Frankfurt (Germany), September 2019. Next in our series of Company Builder profiles will be Maxime Bayen. Maxime joins us with extensive experience in the ICT and Telecom sectors in emerging markets including Central Asia, Africa, and Asia-Pacific. Maxime’s experience is particularly well-rounded from his work with the GSMA, providing valuable perspective on DFI concerns and sensibilities. We sat with Maxime to learn more about his background:
What is your sector specialty? What do you see for the future of this sector in Africa?
I have been working for around a decade with mobile operators across emerging markets. In Africa specifically the mobile sector has been booming over that time to the point that the continent is now often called a “mobile first and mobile only” region. According to GSMA, today in Africa, there are over 630 million unique mobile subscribers. This number is growing by 5% on an annual basis and will reach close to 800 million in 5 years’ time. Responding to this growth are hundreds of mobile operators which today have reached a significant scale but are admittedly also struggling to keep up with the innovation rhythm. That translates into a fantastic opportunity for thousands of innovative start-ups across the continent. Mobile operators have the scale that start-ups lack while start-ups have the innovation that mobile operators are increasingly struggling to develop.
What is your experience with entrepreneurship in Africa?
Through a programme dubbed GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator I contributed to launch back in 2016, I had the amazing opportunity to engage with hundreds of entrepreneurs across Asia Pacific and Africa. With the team we ended up funding and supporting 34 start-ups in 23 countries across the 2 regions. These start-ups were across all sectors, from healthcare to education, from energy to recycling, from agriculture to fintech. Beyond the funding, our main focus was to drive synergies between those accelerated start-ups and local mobile operators allowing these impactful start-ups to scale.
Can you share an anecdote or success story that shows how you work?
One of the start-ups I had the chance to work with is called Sudpay and is based in Senegal. They have developed a mobile solution for small merchants to pay taxes to municipal authorities transparently (up to 70% of these taxes are usually not collected due to fraud and unclear processes. This in turns prevents municipalities to build local infrastructure, schools or health centres for instance). When Sudpay’s team applied to the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator programme, their application was a bit unclear (mainly due to the language barrier), the solution they were proposing to scale had not been fully tested, and for it to work it implied a very close collaboration with local municipalities. We decided to still give it a shot and to go ahead with a more in-depth due diligence including a visit to the Dakar-based team. During this due diligence I was able to meet with the entire team, but also spend time with them meeting with local mayors and small merchants. This really allowed me to realise that how significant the problem they were solving was and also that the team had the skills and vision to make the deploy a successful answer to this problem. Fast forward 1.5 years, Sudpay has now been deployed in more than 10 municipalities and enrolled over 30,000 merchants on their platform.
What brought you to GreenTec?
I first heard about GreenTec when I was at GSMA and we decided to fund an Agritech start-up called Farmcrowdy, which was also in GreenTec’s portfolio. I then started to follow their progress and really liked their unique positioning allowing them to support really early stage start-ups and entrepreneurs across the continent.
What solutions are you excited about for Africa? What do you look for in a start-up?
I am always excited when I see a solution deployed by an African entrepreneur that tackles a real local problem and is a mix of online and offline. What I mean by that “mix” is a solution that obviously embraces digital technology (through mobile apps for instance) but also scales through an “offline” side which can be a USSD based version of the service, or a field-team dedicated to meeting and educating the users, or a fleet of tuck-tucks that deliver goods for instance. A good example of this is a start-up like Twiga Foods in Kenya which has clearly both an “online” (mobile app for fruits and vegetable vendors) and an “offline” (USSD app for the farmers, warehouses, trucks, etc.) side.
What kind of start-ups are you looking forward to supporting/are you best equipped to work with? and what would you do to support them?
As mentioned above, I am really keen to identify and support start-ups that aim to address a deep almost structural local issue in sectors that impact the masses. And when it comes to reaching the masses, in most African countries, mobile operators are often the best equipped. Supporting start-ups to work more closely with mobile operators is something I believe I can bring on board. Beyond this, I am keen to support start-ups in making sure they find the right balance between impact and commercial sustainability, which I believe is essential to scale.
What is an interest of yours that you haven’t shared in your company bio? What should GreenTec investees know about you?
It is very humbling to discover entrepreneurs across the continent who one day come across a massive public problem (in sectors like education, healthcare, transportation etc.) and instead of just complaining about like the rest of people, decide to tackle it and turn it into a business. When local start-ups substitute themselves to public services for the benefit of the masses while making a living out of it and creating jobs, this is magic.
GreenTec believes Maxime’s background is an ideal fit for start-ups working on ICT and mobile solutions. His experience with the GSMA provides invaluable expertise in interfacing with mobile network operators, as well as, expertise on DFI-funded grants.