Afrocentric tech startup battles brain drain, bolsters bootstrappers

Princesse Likayi is a Portland State alumna and chief operations officer of Talent2Africa, a recruiting platform for the African diaspora. Likayi pitched her startup idea to a global audience at TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield, a competition held on Oct. 11 in Nairobi, Kenya. Her startup was shortlisted as one of 15 African startups among 800 applicants from the continent competing for $25,000 and the opportunity to present at the finals.

Portland State Vanguard caught up with Likayi over Skype to discuss the competition results and find out the next steps for the up-and-coming global entrepreneur.

“Though we couldn’t make it to the finals, it was great to be around other startups,” Likayi said. “From the competitors, we learned to write clever business plans and present them in a short span of time.”

Currently Likayi and her team are working on version two of Talent2Africa as a Software as a Service project. As a Congolese-American, Likayi takes pride in helping African entrepreneurs find footholds in global business. She will be heading to Nigeria in December for her next project with Green Africa Airways.

“My first love has always been social justice,” she said. “I try to carry the spirit of representing minority entrepreneurs wherever I go. I work with a conscious and sustainable motto, and carry those principles with me wherever I work.”

One of the major issues faced by African entrepreneurs is getting investors outside the continent to invest in them, according to Likayi. “Even after getting funding, or a white executive member or CEO, [these companies] have to overcome a slew of discriminations,” she said.

Likayi has been working with African enterprisers for the past four years, serving as a link in tech space bringing people together for a common goal. “Launching a startup is not easy,” she said. “You are bootstrapping everything, and you have to constantly reassure yourself and be extremely confident.”

Despite the stresses of entrepreneurship, Likayi is happy to lend young businesspeople of the continent her skills and network. She emphasized the importance of having a platform for African businesspeople.

“African companies have willingness to hire talent from within the continent, but they lack resources,” she explained. “The global recruitment platforms have less space for minorities. We talk about talent gap, brain drain and the phenomenon of smart Africans leaving the country without actually knowing the gravity of the situation.”

Likayi said she feels startups can help fill the void by building African-centric technologies to solve some of these issues and strongly believes in the ability of entrepreneurs in Africa to bring about compelling changes among the people of the continent.

“Startups can build powerful technologies and infrastructure that can change transportation, education, health and recruitment processes,” she said. “This process makes it easier for the Africans within the continent to find jobs, and motivates the African global diaspora to return home.”

Reflecting on her time at PSU, Likayi said her education in the United States has made her more attractive to African entrepreneurs. But she said she feels her mindset is also important. “I kind of deviated from the traditional path that my classmates took.” For most of her classmates studying international development, that path led them to the nonprofit sector.

“I was not very confident in the [nonprofit] sector’s ability to create effective change,” she said. “I wanted to work more on the economic development side, associating with more people on the ground.”

While at PSU, Likayi was also an active organizer of events for the Association of African Students. “We really brought conversation about what it is like to be an African. We tried to get rid of the stereotypical stigma that Africans are primitive.”

She said she fondly remembers her circle as a cosmopolitan gang. “We were ambitious and a bit naive. We wanted to change fast, and later realized that it takes time to bring about a change.”

Likayi’s sister Naomi is a sophomore at PSU studying art practice. She dreams of being a character animator in the future and said she admires her sister’s accomplishments. “I am extremely proud about my sister’s latest achievement. She is versatile, and more importantly has always stayed connected to her roots. Her love for Africa and the people there is reflected in her work.”

Editor’s Note: The Nov. 14 print version of this piece erroneously referred to Nigerian startup Green Africa Airways as Green Africa Airlines. The online version has been updated.