If there is a stand-out dynamic woman techpreneur in Africa who is challenging the industry status quo and helping other women to spearhead a new and innovative era in the sector on the continent, then it is Ethel Cofie, founder of Edel Technologies in Ghana.
Ethel Cofie is the Founder and CEO of Edel Technologies. She is a Mandela Fellow for President Obama’s Young African Leaders initiative(YALI), and has been featured on CNN and BBC for her work in technology and women leadership. She founded Women in Tech Ghana, was the initiator of the 1st Pan African woman in tech meet-up, and was shortlisted for the UN GEM Tech Award for her work supporting women in ICT. She sits on numerous boards including Egotickets (an Africa online ticketing platform) and Chillax (a Mobile App for providing tailored entertainment choices for professional Africans). She has spoken at numerous conferences including the Global Entrepreneurship Summit and Mobile West Africa.
LoA recently chatted to Ethel Cofie about her entrepreneurial journey, her challenges and successes, and her vision for the future of women in Africa’s tech sector.
"I think one of the challenges is that women don’t have enough mentors that really do push them beyond their comfort zones, encourage them to dream bigger, to think bigger, and to really supersize their dreams."
Tell us a little about your own entrepreneurial journey and what first inspired you?
I am from a family of entrepreneurs, so I don’t think it has ever been a question of if I was going to be an entrepreneur, but rather when I was going to be an entrepreneur. My father has been an entrepreneur for over 30 years and we are that kind of entrepreneurial family. In the early days, I had a variety of corporate jobs and lived in the UK for a couple of years. Around 2010, I decided to come back home and ended up once again taking corporate jobs, but this time in a highly targeted way in order to learn the essential skills that I needed to begin my life as an entrepreneur. The first time around when I became an entrepreneur, I didn't ask for critical advice at key times and instead thought I could go it alone - and in hindsight, that didn’t work out too well. So I took a couple of years out to go and learn the key skills of sales, negotiation, strategy, making the right networking connections and then restarted my entrepreneurial journey, but this time equipped with the necessary skills to make it a success. Whilst I was still working in my corporate role as Head of Commercial Solutions at Vodafone, I started doing work in the consulting space, building up a client portfolio and working to make it a viable proposition once I left my corporate job. When the time was right, I left Vodafone to start growing my own business in earnest. One of my biggest lessons learned during this period, and which I still apply today, is to leverage my advantages, for example, making the most of my background within a family of entrepreneurs who have been in business for years and have a wealth of knowledge and experience to learn from. Also, to maximise the connections that I have personally to help me to get the right meetings with the right people. In the early days, I didn't appreciate the importance of doing these things. I learned the hard way but it served me well. So, that was how my entrepreneurial journey started. I am still learning, still trying to figure out what works and what doesn't work.
"I love technology, I am about technology, but I also call myself a creative - not creative in an arty way, but creative in the way that I like to bring things into being that didn't previously exist. Years ago, I got tired of just building tech for tech’s sake - instead I wanted to build tech that would clearly create something new for an organisation or would make things more efficient, or something that would create more revenue, and that is what as a company we are really focused on doing."
Tell us a little more about your company, Edel Technologies
The company is really a culmination of my passions - I love technology, I am about technology, but I also call myself a creative - not creative in an arty way, but creative in the way that I like to bring things into being that didn't previously exist. So in our business, we use strategy and technology to bring business success, and for me it is all about going into a company and looking at how they add value to their customers. I then look at ways in which we can then either make that process more efficient for them, or perhaps make a new product line for them that allows them to extend their existing capabilities, almost like creating blue ocean strategy for them. Years ago, I got tired of just building tech for tech’s sake - instead I wanted to build tech that would clearly create something new for an organisation or would make things more efficient, or something that would create more revenue, and that is what as a company we are really focused on doing. I love to work with companies from the inception of a particular idea, being there at the initial strategy sessions for a new initiative or whilst they are making plans for the year ahead, because then we can add more value. That is our unique differentiator in the marketplace.
What are your personal aspirations for women in tech on the African continent.
