-ups and participants from at least 100 nations will arrive in Morocco to show how digitisation and technology is transforming the way Africa works.
AgriTech and sustainability are two key themes from entrepreneurs, along with e-commerce platforms, logistics and financial technologies.
One of the standout new businesses hoping to tap into Africa’s rapidly growing digital economy is Mariages.io – a platform developed in Morocco to plan weddings.
Chouaib Rahmouni, chief executive of Marriages.io, created an app that promises to take the stress out of wedding planning.
“The idea came from the challenges people have in Arabic families to find all of the vendors required to plan a wedding,” he said.
“Usually, people call for help from their families or look on social media for help.
“We offer a stable of good quality suppliers, who also need to find good customers who can pay.
“Organising a wedding for hundreds of people can be really complicated and stressful – this helps with that and makes it fun to organise a wedding day.”
Wedding plan pays off
Chouaib Rahmouni, chief executive of Mariages.io, has created a digital platform that promises to take the stress out of wedding planning. Andy Scott / The National
Since setting up 18 months ago, the company now employs 10 people and is looking for a round of investment to grow and expand to other countries across the Middle East and North Africa.
Couples get help to plan their big day every step of the way, from procuring engagement rings, to supplying wedding invitations, booking venues and all the trimmings of a traditional event. More than 2,000 couples have already used the service.
Vendors pay a fee to have their services promoted to prospective couples, who can gain access to the platform free of charge.
A planning schedule provides reminders and suggestions to ensure everything needed for the big day is laid out up to a year in advance.
“Communications during weddings among families can be difficult. This approach to organise everything digitally helps with that too,” said Mr Rahmouni, who is single but came up with the idea after seeing the struggles of his Arab friends in Paris.
“It is changing the mindset of people who want to get married.
“Businesses are becoming more digital and the ecosystem in Morocco is changing – it is giving more opportunity to start-ups.”
Online connectivity is key
More than 250 investors have descended on Gitex Africa to invest in Morocco’s start-up ecosystem, one of the fastest growing in the continent.
That is largely down to widespread internet connectivity in the country, a luxury not experienced across much of Africa.
According to the International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank Group, only 22 per cent of Africa has internet access, compared with 80 per cent in Europe.
That leaves huge potential for growth for digital start-ups such as Yola Fresh, an AgriTech firm in Casablanca that connects farmers with retailers to reduce waste and maximise profits for small-holding agriculture.
“We are digitising the supply chain between farmers and retailers,” said co-founder of Yola Fresh Youssef Mamou, whose background is in traditional retail.
“Most of the food consumed and produced in Morocco and Africa is by small-holding farmers and sold by traditional retailers who are selling around 600kg each day.
“This accounts for 80 per cent of the market.
“There are many issues, such as small-holding farmers not having access to retailers, so they must go through a series of intermediaries who take most of the margins.
“Meanwhile traditional retailers need to do heavy daily operations like going into the wholesale market to collect 25 crates of produce every day. It is not cost effective and it is cumbersome.”
Farmers can gain access to information on what produce is required, what the set price is, what the weather is like and when they will be paid.
More than 400 retailers currently use the service, with an 82 per cent repurchase rate, while a network of 27 Moroccan farms provide regular produce.
Currently, 22 people work with the company advising farmers, with further network growth planned as more investment is won.
The service has accelerated payment for farmers, usually to the day after delivery, and cut waste from unwanted produce by up to 40 per cent due to better harvest planning.
“The beauty of this is that it is seasonal, as well as regional,” said co-chief executive and co-founder of Yola Fresh Larbi Alaoui Belrhiti, who used to work in e-commerce.
“For example, when you taste a tomato, it comes from the south of Morocco, and when it gets hotter, they will be supplied from the coastal areas.
“The idea is not to have one fixed procurement network but to build it out and expand across Africa.”
Source: The National