The economy wasn’t ready for a tech ecosystem yet. Innovation wasn’t an item on their agenda and the country was lagging far behind when it came to technovation in Africa. Other countries were going places, their economies rapidly evolving and their lives becoming a lot easier. Cameroon wasn’t part of that innovation and no one was talking about the country in terms of tech. The Silicon Mountain needed to be born.
A group of tech enthusiasts in a small town built a community of techies and entrepreneurs.
They called it, Silicon Mountain.
They were just a group of techies trying to bring tech to the country. At least, the government didn’t quite regard the sector as important. But this didn’t stop them and they didn’t even know they were building something revolutionary. The truth is, they weren’t building anything at all. It just happened. They were mainly believing in the beauty of their dreams.
According to Valery Colong, a Silicon Mountain pioneer, Silicon Mountain is the entrepreneurial ecosystem within Fako with its epicenter in Buea. It is Cameroon’s first and largest community of technovators and techpreneurs. However, the origin of the name Silicon Mountain has been in conflict for some time now.
Many pioneers of the community have had different versions as to the origin of the term. But, one thing is clear: It’s a community of techies and entrepreneurs changing the country’s techsphere.
Among a number of other pioneers/founders of the Silicon Mountain community, tech players like Churchill Nanje, Valery Colong, Tse Fua, Otto Akama, Ayuk Eta, Fritz Ekwoge, Ebot Tabi, Isaac Kamga, Nyah Check, Daisy Nkweteyim; were at the forefront of the Silicon Mountain revolution.
How an IT firm brought techies together
Churchill Nanje of Africa’s largest job search engine, Njorku, was a key player in the creation of Cameroon’s largest tech community. Like the others, Churchill never planned to form anything like a community. At least, not directly.
He was teaching at a technology school in Buea, Trustech. He was also building websites for individuals. Later on, he decided to quit his job at Trustech and focus on building websites.
Eventually, he ended up building an IT firm – AfroVision Group. This firm was what brought the techies together. He convinced some tech enthusiasts (Tse Fua, Tata Cyril, Valery Colong) whom he all met at a cyber, to join him in developing solutions at AfroVision.
Shortly after Valery left AfroVision, he started his own tech startup, ActivSpaces. This firm has grown to become Cameroon’s first and largest startup accelerator. ActivSpaces incubates other startups, helping them realize their true potential. ActivSpaces in the last two years led the Silicon Mountain Conference and has inspired the birth of more startups within and out of Buea.
Why the name Silicon Mountain?
According to a Wikipedia article, Rebecca Enonchong (Founder of AppsTech who’s known to have brought technology to Africa), was the first to have ever used the name Silicon Mountain at the BarCamp Conference in Buea, 2013.
However, after speaking with Valery Colong, it became clear that the name was“popularized as far back as 2011 thanks to the effort of people like Bill Zimmerman during the first-ever VC4Africa meetup in Cameroon.”
According to Churchill Nanje, “it’s someone out of the community that brought the name. Some people are saying Rebecca Enonchong first called it Silicon Mountain. There was a blog post written by Bill Zimmerman on 27months.com, it’s no longer online. The article profiled some tech startups in Buea. In that article, people were commenting and started trying to call this area a name. They just knew that there were technology guys here.”
To him, Silicon Mountain is just a community of tech enthusiasts around the Buea mountain. The name Silicon Mountain was coined just for tech enthusiasts around Buea, but it has grown to include entrepreneurship in general, not just tech.
Most people know of Silicon Valley in the US. Since the group of techies is based in a mountainous area at the foot of Mount Fako, it only made sense to relate what they were doing to the mountain. Certainly, for lack of a term to describe tech, they settled for Silicon to give that kind of semblance to Silicon Valley.
Silicon Mountain is a play on Silicon Valley and the Fako mountain.
Silicon Mountain Conference – the biggest achievement ever
The virtual community of technovators and techpreneurs continued to grow. More people joined the circle. They came with great tech innovations, app and business ideas. It has continued to grow over the years.
As the community continued to grow, the name became more popular. They needed something like a conference to discuss the future of the individual startups that emerged from this community.
At the time, Otto Akama, then community manager at ActivSpaces, led the first-ever Silicon Mountain conference in 2015 and subsequently, 2016. The Silicon Mountain Conference is the largest community-driven event on tech innovations and entrepreneurship in Cameroon. It is about to experience its 3rd edition and has attracted over 900 participants from Cameroon and the diaspora.
It is an event that showcases the marvels of the Silicon Mountain community so as to attract potential investors to the community’s most innovative startups.
