Unleashing A Startup Revolution

Bold policy reforms ignite hope, pave way for success

In a moment that left the audience captivated and inspired, Desta the robot took center stage at the Science Museum during the Startup Exhibition. On April 10th, 2024 – Desta stole the spotlight at the Museum, in a dazzling display of technological marvel. Organized by iCog Lab and Ride Transport Services, the event celebrated the innovative potential of Ethiopian startups, with a particular focus on visionary young women.

Desta’s performance was a spectacle to behold as she effortlessly engaged the audience in Amharic, serenaded them with beautiful melodies, danced with children, and displayed a remarkable range of emotions, from joy to sorrow.

The presence of Desta at the exhibition served as a powerful symbol of progress and innovation within Ethiopia’s startup ecosystem. Both iCog Lab and Ride Transport Services overcome countless obstacles to reach this point, making their success stories all the more inspiring for aspiring entrepreneurs and the next generation.

By showcasing Desta’s capabilities and the achievements of these pioneering startups, the event aimed to ignite a spark of inspiration within others, urging them to embrace emerging technologies, pursue their entrepreneurial dreams, and contribute to Ethiopia’s flourishing innovation landscape. Desta the robot not only entertained and engaged the audience but also embodied the potential for transformative change and advancement in the country’s startup scene.

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Bethlehem Dessie, the CEO of iCog Lab, spoke with The Reporter, shedding light on the significance of Desta’s presence and the Startup Ethiopia launch program. As an influential panelist, Bethlehem emphasized her extensive industry experience spanning over 15 years. She underscored the past hurdles faced by startups, including challenges with office leases and foreign currencies, which hindered their entry into the industry.

An initiative spearheaded by the Prime Minister’s Office, the startup exhibition was launched with the aim of fostering collaboration, networking, and growth opportunities for emerging businesses in Ethiopia. The event, which began on April 5th and is set to run until April 28th, has become a vital platform for over 500 startups to showcase their innovative ideas, products, and services to a diverse audience.

The exhibition serves as a melting pot of creativity and entrepreneurship, where startups from various industries and sectors converge to interact, learn, and forge potential partnerships. With each week featuring a new cohort of startups presenting their businesses, the event offers a dynamic and ever-evolving landscape for attendees to explore.

Among the attendees are investors seeking promising ventures to support, foreign delegates interested in Ethiopia’s budding startup ecosystem, government stakeholders keen on fostering innovation, and young individuals eager to witness the next wave of entrepreneurial success stories unfold.

DawitEphrem,CEO and Founder of Dantel App,shared his insights on their journey. Dawit revealed that Dantel had been under development for three years until the exhibition, during which they acquired clients, investors, and witnessed customers transacting money through their application. This promising beginning has paved the way for their future success.

Dawit emphasized the importance of collaboration among startups, stating that they actively engage with other ventures, exchanging knowledge and working cooperatively. He expressed hope that policies, particularly regarding rental office space, would support their endeavors, providing entrepreneurs with the opportunity to start businesses without significant initial capital.

Another notable startup is Azmera Technology. Its CEO, KalabeMulugeta, highlighted their product’s AI technology, which is designed to assist farmers in disease verification and data collection across the country. Kaleb expressed gratitude for the exhibition, as it provided a platform to promote their product and showcase the potential of the technology sector in the agriculture industry, attracting investors.

At the heart of this vibrant gathering lies the spirit of collaboration and community-building, as startups engage in meaningful conversations, seek mentorship, and passionately pitch their ideas to potential investors. The exhibition also acts as a catalyst for economic growth, job creation, and technological advancement in Ethiopia.

In the midst of this atmosphere of innovation and ambition, Desta the robot’s captivating performance at the exhibition shines as a beacon of the transformative power of technology and creativity.

Bethlehem expressed optimism about the recent attention given towards startups, stating, “We had never received this level of attention from the government before. This will bring exciting opportunities for the next generation.”

She said that iCog Lab aims to showcase Desta the robot to illustrate the advancements in AI and inspire young individuals to engage with emerging technologies. Bethlehem concluded by expressing hope for positive outcomes in the execution of these initiatives.

The Startup Ethiopia initiative was officially launched on April 6th in the presence of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD). The launch event featured a panel discussion held at the Science Museum, where prominent figures from the startup ecosystem participated.

A panel discussion provided a platform for insightful dialogue on various aspects of entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology, underscoring the importance of collaboration and support for startups in Ethiopia.

