“In God we trust, for anything else, bring data.” This is the mantra that guides Charlette Désire N’Guessan, a 25-year-old Ivorian woman who strongly advocates gender balance in the African technological ecosystem through various NGOs.
by Edith Yah Brou
In 2018, thanks to her courage and commitment, this tech blogger ended up cofounding BACE GROUP (www.bacegroup.com), a Ghana-based startup in the disruptive technologies sector. This company provides facial recognition services powered by artificial intelligence that notably helps African businesses to fight online fraud and improve KYC (Know Your Customer) strategies.
“BACE GROUP was founded in 2018 by a young pan African team of which I am a member, along with Samuel Sowah Mensah (Ghana), Jean Cedric Attiembonon (Côte d’Ivoire) and Ugwu Arinze Christopher (Nigeria).
The four of us are friends fascinated by the possibility of using technology to develop innovative solutions to Africa’s problems. We all met and participated in the MEST programme. We all have technical training and business skills. We have experience in creating software solutions based on advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and facial recognition. We have a B2B business model. Alongside our API, we develop other services on request in the field of cybersecurity as well as innovative solutions in the events sector”. Their clients are mostly fintechs, online businesses, suppliers of services and security equipment, and events agencies.
After getting her Baccalaureate C (her end-of-school diploma specialising in Maths and Science), Charlette Désire studied electronics, IT networks and software engineering at two universities based in Yamoussoukro and Abidjan. She graduated in electronics, networks and software engineering, and is an alumnus of the prestigious MEST school. She interned at IT labs and AIRCI as a computer scientist. She also took part in a number of international training programmes in the field of business, leadership and technology. Highly committed to and involved in various associations, Charlette Désire is also an AIF2019 fellow and an alumnus of YALI RLC West Africa and Internet Society’s Youth IGF 2017. She’s the cofounder of Digital Grassroot, an online community that gets young people involved in Internet governance. Charlette is also a lecturer and mentor for African girls in STEMs. She shares her feedback on her blog: www.adventintic.com.
I’ve known Charlette Désire for a number of years. I’ve followed her blogging path within the Association des Blogueurs de Côte d’Ivoire (ABCI). “Blogging introduced me to the world of entrepreneurship. My blog can be seen as my first company. I learnt a lot in terms of skills and developed a substantial network regarding my interests as a tech blogger. I have to admit that it became easier for me to access opportunities because my blog has been a way to establish my credibility within the Ivorian Tech ecosystem”.
Over the years, she has gradually acquired new expertise and soft skills by participating, around the world, in numerous leadership programmes, hackathons and conferences on youth empowerment. These programmes inspire her to improve her work and her impact within her community. “The experience and knowledge I have acquired through all these programmes cannot be measured. For me, travelling, taking part in hackathons and attending international programmes are all excellent opportunities to meet key youth leaders who have an impact on their community and to create international collaboration. It’s also an ecosystem to better grasp certain global problems from different perspectives”.
Her passion for technology is obvious. Although she finds it difficult to trust others, this young woman knows where she’s going and how to get there. “As a child, I was a bit of a tomboy. A little more guarded than today and totally lacking in self-confidence. As an aside, I always wanted to be an architect, but I don’t regret my current career choice”.
I was very proud to be able to enrol in the school, as I was the first French-speaking woman selected.
And Charlette Désire also owes this new life as a cybersecurity entrepreneur to MEST (Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology). It is a one-year training programme focusing on entrepreneurship, software development and communication for aspiring Tech entrepreneurs. The school is based in Accra, Ghana, which is where the young woman has chosen to make her home. “I was very proud to be able to enrol in the school, as I was the first French-speaking woman selected. This experience allowed me to meet my cofounders, study the Ghanaian market and ecosystem, obtain funding to launch my startup and become bilingual – a significant advantage in the entrepreneurial ecosystem”.
Her entrepreneurial path in this highly competitive sector of activity was not a walk in the park. Given that the solutions she proposes are developed on advanced technologies and her startup operates within an emerging ecosystem, it’s sometimes hard for her to strike deals with local businesses. In her opinion, the African market is being hampered, with regard to technological innovation, by the substantial number of legal constraints. “Some companies don’t have this aptitude and this flexibility to innovate their services by using technology. Such constraints unfortunately apply to numerous local startups”.
Many young Africans launch their businesses with a very idealistic and embellished vision of the life of an entrepreneur, until the day they have to face the harsh reality after banging their head against a brick wall. And Charlette Désire admits that she would have liked to have had more astute and pragmatic advice before launching her business: “I would have liked to have had more feedback reflecting the true path of an entrepreneur. Before getting involved in entrepreneurship, I knew the road would be long and complicated, but I wasn’t aware of the real challenges I was likely to face. Most stories are untrue and told in a way as to attract others’ attention and admiration. It’s a shame. Today, with the experience of the Tech entrepreneurial ecosystem I now have, I have decided to be genuine and to be more open about the subject. I share everything via the young entrepreneur I represent in my blog; it’s the genuine me. I think it’ll help a lot of young aspiring entrepreneurs to prepare and anticipate certain actions”.
Many African cities are facing unplanned urbanisation issues, and a growing number of citizens are migrating from isolated areas to towns and cities. Critical measures and mechanisms need to be put in place to improve city-dwellers’ lives. Information and Communications Technology is seen as a remarkable solution in this respect. With her startup BACE GROUP, Charlette Désire is open to the idea of offering solutions that can be used in and adapted to smart cities. “We are aware that the technological ecosystem is a very fast-changing one and, as a disruptive startup, we have to continue to be innovative and develop solutions that meet the market’s needs. Smart cities are regularly presented as a solution to the African continent’s galloping urbanisation. With regard to this aspect, I’d say that African countries need to be open, they have to encourage and support projects that aim to innovate within the African ecosystem. As well as the fact that Smart Cities are cities that combine innovation, technology and sustainable development to serve the economy and the fulfilment of their citizens. These cities will promote job creation, but all development players have to be aware of African realities and capable of adapting these solutions to this continent’s specific requirements”.
Aware that she very early on benefited from the trust of her elders, Charlette is eager to pass on her knowledge to younger people. She has contributed to the development of a number of communities in Côte d’Ivoire that promote new technologies. She collaborates on and participates in conferences, events to share her experience and motivate young people who aspire to becoming entrepreneurs or having a career in New Information and Communications Technology-related professions.
“I am very involved in the gender-balancing process in Africa’s tech ecosystem. I also have my blog, open and accessible online, that addresses topics associated with technology, entrepreneurship, leadership and opportunities for young Africans. So if you have initiatives, feel free to contact me”. Given her impressive career, you might think that being a young woman in the tech sector was a competitive advantage for Charlette Désire, but her opinion is more nuanced: “YES and NO. Yes because, given the efforts undertaken to ensure gender parity in the Tech ecosystem, many opportunities have opened up that target women, and are thus an advantage for female entrepreneurs. No because it is still hard for women entrepreneurs to access financing; we sometimes face discriminatory rhetoric and indecent proposals. As young female entrepreneurs, we need to be aware of the ecosystem’s various advantages and difficulties, morally prepare ourselves and know how to use the resources at our disposal to successfully develop our companies. It may be a difficult road, but it’s not an impossible one”.
Charlette Désire has a clear vision of the woman she wants to be in the long term. She’s highly focused on her professional career. “Our medium-term projects for BACE GROUP are to develop market credibility, expand our services and increase the number of clients. In the longer term, our vision is to position ourselves as a leader in the field of security and ID checks in order to help companies fight fraud in Africa”.