The following text represents the core of Adebayo Alonge’s presentation at the world’s largest deepTech conference in Paris France holding between March 13-15, 2019
As CoFounder of a multinational deepTech startup (operating in 4 continents) that is using 4 deepTech technologies AI-IoT-Blockchain-AI Conductors for drug quality authentication and tracking, I have the immense honor of representing Africa at the world’s largest deepTech conference.
Hello Tomorrow brings together the most advanced deepTech startups in the world alongside scientists, investors and policy makers working on using advanced tech in new and exciting ways.
I won the opportunity to represent Africa at the 2019 conference having gone through a rigorous selection process competing against 4,500 deepTech startups from across the world.
I received most of my science education in Nigeria. When I meet other scientists and innovators across the world and I tell them this, I am often amused at their surprise.
Yes my business education was at Yale but my science education from high school (at King’s College Lagos) to pharmacy school (at the University of Ibadan) was in Africa. That I can hold my own internationally with the best scientists and deepTech innovators in the world is testament to the quality of local education and talent in Africa, when supported with the right resources.
It is my goal that in the next couple years rather than just one African involved in the top deepTech conversations of the world, that we will have 100’s. The US, China and Canada have 100’s of delegates at this year’s conference. There is no reason why Africa should not be so represented.
Although relative to the rest of the world, deepTech in Africa is still primal, some countries like Rwanda are beginning to pay serious attention to this new and fast growing technology field.
At this deepTech conference in Paris, I will share my thoughts on what Africans should be doing to fast track the development of deepTech on the continent.
My recommendations to African governments and its diaspora are distilled into the following 5 action points-
- Create robust legal Intellectual Property (IP) Framework – this is important to unleash local R&D competition while enabling investments into local research in Science and Technology
- Create tax benefits for local investment into commercialisation of university research – thousands of PhD dissertations are languishing in the dusty shelves of African universities. This should not be the case. Africa has a middle class of 330 million people with aggregate annual income of ~$1.3 trillion. African governments currently charge incomes tax rates upwards of 20% (25% in some city-states like Lagos). If these governments can set up tax deduction policies of up to 30% of annual incomes for middle class investments into commercialising local research in Science and Technology, Africa can unleash up to $400 billion to enable its local VC industry. A lot of this cash is currently locked up in financial instruments like T.Bills that have no impact on driving local economies or investments into local science based solutions to African problems.
- Revise University Policies for Tenure & Compensation to retain the best science talent in local universities- many of the best science students leave local universities to work as product sales reps- a gross underutilization of brain power. Or they simply travel overseas. I for example, although having a natural research bent and even though I finished with First Class honors, I could never imagine returning back to the University of Ibadan for a PhD. Recently one of my professors, remonstrated with me for not having returned amidst a dearth of PhD candidates from the pharmacy pipeline in Nigeria. Although I love science, I did not see Nigeria as the place to pursue further research. Importantly, mentorship was lacking. A 19 year old me was intuitive enough to recognise that career development seemed dependent on university politicking rather than in churning out world changing research. To me, career progression seemed dependent on how many years was spent regurgitating stale notes vs. actually creating new knowledge. This sad situation definitely pushed me away from pursuing academia in Africa and I am sure this was same for many other smart minds. This is Africa’s loss. To correct this, governments need to reform local universities to promote only the best scientists creating and publishing new knowledge. Publish or perish should be the mantra rather than a focus on years of employment or seniority as is the case today in many African universities. African governments also need to ensure that it remunerates research scientists commensurate with the private sector and that there is a mentorship system to identify and retain the best students right from their first year in college. The world is competing on the basis of its best minds- Africa needs to retain its for it to stand any chance for a position in this new post-modern age.
- Catch them young – kids from pre-school across the continent should be exposed to computer programming and science-based approaches to problem solving. It is rather appalling that asides Rwanda, there is no other sub-saharan African country that has revised its education curriculum to align with this post-modern age of machines. We cannot continue to churn out graduates using industrial era curriculum for them to go compete against the Chinese and Americans in a post-modern age. African leaders are failing their youth and condemning them to perpetual servitude to the rest of the world. This is where the African diaspora needs to step up. Personally, I and a few other diaspora indigenes of Ibadan in Nigeria will be working with the new government to set up a digital city and distributed digital skills workcentres in public schools across Ibadan. Our plan will generate outsourcing income upwards of $100M for young people in the city. Other African diaspora should come together and work with their local governments to enable this across our cities. Our children should leave schools to after-school digital work centres to learn statistics, machine learning, programming and IoT hardware development. They should not be leaving school to hawk on the streets or to help out in mechanic workshops. That age is past. We must prepare them for the future.
- Government as the biggest spender needs to buy locally developed science and tech applications- when the US government needs a solution in cybersecurity or in new tank armaments or in improving government encrypted communications, it issues a call for locally developed tech based solutions to these problems. Many of the ideas it funds are often just PhD projects in local universities. The US government pours billions of dollars annually into these projects, becomes the first buyer and implements the solutions. A lot of innovations we take for granted have been developed through this pipeline e.g. the Internet, semiconductors etc. China now tired of depending on the west for licensing IP is accelerating its investments into IP heavy industries such as Deep Learning, AI semi-conductors, Advanced Nanotech, Autonomous Navigation, Quantum Pharma, Aeronautics, Robotics, Intelligent Materials. It has a 2025 national strategy that would see majority of government procurement from local vertically integrated companies in these high tech industries. It plans to be the world leader in these deep technologies. The US Dept of Defense (DoD) has set aside over $2B on deep learning AI with contextual learning capacity approximating human intelligence. The 20th century was dominated by the arms race between the Soviets and the Americans. The 21st century is already off to a Deep Tech race between the Chinese and Americans. Africans cannot be non-aligned. They need to invest in, buy from and enable their own Deep Tech industries infused with African values.
The foregoing represents the core of my beliefs as to how Africa can close the gap with the rest of the world.
I wear many hats. I was trained as a scientist in Africa. I have worked in business with the largest pharma, chemicals and strategy companies in the world. I have been privileged to start a multinational tech company as well. I have also had the privilege of academic training in an Ivy League university. All of these before I turned 30.
I am therefore not your typical business person focused solely on profit. My ideas, many of which some may describe as socialist, sentimental or virtue-signalling may make some people uncomfortable. I want you to accept them as my truth, the benefits of being trained by all cultures of the world.
I bring to the gathering of the best deepTech minds in the world a diverse view of the world from an African millennial whose early education was in Africa but who also has had the benefit of working with and travelling to work in more than 20 countries on 4 continents.
I also have the benefit of having studied anthropology and history as part of a liberal education in Africa and in the USA. So my thoughts on enabling deepTech in Africa while biased towards Africa also have universal applications especially to communities and countries left behind on the other side of the widening gulf being created by the USA and China. Even Americans will find use of these ideas for their communities of color who are also left behind in representation in deepTech.
As a student of history, the last time communities encountered technology that they were not involved in creating they were enslaved (as with Africans) or they were destroyed (as with Native Americans).
For the purpose of self preservation and to avoid a future where certain races of mankind are condemned to perpetual global second-class position, Africans and other left behind countries need to take the onus to enable their people receive deepTech training so that they can also infuse their values into this new age of machines.
The world will be better for it and so it is in mankind’s general interest to enable this.
Adebayo Alonge, CoFounder/CEO RxAll Inc. (renowned pioneer of in-situ drug quality checking in pharma using deepTech)