Suyash Sumaroo, co-founder of Horizon Africa, shares his insights on how Horizon Africa has been collaborating with key market players and partnering with various local and international companies in the launch of blockchain solutions in diverse fields, including the medical field (Covid App), NFTs (Non-Fungible Token) and token-based payments solutions. He also highlights the trends, opportunities and challenges the industry is facing and the potential for Mauritius to become a vibrant and active blockchain hub for Africa, which can disrupt various sectors.
Since Horizon Africa was launched, you have been collaborating with key market players across a number of different sectors. Can you take us through the journey so far?
The journey started with a simple idea of democratizing the blockchain technology in the Mauritian and African markets. Down the road, we have been able to develop the idea much further to make it a robust system which big corporations and even governments can use for their use cases. The start, though, was sometimes rocky in the sense that we had a lot of interest but very few concrete projects from potential partners and clients.
However, in the last 18 months, things have dramatically changed with renewed interest from not only local companies but also international start-ups. The fact that we were an earlier player gives us a definitive advantage, but this also requires us to innovate at a breathtaking pace. As a result, we partnered with various local and international companies in the launch of blockchain solutions in diverse fields, including the medical field (Covid App), NFTs (Non-Fungible Token) and token-based payments solutions. The current situation has allowed us to increase our number of partners or validators to seven and our client base to a dozen.
Coming to Blockchain technology and cryptocurrency, these are gaining significant traction on the African continent. How do you see the next phase of development in the FinTech space?
One of the most important directions FinTech is taking is in the NFT (Non-Fungible Token) area. Initially, the application of NFTs was restricted to the art industry. However, with renewed interest and some innovative projects, NFTs are disrupting the FinTech space in ways that until now were not thought of.
The next phase of the FinTech space will see more development in the NFT area as well as tokenization of various physical and digital assets, along with the integration of Decentralized Finance (DeFi) in various financial tools and processes.
A lot of the development is happening ‘under the radar’ in the sense that public and media interest is diverted towards other aspects of blockchain technology. However, a lot of development is already happening in the current space. Finance, including banking and non-banking sectors, are expected to be disrupted in the next few years and this includes activities like crowdfunding and investments. These areas have been devoid of any real innovation in Mauritius and other African countries and as such Blockchain is expected to disrupt these industries.
What are the trends you see in this sector?
The trends are pretty clear, and it shows a clear interest in the tokenization economy. This obviously relates to NFTs as well as other tokenization technologies and use cases that are becoming more prominent.
The Covid crisis has put a lot of pressure on existing businesses and the effects are expected to last for at least a few years. This is the moment where innovation in the token economy is starting to take shape in terms of real uses and real clients. Horizon Africa has seen this first-hand with NFTs, via a project (Loot NFT) that was launched only two months ago but which has garnered international attention not only in the art industry but especially and interestingly in the financial sector.
In general, the adoption of cryptocurrencies is going to take more prominence not only in terms of trading activities but also in terms of commercial activities.
What are the main challenges and opportunities in this space, and how can these be addressed?
The main challenges remain the lack of funding for tech start-ups. Horizon Africa has been battling with this situation for a few years now and has changed its business model in the process to create revenue generating activities to bootstrap its development. It should be noted that start-ups in FinTech require a lot of capital to set up because of software and regulatory requirements. Although Horizon Africa was able to develop by bootstrapping its whole operation, this cannot be expected for other start-ups in the FinTech space.
It is no surprise that real innovation will happen with start-ups, not with big corporations or governments. This is why the most important component of any FinTech ecosystem is the emergence of start-ups in the space and the required support to these companies. As long as this is not addressed, innovation in the space will always be hindered.
How is Horizon Africa seeking to support local, African and global corporations with its platform and what are its main areas of focus?
The mission of Horizon Africa has always been to democratize the use of Blockchain technology and as such a large part of our effort, as a tech start-up, goes into supporting the Mauritian and other African communities. This effort comes in the form of seminars and webinars that we either regularly organise or are part of. The main aim of these participations is to gear people towards the real importance and use of Blockchains and cryptocurrencies apart from the traditional and overhyped niches like crypto trading.
As tech founders, we focus a lot on technology and try to follow, help and accompany a lot of youngsters in their journey to be part of this space. We have created multiple groups in the major social platforms where we engage in meaningful discussions to teach people about the technology and, very importantly, not to fall for the various scams, be it locally or internationally.
More specifically, we encourage people to start their blockchain journey in the Horizon Africa Blockchain Network, where we provide the users and entrepreneurs with the right tools, expertise and help to start building their solutions.
How do you see the future of this space in Mauritius, in Africa, and internationally?
This is already happening. Most of our software and platforms that we created in the space in the last few years, since we started in the market, are already being used extensively by international clients.
There was always the traditional route of going through intermediaries to integrate a market outside Mauritius. However, Horizon Africa and I believe a lot of other companies are taking an alternative and more efficient route - that of using innovation to reach out to international companies who are looking for such services. The lack of innovation in the space allows innovative companies to come out on top and attract clients from around the world.
The future, according to us, is the elimination of borders between countries and creating a level playing field that was until now unheard of. It is important that companies in Mauritius realize the importance of this phenomenon and adapt their strategies based on this.
In relation to Horizon Africa's Academy, which focuses on providing education, courses and training services to different stakeholders, what support has been given to help students proceed in the right direction and engage in productive development work when it comes to Blockchain concepts?
The COVID crisis affected our ability to provide support in terms of training and help to students and entrepreneurs. However, with time, we have managed to get back to our core activities and values which include helping students and entrepreneurs start their blockchain journey.
Something interesting which happens in the blockchain space - which is probably unique among the other industries - is that people and companies in the blockchain ecosystem actually encourage and help other people to start their own businesses in the same space as they are in. This is not about competition but instead about helping the maximum number of people and companies make use of one of the most innovative and ground-breaking technologies.
As part of Horizon Africa, we are on a relentless mission to encourage more students to study the fundamentals of blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies and not get distracted by things like trading and quick moneymaking schemes. The technology is much more than that.
How do you see the prospects for Mauritius as a blockchain hub?
The COVID pandemic has created a very fragile situation for most companies. As a result, any activity which tries to create a positive environment for the ecosystem is most welcome. One of our main expectations, as a company, and even personally, is to put Mauritius on the map in Africa as a vibrant and active blockchain hub which is disrupting various sectors.
We currently have a lot of use cases ranging from NFTs to blockchain-based e-Commerce platforms which are part of the current thriving ecosystem. We also hope to bring more visibility to Mauritian start-ups and their expertise in the context of them raising funds for their businesses.