ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA - A U.S.-government initiative to spread innovation and entrepreneurship in Muslim-majority countries is preparing its first boot camp in sub-Saharan Africa.
In the offices of the Global Innovation Through Science and Technology, applications are being processed and new partnerships are being made for the upcoming West Africa Startup Boot Camp in Dakar, Senegal.
The July event will include motivational speaking, practical seminars, mentoring, meetings with potential investors and a pitch competition.
The program targets entrepreneurs trying to develop businesses specifically in the fields of energy, healthcare, agriculture and information and communications technology.
About 100 participants are expected from Senegal and other West African countries.
Similar events have been held this year in north Africa, Turkey and southeast Asia, but this will be the first taking place in sub-Saharan Africa.
Program manager Ovidiu Bujorean explains the so-called boot camp will welcome a wider range of applicants than usual, to include people who haven’t yet tried but hope to become entrepreneurs.
“Sub-Saharan Africa has very good potential for entrepreneurship," said Bujorean. "It is key though to attract the most passionate and able and fired up wannabe entrepreneurs so that we can channel all the resources we can provide in terms of expertise, exposure, visibility, tools, knowledge to the people that have the highest chance of success in being entrepreneurs.”
Winners of the pitch competition get to go on a road trip to U.S. university campuses and technology hubs where more teaching, networking and funding opportunities will be provided.
The idea stems from President Barack Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo, Egypt, when he said education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century.
The U.S. State Department funds the Global Innovation through Science and Technology, known by its acronym GIST.
Bujorean has come up with his own hopeful terminology.
“The entrepreneurs that we are recruiting and bringing through our events, through the boot camps and also through the competitions that we are organizing, we call them GIST transformers, because we think that through the power of technology and entrepreneurship they can have a big impact on their communities, they can generate prosperity for their families and also for their countries. We think that is a kind of inspirational way of describing their work and efforts," he said.
In other parts of the world, a Lebanese engineer developing a device to monitor cardiac patients outside the hospital won a video-based competition.
Other participants in north Africa have been able to raise more than $500,000 for their businesses.
Organizers hope the upcoming Dakar event will be followed by more events in sub-Saharan Africa, including in Nigeria and in eastern Africa.