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How Shenzhen is fueling Ethiopia’s burgeoning startup scene

By Isabelle Niu
Addis AbabaPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

This story is part of an ongoing series on how China is reshaping our world.

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, the streets are lined with phone shops with bright blue signs that read “Tecno.” It’s a popular phone brand in Africa, owned by Chinese phone manufacturer Transsion.

The Shenzhen-based company has quietly taken over the African phone market, beating its larger global competitors on a continent of more than one billion people.

The name Transsion isn’t well-known in China or anywhere else for that matter, but it is the fourth largest mobile phone maker in the world (link in Chinese), after Apple, Samsung and Huawei. Transsion’s success in Africa stems from a combination of competitive pricing and localized features such as cameras that adjust to darker skin, multiple sim card slots and long battery life. The company assembles its phones in Ethiopia and has design and research centers in other parts of Africa.

Transsion’s strategy of leaving its saturated domestic consumer electronics market for the expanding, underserved African market has inspired other entrepreneurs in Shenzhen, China’s hub of hardware manufacturing and innovation.

“Transsion’s story really got Shenzhen makers excited about Africa,” says David Li, the founder of Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab, an organization that connects global tech entrepreneurs to Shenzhen’s manufacturing ecosystem.

As Shenzhen companies look to Africa for new consumer markets, African entrepreneurs are turning to Shenzhen for manufacturing partners to turn their ideas into reality. In just the past few years, Shenzhen’s international image has transformed—from a place of cheap copycat electronics to the laboratory for hardware innovators around the world. This newly articulated image of Shenzhen appeals to a new generation of African technologists, who are eager to create products for African consumers.

Quartz travels to Ethiopia for the latest episode of Because China, our video series about how the newly risen superpower is changing everything. This week, a story about how the movers and shakers in Ethiopia’s burgeoning tech startup scene are building connections in Shenzhen and tapping into the open source manufacturing ecosystem of China’s most entrepreneurial city.

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