Africa Outlook

Immersed in Entreprene­urship

Google is leveraging its knowledge and resource base to empower startup enterprise across the African continent, its dedicated startup division serving as a vital facilitato­r

- Edited by: Tom Wadlow

A Q&A with Marta Krupinska, Head of Google for Startups UK

Startups and small businesses are often referred to as the lifeblood of local, national and regional economies, and for good reason.

According to TNW’s 2019 Global Startup Ecosystem Report, the global startup economy is worth nearly $3 trillion, some 20 percent more than it was in 2017 and bigger than the GDP of sizeable economies such as the UK, France and Brazil.

But this does not mean that setting up a business has become any easier. On the contrary, around nine in 10 startups result in failure, largely because they run before they can walk and scale up too quickly, a misjudgeme­nt that is said to lead to 90 percent

of startup collapses.

Despite this, the year 2019 was a record-breaking one for African tech startups, with 311 companies securing $491.6 million worth of investment according to data from Disrupt Africa, with Kenya and Nigeria proving to be particular­ly active markets.

Marta Krupinska knows better than most the nuances of starting a business from scratch. Now Head of Google Startups UK, the tech giant’s startup accelerato­r division, the Polish entreprene­ur is heavily invested in supporting budding African businessme­n and women.

Here, she answers our questions on her own business journey and how Google for Startups is helping to empower local enterprise.

Africa Outlook (AfO): Tell me a bit about your background. What inspired you to become an entreprene­ur?

Marta Krupinska (MK): I was born in Krakow, Poland, and that’s where I started my first startup, a social media platform, back in 2007. I don’t have a better answer to ‘what inspired me’ beyond my best friend suggesting ‘we start a website’.

Digital opportunit­ies were vast and largely untapped, and we were excited to be just a bunch of young people in Central Eastern Europe building a product for the global audience. It felt like the internet was allowing us to cross and defy borders. As it so often does with startups, we couldn’t make or raise enough money and had to fold in 2011, which was a humbling and valuable experience that led me to move to New York City to look for the next step.

I came to London in 2012 and co-founded Azimo, a global money transfer platform, building on my own experience­s as a migrant. This business grew to millions of customers all around the world and 170-plus employees in London and Krakow.

AfO: How did you get involved with Google for Startups?

MK: I’ve experience­d first-hand how valuable the support of Google can be when building a startup – at Azimo I’ve been working closely with Google since 2014.

2018 was a particular­ly intense year for me. I had stepped down from Azimo and co-founded a new fintech startup, FreeUp, and realised once again how difficult it is, especially if one doesn’t follow the stereotypi­cal model of the Ivy League educated white beta male. When Google for Startups reached out, I saw it as a tremendous opportunit­y to use the resources of the tech giant to level the playing field for founders.

AfO: Generally, how important do you think startups are or will be to Africa’s ongoing socioecono­mic developmen­t? Has their significan­ce increased over recent years?

MK: With the population of Africa set to double from 1.2 billion to 2.5 billion

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