ACCRA, GHANA (01/06/2003) - Wales-born American and
dot-com millionaire Mark Davies loves the frontier experience. After
starting up several ventures during the Internet boom years he is now
pioneering another technology phenomenon, this time in Africa.
been just over a year since he founded busyinternet, a cyber center for
businesses that focus on new technology.
"We are dealing with the
opening chapters of a modern economy," Davies said, referring to the
technology bustle that is engulfing some parts of Africa.
Busyinternet in Accra hosts a dozen startups as well as conference
facilities, a restaurant bar, a 24 hour copy center and an Internet café
that has an average of 1,500 visitors per day and boasts the fastest Net
access of any café in the city.
The idea to establish busyinternet
came to Davies after he made a three-month tour of Senegal, Mali, Burkina
Faso and Ghana, after dabbling in IT businesses for 15 years."I wanted to
create the same opportunity that was given to me in New York in computers
and technology," he says of his motivation for founding
Davies is used to grappling with the issues
surrounding startups. At the formative years of the dot-com boom in the
U.S., he started an Internet company, Metrobeat, that provided practical
information and content. It merged with CitySearch, now Ticketmaster
Online - CitySearch Inc. In 1996, he broke new ground in the U.K., when he
started First Tuesday, a networking organization that brings together
entrepreneurs and financial partners. First Tuesday eventually spread to
cities around the world, and Davies was bought out by various members of
Comparing his previous experience to busyinternet,
Davies says people in Africa are responding quickly with enthusiasm to new
technology, "in the same way that humans have responded to technology
anywhere. They have responded with imagination," said
Busyinternet started showing profit in the first four
months and he is confident that he and his partners can repay the US$1.6
million that was invested in the next five years.
Davies says there
are several reasons why the cyber center has caught on. He first of all
traces it to the Ghanaian extended family system and the phenomenon of
overseas workers; most people communicate with their extended family and
friends outside Ghana via e-mail. He also thinks the interest of the
populace at improving themselves contributes significantly. Apart from
noticing clients receiving and sending e-mail, you also see them looking
for schools and courses online.
It is not only the Internet café
that is doing well. He showcases AV International (AVI), one of the
startups that used to be at the incubator, to demonstrate that it is
working. AVI is in partnership with Data Management Internationale Inc.,
of Wilmington, Delaware, which provides data entry and information
management services to companies and government agencies around the
It took them just four weeks to set up."It is very difficult
to do that in this environment," Davies said, speaking of the experience
of setting up a new enterprise in Ghana.
The startups at
busyinternet pay a monthly rent of US$400 for 18 square meter space and
$250 monthly for other services such as reception facilities, phones,
electricity, broadband Internet access and security.
another company at busyinternet, Ecoband Networks Ltd., to do its
networking. Davies is encouraged by that synergy between the startups."The
concept is all about synergy, speed, service and cost," he says of the
incubator. AVI has expanded and moved on.
But setting up
busyinternet has not been all trouble-free. There are plenty of
difficulties in the day-to-day business of the enterprise, because
companies can not rely on their suppliers, including electricity,
telephone and technical services companies, Davies said.
not have to think too hard for examples. For instance, he says it took a
supplier 10 days to find a truck to pick up a faulty printer for repairs
at the copy center.
"It is 10 times more difficult running the same
enterprise here (Ghana) than in the U.S.," Davies said.
there is no shortage of raw processing power, but there is a tremendous
lack of project management skills, customer service. There is a different
culture of service here compared to my background. That has posed the
greatest challenge," he elaborated.
In spite of all the
difficulties, Davies thinks the experience has been worth it. "It has been
a very enjoyable environment to work in. You are dealing with community
values, humor and enthusiasm that is certainly more rewarding and
inspiring than some of my experiences in the U.S."
Ghana has emboldened him to replicate the concept in other African cities.
Davies and his partners plan to invest about $3 million in five West
African cities -- Douala and Yaoundé in Cameroon, Ouagadougou in Burkina
Faso, Bamako in Mali and Port Harcourt in Nigeria in the next three
"Many developing countries can benefit tremendously from the
kind of efficiencies IT offers," Davies says.