Unlocking Africa’s Prosperity Through Deep Tech: A Transformative Partnership between MIT’s Legatum Center and Open Startup
By Rym Baouendi and Rania Helmy
As the world becomes increasingly interconnected and technology-driven, deep technology is emerging as a pivotal force shaping the future of nations. This dynamic sector is rapidly accelerating, holding tremendous power to revolutionize industries and unlock unprecedented opportunities for growth and development. Nowhere is this transformative potential more evident than in Africa, a continent brimming with untapped opportunities and a thriving ecosystem of innovation.
Recognizing the remarkable prospects that lie within Africa’s boundaries, the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT joined forces with Open Start Up, a leading organization dedicated to fostering the growth and transformation of scientists into successful entrepreneurs. Together, they partnered to introduce the Bridging Research and Innovation (BRAIN) program—an innovative and pioneering initiative aimed at cultivating and establishing the very foundations of DeepTech in Africa. At the heart of BRAIN is the commitment to empower researchers and scientists, equipping them with essential resources and invaluable guidance necessary to effectively commercialize deep tech ventures capable of pan-African expansion and scalability.
Tunisia, a country renowned for its scientific talent and potential, provided the perfect launchpad for the program. The partnership between the MIT Legatum Center and Open Startup not only strengthened Tunisia’s deep tech ecosystem, but it also established a remarkable precedent for the possibilities that lie ahead across the African continent. This collaborative endeavor stands as a testament to the profound conviction that Africa’s rapid surge in innovation carries immense potential for fueling economic growth, creating high-value employment opportunities, attracting investments, and positioning the continent as a global leader in the dynamic realm of technology.
The BRAIN program commenced in March 2023 with an immersive five-day bootcamp that delved deep into the realms of advanced AI, biotechnology, IoT, and robotics. Employing a dual intervention approach, the program focused on nurturing the skills of both the founders and ecosystem stakeholders. Led by Open Startup, the bootcamp attracted a cohort of 28 scientists from 14 deep tech venture teams who benefited from a meticulously curated curriculum, co-designed by the Legatum Center and accomplished EMBA students from MIT Idea Lab.
Throughout the bootcamp, the participants had the privilege of engaging with industry professionals and esteemed faculty members from MIT Sloan School of Management and MIT Departments, Labs and Centers, including the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and the Engine. These interactions were vital in providing Tunisian scientists with deep insights into the potential of their ventures in the African market and in expanding their horizons regarding cutting-edge advancements within their respective fields of innovation.
Following the bootcamp, six selected teams underwent a four-week mentorship program led by industry professionals. As the program progressed, four finalist teams were granted a unique opportunity to visit MIT for an immersive week-long immersion tour. This extraordinary visit proved to be a defining moment for the participants as they seized the chance to establish vital connections with key stakeholders in the thriving innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem of Kendall Square. During their time at MIT, they engaged in invaluable discussions with fellow peers, exchanged expertise with seasoned founders, and proudly celebrated their remarkable achievements within the MIT community.
The finalists’ ventures cover a diverse range of DeepTech innovations. They include Hayat Technology, an AI-powered, modular solution for inland fish farming; HyO-tech, a venture focused on manufacturing hydrogen generators and energy storage systems; Izagri, which offers a microbe-based natural biostimulant solution to promote plant growth; and Tunisia Baits, a marine worm farming solution that caters to fishing, sustainable feed, and aquaculture applications. All of which offer DeepTech solutions that address complex environmental and societal challenges and unlock opportunities for leapfrogging traditional infrastructure and systems.
The success of the BRAIN program and its profound impact on Tunisian scientists highlight the significance of nurturing comprehensive ecosystems that encompass various crucial elements. From favorable regulatory frameworks to capacity-building initiatives, access to funding and resources, inspirational role models, and opportunities for collaboration, each component plays a crucial role in their journey. Through the collaborative efforts of MIT, Open Startup, and other valued partners, Tunisian scientists have been equipped with the essential tools and support needed to not only create viable business models and develop comprehensive plans but also confidently pitch to potential investors and establish a robust network within their ecosystem. With these invaluable resources at their disposal, they now stand firmly poised for success.
Looking ahead, the potential of what this partnership could unlock is boundless. As deep tech gains momentum in Africa, it is possible to envision a remarkable decade ahead, where the continent evolves into a global epicenter of innovation. By providing a vibrant community of DeepTech entrepreneurs with access to the abundant resources of MIT, we allow ourselves to be a part of the incredible journey of growth and dynamism that has become Africa. If we play our cards right, this collaboration could pave the way for increased investment in African startups, attract top talent from around the world, and inspire the next generation of African innovators to take the lead in building vibrant innovation-driven ecosystems for their home markets.
The future prosperity of Africa can be expedited by harnessing its abundant human capital and embracing DeepTech as a catalyst for change. This groundbreaking pilot program demonstrates a commitment towards materializing that vision. It echoes a resounding call to action, summoning governments, investors, and institutions to acknowledge and seize the boundless potential residing within Africa’s borders. With the right support and collective effort, we can forge a path towards inclusive growth, sustainable development, and unparalleled innovation for the benefit of Africa and the world at large.