After Europe and the Americas, come with us to discover the 7 most innovative cities in Africa and the Middle East.
Casablanca: The economic capital of Morocco stands out among major African cities thanks to its economic vibrancy, its international openness and its endless potential. 2016 was a key year for the city and for the country. A promising startup ecosystem has taken its first steps, with around 200 young companies in business. Accelerators and incubators have also begun to flourish, creating a support structure for the new startups. Numa, for instance, has continued to go global by setting up shop in Casablanca. On 18 May 2016, the city also hosted the first Smart City Expo Casablanca on the theme of ‘Open, innovative and inclusive cities’. The event was a first for the continent, and cements the Moroccan city’s place as the leading African hub. Casablanca is fully committed to becoming a truly smart city. That’s why it’s launched its very first cluster, e-Medina, which is designed to make the city more attractive and competitive and to develop a startup ecosystem that’s unified in its aim of accelerating the city’s transformation through digital technology.
Cairo: Boosted by its history and its culture, the Egyptian capital is beginning to see the emergence of a startup ecosystem and communities of hackers. These communities haphazardly came about during the Egyptian Arab Spring in 2011, and the authorities are now gradually becoming interested in them as a driver of growth and innovation. Every year, the city also hosts the Rise up Summit, one of the biggest innovation events in the Muslim world, which is mainly attended by Middle-Eastern startups.
Tel Aviv: The promised land of Israeli startups, Tel Aviv – also known as Silicon Wadi – attracts digital entrepreneurs and startuppers from across the country and all over the world. The country’s second-biggest city was also voted one of the most innovative cities in the world by Citibank. The renowned online magazine Genome also gave it second place in its ranking of the most attractive cities for young startups. The country’s nickname of ‘the startup nation’ is richly deserved – innovation is a central part of Israeli society. For example, the country – and Tel Aviv in particular – has one of the highest levels of research investment, and is also home to the largest number of startups as a proportion of its population. Tel Aviv has been able to develop and become so attractive to foreigners (particularly the French) thanks to the government’s investment policy. Silicon Wadi is the second-largest high-tech centre in the world, just after Silicon Valley, and the central pillar in the Israeli digital ecosystem – so it’s only natural that the region drives the Middle East. However, the health of this innovation hub is highly dependent on Europe and the United States, as foreign investment plays a key role in fuelling the Israeli economy.
Abidjan: A vibrant West African city, Abidjan stands out from other major African capitals due to its high growth rate and increasing investment both from foreign investors and the government. After a violent and difficult past, the country is working to improve its image and make itself more attractive internationally in the hope of becoming Africa’s economic backbone. As a result, the government is striving to give innovation a central role in driving Côte d’Ivoire forwards.It’s why on 7 July 2016, the government created the Ivorian Innovation Fund (FII) in partnership with the African Development Bank. This fund will have around 131 billion CFA francs (around €200 million) at its disposal to strengthen innovative infrastructure and boost the development of entrepreneurship and startups. Making sustainable investments in innovation is the Ivorian government’s top priority. In addition, for the last two years, the Ivorian capital has hosted the TedX conference, which has been a roaring success with the country’s entrepreneurs, artists and intellectual figures. The themes discussed at these conferences demonstrate the people’s optimism, their drive to reinvent the country, and their desire to make Côte d’Ivoire an international innovation hub. And when it comes to the aim of improving its image, the message has been received loud and clear by major businesses such as Orange, which has decided to set up Orange Fab in Abidjan, an accelerator to support and boost startups through intensive coaching.
Nairobi: Kenya’s capital city is a pioneer of innovation in Africa. At the heart of Silicon Savannah (which we’ll come to later), Nairobi has one of the biggest startup ecosystems in Africa. A range of tech hubs have been developed in the Kenyan capital, such as the famous iHub founded by Erik Hersman (a pillar of the city’s tech community), the 88mph Garage and m:Lab East Africa. The Kenyan ecosystem is also strongly influenced by Ory Okolloh, the co-founder of Ushahidi, who Time magazine has described as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. A seasoned cyber-activist, blogger and Harvard-trained lawyer, she has worked to expand internet access in Africa. In 2007, only 5000 Kenyans had an internet service subscription, whereas this figure now stands at 12 million. Better internet access has helped the country and its capital to develop and boost its tech sphere – resulting in the emergence of startups such as Sendy (an Uber-style delivery service), BRCK (a portable modem) and Waabeh (the Kenyan iTunes), which have become true digital champions. In addition, a number of major groups including Google, IBM, Intel, Samsung and Microsoft have decided to set up in the capital despite a number of drawbacks such as lack of security due to frequent attacks.
Silicon Savannah: Also known as Konza City, Silicon Savannah is one aspect of ‘Vision 2030’, a project designed to help boost Kenya’s economy. This 2000-hectare futuristic space will be built 60km from the Kenyan capital within the next 20 years. This unique African venue will be home to an ecosystem of startups, investors and researchers, allowing this new hub to compete with the biggest innovation centres worldwide. By 2017, the first stages of this amazing project will emerge from the African savannah, kitted out with suitable basic operational infrastructure. This development initiative is set to cost between $10 billion and $14.5 billion, and will create a huge number of jobs. Only 5% of the project will be funded by the Kenyan government, with the rest coming from private players. For example, major groups such as Samsung have already been mentioned as potential stakeholders in this new hub.
Masdar City: Located a few kilometres from Abu Dhabi, Masdar City is a new green city that’s been under construction since 2008. Aiming to be the first city with no waste, no carbon and no oil, this huge project comes with a similarly big price tag – around $16 billion. Formed of two blocks covering 150,000 m2 around the Institute of Science and Technology and the headquarters of the International Renewable Agency, this futuristic city is at the heart of a project to develop environmental technology. The city’s infrastructure is fitted with temperature regulation equipment, and is self-sufficient thanks to a highly developed system of solar panels. However, this project – far too optimistic in a country where environmental contradictions reign supreme – is currently experiencing very little success. According to reports from a number of international students, this mirage in the middle of the desert is actually more of a ghost city.