There was a time when the only place you could guarantee green-lighting a new startup project was in Silicon Valley. The fabled land of tech-wizardry in California was the place you headed to in search of the latest expertise and access to interested and moneyed investors, ready to take a risk. But as we all know, tech moves fast, and every day, incremental changes are altering the landscape so that now the world of business and entrepreneurship is opening up to new vistas.
And where once digital risk taking and entrepreneurship was reserved for bigger groups in developed countries, today the territories touched by tech innovation stretch right across the globe. The profiles of startups have completely altered as they adapt to the changing conditions.
Tech is becoming cheaper, and its reach and penetration grows by the day. Before, new businesses were set up by committee, by large groups with investors and boards and shareholders. Today, due to the growing democratization of tech, with an idea and a laptop, you can launch a new business venture solo. This means countries with little or no comms infrastructure can come to the table – and that is a very exciting change.
So what are the technologies affecting real change in new, under-developed territories? First up is the smart phone. Allowing access to the internet via smart phones means that banking, health, education, commerce and a host of empowering general communication links are suddenly introduced to remote, often dislocated communities. Smart phones are relatively cheap and well suited to the often itinerant life of international communities under pressure, either from social or political problems. Previously, such communities would not have been able to connect to such communication networks, but advances in technology and feet on the ground from charities providing support and advice means the internet is increasingly reaching the masses. Wi-Fi networks powered by solar power and other renewable technologies are popping up in new, isolated locations over the world.
Opening the door
Access to social media, news sites and blogging platforms enables fledgling businesses to compete on a level playing field in terms of digital marketing for new ventures. Pushing products and services, interacting directly with their customer base, developing a cohesive and joined up marketing strategy that targets their core audience – all this awaits behind the internet door, and once it is opened, the rush for information and connectivity comes hard and fast. For communities cut off from the world for so long, the value of communications and access to reliable daily news should not be under-estimated. For bloggers and website owners, the reach of the internet means they can research and source unbiased news relevant to their market with ease – something that would have been impossible before internet communications. Information is power, and for some time, the undeveloped world has been disarmed – new tech for the masses is going to change that balance of power in a positive way.
Places where the explosion in internet access is making a difference include destinations such as Malawi, where health education is being vastly improved through smart phone comms. Sharing important information about HIV/AIDS and malaria in Malawi has proven a benefit of better connectedness. On a commercial level, with the aid of improved communications, entrepreneurs can set up to satisfy wider markets within and beyond their home villages, such as providing bicycle spares, firewood, cooking oil and other essentials of life in remote Africa.
The failure rate of Malawi businesses is very low compared to US equivalents, simply because success and failure is the difference between life and death for many – it’s a sobering thought, but it focuses the mind somewhat. The influence of this growing sector is changing lives in remote communities as well as cities in impoverished or war torn sectors of the world.
Going it alone
Angel investors, venture capital, technical expertise from key hires and early adopters are all part of the support network you get when you kick off a startup in a mature and tried and tested market (like the US). This is exactly what you don’t get when you go it alone somewhere like the Philippines or India, and this is where the charities and NGOs step in to help. The potential for e-commerce in remote pockets of the world is enormous, and the same sophisticated distribution models are required in Bhutan as in San Francisco, so expertise from charities in these areas is invaluable.
Spreading tech to the masses is breathing fresh life into distant communities that have been neglected for too long. There is no shortage of ambition, inspiration and enthusiasm among entrepreneurs for growing tech in under-developed countries, and once tapped, this resource will become a powerful and liberating force in the lives of people with limited life choices. That can only be a good thing.