In 2015, Haweya Mohamed created Afrobytes, an annual marketplace gathering tech talent from all across the world with the desire to meet the needs of African innovation hubs. Ayiba’s Precious Obiabunmo interviews Haweya about her entrepreneurship journey, balancing the gender conversation when it comes to technology and opportunity, and her newest initiative: The Colors. This NextGen Series is in partnership with the Concordia Summit.
How do you define ‘entrepreneur?’ What had shaped that definition for you?
I knew very quickly that my life should take that path. Before me, no one was an entrepreneur in my family. I did not start with the idea of being the next Unicorn, but simply with the idea to meet great people and have an impact on peoples’ lives. I also like risks, my whole life so far has been marked by risks. It used to stress my mother a lot, but she is used to it now. She trusts me.
For me, entrepreneurship is being highly open to the idea of changing the world.
It must come from my education. My mother (I lost my father when I was 2) raised 5 kids alone and in her daily life she bootstrapped, but she always found some time to tell us to do our best in life – for ourselves and for others. This is what I am doing today. I meet the people I want to meet, I work with the people I want to work with, and moreover, I share my experience with the next generation. I love encouraging people.
What’s your mission statement as an entrepreneur?
Our mission is to redefine the relationship between Africa and Europe through technology and innovation. Beyond the economic project, it was important in 2015 when we started to show the world a continent they do not necessarily know. Five years ago the words “Africa and innovation” didn’t really go together… Today it’s a fact. At the time, we wanted to change the key words dedicated to Africa, I have the feeling that it has evolved a little bit.
How is Afrobytes defining its social impact long term, and what role do you see for government or civil society partners in achieving that vision?
Afrobytes, an international marketplace, is the only event that brings together the world’s experts in African technology in Paris. Afrobytes’ mission is to connect the best of African tech with the best of global tech.
Leading companies such as Facebook, Google, Consensys, SAP, Kaspersky, LVMH, Sanofi, JCDecaux, Instagram, Alibaba and many others have participated in Afrobytes to meet the best technological talent in African markets. These events are covered by international media such as BBC, France 24, Quartz, TechCrunch, Black Enterprise, Forbes, TV5Monde, Les Echos, and Le Figaro. The work and influence of Afrobytes is now recognized around the world.
In 2018, Ammin and I were ranked among the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company magazine (rank 94-95) and the 50 Most Daring Entrepreneurs by Entrepreneur magazine.
It means a lot for us, it shows that people understand the role we play, the collaborations between the participants created, the networks built (companies, investors, media, startups) and the visibility we offer thanks to organizational like you, the media.
It is also very important for us to showcase female founders to allow young girls all over the world to see that wherever they are and whatever they do it is possible to create their own opportunity and a new reality. What I am also happy about is that a lot of people from the African continent meet each other at Afrobytes and begin to work together. With the crisis, what is very interesting is that it allowed many startups to show what they can really do.
I remember reading an interview with a member of the Algerian government about this. A “reconciliation” has taken place between them and governments. They naturally went to offer their solutions such as geo-tracking, edtech, and obviously health-related services (like telemedicine).
Fostering community is central to Afrobytes’ mission. What are some of the current challenges you’re facing in light of the pandemic, especially considering your community is so international?
The situation has changed a lot of things for us. We had to postpone our annual event at Station F. The next one will be on June 16th, 2021 in Paris. The good thing is that we could maintain our network with a few online events. What was really impressive was the fact that the participants were even more international. That is the power of digital. The context forces us to be more creative and it is not a bad thing. It will be for the good of our community: The African Tech Industry.
How is Afrobytes balancing the gender conversation when it comes to technology and opportunity?
We try to vary the speakers as much as possible and respect gender parity, which has given us the opportunity to be among the events/networks that support “diverse” and under-represented founders in the European technological ecosystem.
Please tell us about your newest initiative: The Colors. What is the legacy you hope to create with it?
The Colors is an international platform dealing with Fashion and Beauty tech dedicated to people of color. Our baseline is: Diversity is a fact and Inclusion is a choice. We will explore the intersections with Innovation, Design, Market & Investment.
The Colors is dedicated to people who are underrepresented in those two industries. A platform for people whose market is ignored.
I believe that being misunderstood only leads to being under-served and innovation can help meet our needs.
The conversation has already started in the U.S., we also would like to start the conversation in Europe and connect with all the actors across the world to showcase diverse founders, designers, and talents, as well as create networking opportunities and inspire those who will be part of those industries in the future. Our first physical event will be in Paris at Station F on January 28th, 2021. Before that, we will have online events each month starting in September. Stay tuned!
This Next Gen Series Interview is in partnership with the Concordia Summit.