Each year, members of this community organize a conference to consult, network, exchange ideas, showcase products/services, meet stakeholders/investors and discuss possible solutions to common challenges.
According to Valery Colong, the main goal of the Silicon Mountain Conference is to “bring together stakeholders and enthusiasts – people who are interested in seeing this entrepreneurial community thrive, to network, share ideas, seek and build opportunities together.
“In terms of activities, we have talks, panel discussions, demos/showcase/exhibitions, some of the outstanding products that come out of this community of ours, mostly tech for now. Of course, if there are other outstanding things that are coming out of this community outside tech, we are obviously happy to showcase. It’s more of a gathering for exchanges, networking, idea sharing, opportunity, building synergies, etc.”
This year’s edition of the conference which has been launched under the theme, “Building Profitable and Scalable Ventures,” will take place at Chariot Hotel, Buea on November 18, 2017. The conference will bring together a plethora of creatives, entrepreneurs, influencers, academicians and change agents, who together constitute the Silicon Mountain entrepreneurial ecosystem.
It will feature talks, workshops, panel discussions, demos and networking sessions. The conference presents a perfect opportunity to network and share ideas/opportunities with aspiring billionaires and stars who are changing lives from within Silicon Mountain. More than 50 startups and enterprises will be in attendance.
Coming from a community that is built on a sound engineering culture rather than sales or marketing, this year’s conference will reflect and discuss what seems to be the most worrying concern for startups and businesses within Silicon Mountain: that of Building Profitable and Scalable Ventures.
It is clear the community has attained some degree of maturity and it’s time to discuss on how to drive innovation, close better deals, influence policies and attract venture capital to scale beyond the community’s local markets. The reason why the conference has grown to include not just techies, but entrepreneurs around Fako.
Over the last two years when the conference began, many more startups have sprung up in Buea. But it has also inspired the creation of even more startups in other cities of Cameroon. Buea is now home to the most successful startups in the country, thanks to the SMConf that began in 2015.
In 2016, Google organized its annual hacking competition, Google Code-In for pre-university students. When the tech giant announced the winners of the contest on January 30 same year, Collins Nji emerged as the Grand Prize winner. Collins happens to be a proud product of the Silicon Mountain community.
Began with tech to grow into entrepreneurship
This year, more startups and entrepreneurs have joined the community. It is normal to think of technology when one talks of Silicon Mountain but in truth, there are other actors who make this community thrive, the reason why they try to make it as inclusive as possible.
Yes, it began as tech. But it has grown beyond tech to include anyone passionate about entrepreneurship, change making and building a better community.
There’s something great Cameroon has but it’s unknown to many. You never know the value of what you have until you lose it. The term Silicon Mountain has been making rounds among members of Buea’s tech community for some time now. It’s still to become a buzzword on the internet.
One should have normally expected that the term should have already been buzzing the web given its similarity to the famous “Silicon Valley,” but it’s not.
As Africa’s budding tech culture and ecosystem emerge, tech hubs are opening all over the country and the startup scene is escalating. Engineers started adapting technology to suit the specific needs and dynamics of the continent instead of copying from the West.
Africa has grown so big in the digital world and Cameroon was not going to be left behind. In an attempt to produce more tech startups and give them a more organized structure, Silicon Mountain emerged.
In April 2016, the BBC captured the future of this tech community during “Cameroon’s drive to become the new home of innovation.” In September 2016, France 24 paid a visit to the community and noted that it is Africa’s next tech hub.
Its most successful startups
Silicon Mountain is home to many startups and global technology companies. Amongst the most famous are startups like Njorku, ActiveSpaces, Makonjo Media, Zinger Systems, Agro-Hub, Skylabase, Wasamundi and LCM Tours. It’s also home to leading tech communities like GDG Buea, GDG Limbe, Women Tech Makers Buea, WordPress for Startups, Play With Python and Facebook Developers Circle Buea.
There are many more players who have helped revolutionized Cameroon’s tech ecosystem that has survived this long.
Many years ago, the country’s techsphere was lifeless. Government negligence made it worse. As a result, some promising tech startups and businesses disappeared along the way. However, the number of startups in this community has grown beyond count.
It is hoped that the Silicon Mountain community’s third gathering of technovators and techpreneurs will bring even more players on board.
Silicon Mountain’s story has never been told completely. It may also never be told correctly. But one thing is certain. A group of passionate techies unknowingly built Cameroon’s largest gathering of the most successful and innovative startups and entrepreneurs. Why not join these visionaries to make the Silicon Mountain the next tech destination?
Individuals or organizations interested in getting involved in Buea’s flagship technology gathering should register here.