Quality internet saves time, brings in more money (Churchill Mambe)

By : Ruben Tchounyabe

Date : mercredi, 30 mars 2022 17:27

In Mid-March 2022, the Cameroonian government offered free broadband equipment and subscriptions to startups active in Silicon Mountain, Buea, South West. In this interview, Churchill Mambe, founder of AfroVision looks explains the impact those gifts can have on digital transformation and the operations of Silicon Mountain’s innovative ecosystem.  He also discusses the importance of the internet for tech entrepreneurs.  

We Are Tech: Can you tell us a little about Silicon Mountain?

Churchill Mambe: Silicon Mountain is a tech industrial zone based in Buea and Fako. It's not an association, it's just a zone where young tech entrepreneurs who have created their startups -like me with AfroVision Njorku and Buyam- are concentrated. Those startups include Zinger System, ActivSapces incubator, Jongo Hub, sienfliex [for media, series, movies], Mountain hub, Mountain credit union, Genie computer...

All those startups are part of Silicon Mountain. We don’t currently have an exhaustive list of all the start-ups in that startup ecosystem. It includes anyone earning money through smartphones, in the cities of Buea, Muyuka, Ekona, Tiko, Mutengene, Limbe. In short, all the startups in the department of Fako and the regions surrounding Mount Cameroon are part of Silicon Mountain. However, just some 50 startups active in Silicon Mountain are well-known. Even the Wikipedia list is not complete because not all the startups are listed.  

WAT: Please tell us about AfroVision Group, your startup 

C.M: AfroVision Limited Group is the first company I launched in 2006.  It specializes in consulting, the development of web/mobile solutions for businesses, software engineering, website development, development of mobile applications such as Buyam that we just launched. We also develop IT systems for government institutions, such as the GCE Board. We are currently a team of 10 people. This year, we plan to increase the staff size to 40 people by adding new members, engineers mostly, because we intend to grow with the new partners and investors we have in the U.S.

We are currently working on our project "Buyam," an online marketplace with stores in the cloud. Through that marketplace, customers can directly contact merchants, via their mobile phones, to buy what they need.

WAT: On March 15, the Cameroonian government offered one year of free broadband internet subscription to 35 startups, including yours, active in Silicon Mountain. What does this gesture mean to you?

C.M: It's a sign that the government is ready to support us and help us make Silicon Mountain more viable and create more jobs for young Cameroonians. Some startups chose fiber internet connection. It is very fast but, it will take four weeks to install it. The 15 startups that chose cellular modems received their equipment the same day with a 135-gigabyte subscription per month.

We at Afrovision Group chose the fiber internet connection because it is more stable and we need a fast and secure Internet to communicate with our customers in Africa, Europe, and the United States. We are still waiting for the installation of the cables. This can take up to a month. 

WAT: What prompted the Cameroonian government to offer those amenities to you?  

C.M: A year ago, the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications (Minpostel) sent a delegation to Buea. During a meeting with this delegation, its members asked us what challenges we were facing in our work. We replied that those challenges were the unavailability of quality internet connection and repeated power outages. Without the Internet we cannot work with our clients, we cannot manage our web platforms and applications. Without the internet, our work is jeopardized.

As far as electricity is concerned, we received a generator from the French embassy in Cameroon and French businessmen operating in our country. The generator is installed on the premises of ActivSpaces incubator in Buea. During that meeting, the Minpostel delegation offered to support us by providing an internet connection.

WAT: What criteria were considered for the selection of beneficiary start-ups?

C.M: The Minpostel asked us to make a list of the startups that need an internet connection. We created a google form and shared it with all the startups and tech firms active in Silicon Mountain so that they could register. To register, startups were to be based in Buea or anywhere in Silicon Mountain, specialized in mobile/web development, be a legal person, and pay taxes

WAT: What is the impact of that extra Internet connection on your business?

C.M: I usually spend XAF40,000 monthly to buy a 100-gigabyte internet subscription for the office and my home. It is an ADSL connection whose speed is between 1 to 3 megabytes per second. With the broadband internet connection we are being offered, speed will improve to 6-10 megabytes per second. It will greatly improve our working conditions. It will allow the young engineers I am working with to study online and attend meetings with our partners in South Africa and other parts of the World without much disruption. The rapid speed of the internet connection will make it easier and quicker for us to deploy our solutions in the cloud. With the new Buyam solution we are working on, at one point we had to move to a high capacity server. This took us about 3 weeks to complete the transfer. With a fiber internet connection, it would have taken just three hours. When you save time, you make more money. 

WAT: Between January and April 2017, the government shut down the internet in the North-West and the South-West. That decision surely affected Silicon Mountain since it is located in the Southwest. What were the consequences of that government decision on startups in Silicon Mountain?

C.M: It was the most harmful experience ever faced by startups here in Buea.  I can estimate that our company lost between 70,000 and 100,000 US dollars. When we were cut off, we first moved to Douala. Then, we rented a place at New Bonako, between Douala and Buea, where we could have internet access. I don't want to talk about it. It is a thing of the past. We are past it.  

WAT: Can the internet connection and equipment the government recently provided compensate for the losses you suffered at that time?

C.M: We can't compare the two periods because the realities were different. The internet shutdown happened in 2017. We are now in 2022. We needed an internet connection and the government is offering it. We are happy and we will use it to improve our business, upgrade and hire more people. With the internet connection offered, we will be able to train more young people, work with more clients and develop more solutions

Interview by Ruben Tchounyabe


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