Qualcomm's Make in Africa: A Commitment to Innovation and Growth

Qualcomm's Make in Africa: A Commitment to Innovation and Growth

By Elizabeth Migwalla, Vice President International Government Affairs, Qualcomm International, Inc

As the industry gathers once again for MWC Barcelona 2024, I have been reflecting on the transformative power of connectivity.

Qualcomm understands the transformative power of connectivity. Nowhere is this transformation more evident than in Africa, a continent rich in creativity, resilience and an unwavering pursuit of progress.

Africa's telecommunications landscape has seen an unprecedented surge in mobile connectivity, with smartphone penetration rates soaring and internet usage expanding. According to a recent report from GSMA[1], in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, smartphone adoption is expected to increase to 88% by 2030. The rise of digital services, including mobile banking, e-commerce and online education platforms, is driving demand for more robust and reliable networks.

The surge in entrepreneurial activity and technological innovation has been remarkable, with startups spanning diverse sectors and driving economic growth. In 2022, these enterprises raised more than 4.4 billion U.S. dollars. As we navigate the fourth industrial revolution marked by 5G, IoT, AI and machine learning, it is clear that Africa is transitioning from a technology consumer to a technology creator.

In 2023, we launched the Qualcomm Make in Africa Startup Mentorship Program[2] in order to support African start-ups as they work to support their communities. We selected ten startups from across the continent, offering them technical, business and IP-related support. This group is remarkable - their innovations truly address Africa’s present-day needs in areas ranging from harnessing clean energy for reliable supply and transportation to using AI for accelerating disease treatment.

Qualcomm’s approach goes beyond traditional mentorship. Embracing the paradigm of “teaching to fish,” we provide masterclasses covering guidance and training on product management, pitch clinics, intellectual property rights and hardware architecture. We also facilitate connections with industry leaders, venture capitalists, investors and other accelerators, ensuring enhanced visibility for participants.

In addition, our Qualcomm® Wireless Reach™ Initiative has invited the startups to submit proposals showcasing how their solutions are leveraging digital tools to address societal needs. Wireless Reach is granting funding to one organization to help scale their social and market impact and smaller awards to the remaining startups.

Qualcomm also is collaborating with universities across the continent to enhance their engineering curriculum and provide technology training. Through our Qualcomm Academy[3], we have been working with universities and industry on training, distribution and certification of 5G technologies and standards in Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, and Rwanda. Wireless Reach also is collaborating with the ITU to provide foundational digital skills to girls and young women across five African countries,

We also recently launched Learn to Protect Africa or L2ProAfrica[4] which imparts critical knowledge about IPR, including patents and trademarks and provides guidance on the IP filing procedures in certain African countries and patent unions. With the support of pro- bono and expert assistance from our collaborating law firm, Adams and Adams, South Africa, this program will go a long way in educating future African inventors.

Applications recently closed for Make in Africa 2024 and our team is looking forward to working with the next cohort of startups who will join us in shaping the future of technology in Africa.

Qualcomm is committed to fostering innovation, supporting entrepreneurs, inspiring the next generation of inventors and contributing to the growth of the tech ecosystem in Africa.

¹ The Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2023, GSMA, 2023

² The Qualcomm® Make in Africa Startup Mentorship Program is an equity-free mentorship program in Africa supporting early-stage startups with advanced technology solutions, business coaching, and intellectual property guidance.

³ The Qualcomm Academy is the education and training arm of Qualcomm that provides training and certification to students at African universities and organizations through its 5G University Training Program.

⁴ L2ProAfrica is a free online training program designed to empower startups, SMEs, and researchers in Africa to protect, secure, and maximize their innovations.