Panelists included Samrawit Fikiru, CEO of Ride Transport Services; Bethlehem Dessie, CEO of iCog Labs; BeleteMola, Minister of Innovation and Technology; Yohanes Ayalew, President of the Ethiopian Development Bank; and KidusFishea, Founder and CEO of Eqube.

During the Startup Ethiopia Forum National Event Launch Program on April 4th, 2024, the Minister of Labor and Skill, MuferiatKamil, announced a new policy initiative aimed at addressing the challenges faced by entrepreneurs in accessing financing from banks in Ethiopia.

Speaking at an event hosted by the National Bank of Ethiopia in September 2023, Muferiat stated, “Banks in Ethiopia have been criticized for their risk-averse approach and failure to fulfill their obligations to provide entrepreneurs with the necessary financing by making unfair demands.”

The government unveiled a series of transformative policy reforms aimed at propelling the nation’s startup ecosystem into a new era of growth and innovation. With a strategic focus on simplifying bureaucratic processes, providing tax incentives, attracting foreign investment, and fostering intellectual property protection, these initiatives promise to unleash the full potential of Ethiopian startups, if effectively implemented.

One of the key modifications is the simplified Tax Identification Number (TIN) issuance process. The Ministry of Revenue has eliminated the need for an office lease agreement, shifting the requirement to digital IDs. This streamlined approach will remove a major roadblock for startups, enabling them to obtain TINs more efficiently.

The second modification includes the removal of the 30 percent capital gain tax for share transfers and new shares marks another significant stride forward. This move, coupled with the introduction of comprehensive startup tax incentives like tax holidays and loss carry forward structures, aims to stimulate growth and attract much-needed investment. By creating a favorable tax environment, the government aims to foster an ecosystem where startups can thrive and investors can confidently allocate their resources.

Furthermore, in a bid to encourage foreign currency retention, startups are now permitted to retain 100 percent of their foreign currency earnings from service exports. To facilitate international transactions, commercial banks will provide a designated number of debit cards exclusively for startups.

Recognizing the importance of foreign investment, the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC) is revising investment proclamation provisions. These revisions will enable foreign investors to actively support startups by revising minimum capital requirements.

To bolster funding opportunities, Ethiopian Investment Holdings (EIH) will collaborate with development partners to establish a dedicated startup-focused fund facility. Additionally, the Development Bank of Ethiopia (DBE) will introduce equity and quasi-equity investment programs, providing further financial support. The National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE) is also considering adjustments to leverage requirements, making it easier for startups to secure debt finance through commercial banks. This comprehensive funding support system aims to address one of the most significant challenges faced by startups—access to capital.

Other modifications include a comprehensive review of the Intellectual Property (IP) registration process, and the establishment of a specialized support unit.

Recognizing the crucial role of intellectual property in fostering innovation, the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MiNT) aims to conduct a comprehensive review of the Intellectual Property (IP) registration process. This initiative seeks to safeguard and promote the innovative work of startups, enabling them to protect their ideas and inventions. Further, to facilitate smoother operations for startups engaged in international trade, the Customs Commission will establish a specialized support unit.

This unit will offer partial clearance and payment of customs duties and taxes, along with an expedited appeal review process.

The recent initiatives have generated a buzz within the startup community, offering a glimmer of hope that long-standing barriers may finally be dismantled.

Markos Lemma, co-founder and CEO at iceaddis, a key figure in the Startup Ethiopia launch program, expressed his views on these developments. While acknowledging past unaddressed obstacles related to business registration, taxation, and digital receipts, Markos remains cautiously optimistic about the potential impact of the recent announcement.

He highlighted the need for a comprehensive legal framework, including the possibility of a startup sandbox, to ensure the effective implementation of these reforms. With a sense of anticipation, Markos emphasized the importance of observing the unfolding of events before drawing definitive conclusions.

Experienced in helping MSME’s and Startup ecosystem grow in Ethiopia, SaminasSeifu, communications and community development director at Orbit Innovation Hub, recognizes the supportive nature of the recent policy initiatives for startups. However, he cautioned against the potential challenges of harmonizing the various organizations involved in the implementation process.

Stressing the significance of collaboration among all stakeholders, Saminas underscored the need for coordination to ensure the success of these transformative initiatives. Despite the obstacles ahead, He also expressed optimism about the future, highlighting the historic attention given to startups.

With the unwavering support of government initiatives, the determination of visionary entrepreneurs and the right blend of innovation, collaboration, and perseverance, the Ethiopian startup revolution is poised to redefine the nation’s economic landscape, opening doors to a future where entrepreneurship thrives and the impossible becomes reality.

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