When I first started Women in Tech, and when I reflected on my own personal journey in the tech sector, one of the first things I did was to conform in the business tech, male dominated environment in which I was working. When everyone in the male oriented office wore jeans and hoodies, I quickly realised that if I was to get any kind of respect I felt I needed to be like them. Looking back when I tell people about this approach, I am not sure in retrospect it was the right thing to do, but I did it at the time because I wanted to fit in and be taken seriously by my colleagues. So, Women in Tech Ghana was started out of my very personal need to start a ‘girls club’, as an antidote to what had been a ‘boys club’ in the tech sector for so long. I had learned successfully how to integrate and become part of the ‘boys club’ in the tech sector, but I wondered if we could create a women equivalent ‘club’ in the sector, where women could be part of something groundbreaking, where they could be themselves, not to have to conform, and still be great at their jobs. I also found out over the years that 70% of jobs in the sector are never advertised, or when they are advertised they have already started interviewing. I am now in a position where I get asked a lot to recommend someone for a particular position and that has opened my eyes and given me a greater understanding of the fact that even before a job is posted, I probably send 5 CVs of people I know to the company searching, and they have already started interviewing at that point. So, I wanted to create a club where women were passing each other business and working well with each other, and we were giving each other jobs. We realised that it was in this way that we were going to grow in the industry.
Actually, there are so many women in tech groups now across Africa, with women teaching girls how to code, or on the other side of the spectrum working with women who are in the industry, and everything in between. I think Women in Tech Ghana as an organisation has now matured enough and I can take a step back from it because everyone involved knows what they are doing, the group is working well. For me, Women in Tech Africa is about bringing together all these groups of women in the industry under a loose umbrella whereby we can look at issues not simply from a country level, but instead from a continent wide perspective. I would like to see more women involved as part of Women in Tech Africa, but importantly, I would also like to see women work better with one another. One often hears the conversation in the industry that women don’t necessarily work well together. So for me, one of the challenges is to see women working better with one another, meaning that we understand the dynamics around us that make us compete with one another which can bring tension. This is not unique to the tech sector, but it is perhaps more obvious in a sector that is very male dominated at a boardroom level. However, it is about solving problems and challenges and ultimately for women to find a way of working positively with each other for the benefit of the industry and our progression within it. It is important to find ways of growing our support network and helping to make each other stronger as a result. This is not just for Women in Tech, but for all women entrepreneurs and women in corporate careers on the African continent. We have to help each other if we are to really progress.
"Stop second guessing and just jump. Remember the mistakes you make are all part of learning..." - Ethel Cofie @MissEDCofie #womenintech
As a successful woman techpreneur, what do you think are the biggest challenges for women entrepreneurs in the tech sector in Africa?
Actually, I think we face the same challenges as our male counterparts, but perhaps it is a little harder as women. In Africa, it is hard enough to get VCs to invest, but for women it is even more challenging. Also, as women we have to ask ourselves if we are willing to pay the price for doing business. For example, men might have to frequently go and do a late night dinner with clients, or have late drinks with a VC or another colleague, or go to a football game or play two rounds of golf at the weekend to network. Are women willing, or indeed able, to do the same, given that for many women they are also having to try and balance managing a business whist at the same time managing a home, raising and educating children, and successfully maintaining a personal relationship. It is a real balancing act and much more difficult for women to achieve. I think this is a barrier to entry for women and perhaps the trick is to try and figure out what our advantages are instead of focusing on all the disadvantages. Personally, I have amazing mentors, in particular two women who are dedicated to helping me and they push me to go beyond boundaries and to think bigger. I think one of the challenges is that women don’t have enough mentors that really do push them beyond their comfort zones, encourage them to dream bigger, to think bigger, and to really supersize their dreams.
What excites you most about the future for women entrepreneurs in Africa’s tech sector?
I think what is exciting is that there are more women entrepreneurs like myself emerging in the tech sector in Africa, but there is also a greater diversity of women entering the sector. There are also a lot of groups, such as non-profits, that are putting huge energy into the sector to support women, and as long as those energies are targeted, then I think that in a generation or so we will have more women who are better at what they do and who can grow multi-national companies, and that I am looking forward to.
What entrepreneurial advice would you give to aspirant young women techpreneurs in Africa?
Stop second guessing and just jump. Remember the mistakes you make are all part of learning, so instead of overthinking things just do it, and on your way down you will figure it out.
Contact or follow Ethel Cofie and Edel Technologies
Why LoA loves it….
In the world of women’s entrepreneurship in general, and women entrepreneurs in the tech sector specifically, Ethel Cofie is a real powerhouse - inspirational, successful, highly pragmatic and ultimately innovative. For all those women in Africa who are looking to make their own mark in the tech sector and lead a new movement of women creating the next generation of major tech companies on the continent and beyond, then Ethel Cofie is a real inspiration. --- Melanie Hawken, Lionesses of Africa founder and editor-in-chief