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AiDiA, the pitch competition for Black startup founders, is taking place for the second time this year. Based in Hamburg, the event is now attracting international attention. And the AiDiA team has many more plans for the future.

© FoGG: after-work meeting at Mindspace
© FoGG: after-work meeting at Mindspace

It all started with the Future of Ghana Germany association

In 2015, Lucy Larbi founded the non-profit association Future of Ghana Germany (FoGG). At the time, she worked for the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) as a junior education consultant, and now she operates in management consulting in the field of agile organisational and product development. FoGG aims to help Black people in Germany gain more visibility, especially in the economic and professional context. To this end, the association builds networks to enable the exchange of experiences and knowledge and initiates projects that serve the purpose of advancing the socio-economic development of Germans with an African migration background.

The events organised by FoGG also included after-work meetings that took place at the Hamburg coworking space Mindspace between 2017 and 2020. It became obvious how many impressive Black entrepreneurs there are, but who are far too little known. This gave rise to the idea of AiDiA, the first pitch competition focusing on startups led by Afro-Germans. The combination of letters stands for the term "AfroDiAspora" and is pronounced like the English word "idea".

© Mathias Jäger/Hamburg Startups: Augustina B. Busiah of Oheema Green Housing, winner of AiDiA 2022
© Mathias Jäger/Hamburg Startups: Augustina B. Busiah of Oheema Green Housing, winner of AiDiA 2022

A success also thanks to careful planning

Planning for the event began in 2020, and Lucy was quickly able to recruit allies for the project and put together a core team of 12 people. Many of them come from management consultancy and marketing, and some have already founded their own companies. They proceeded with the preparation of the event in a correspondingly professional manner, using methods that are also common in the development of business models and products for startups. This includes flexible and agile work in small steps that allow corrections at any time.

A coherent and convincing concept was thus ensured. The biggest challenge was now to secure the project financially. A crowdfunding campaign at the beginning of 2022 exceeded the target and raised around 12,500 euros, but that alone would not have been enough, not even together with the income from entrance fees. Sponsors were needed at a time when the pandemic was still affecting the course of events and making longer-term planning difficult. In addition, AiDiA did not want to be understood as a charity event, but to convince with innovative strength and economic relevance.

And it succeeded. Well-known sponsors such as Paypal, Snipes, Techniker Krankenkasse and the Otto Group made their contributions so that prize money of 53,000 euros could be handed out on 3 September 2022, an extraordinary amount for a startup competition. 30,000 euros alone went to Augustina B. Busiah and her startup Oheema Green Housing, which produces building materials for houses from plastic waste. Not only for her did AiDiA prove to be a great success, the whole event inspired with rousing pitches and many examples of Black excellence, entrepreneurial, cultural and culinary. No question that there had to be a sequel!

© AiDiA: the team of 2023
© AiDiA: the team of 2023

2023 AiDiA is more than just one event

It will now take place on 2 September 2023. This year, however, AiDiA will not remain a one-off event. On 24 August, the pre-week starts, which is intended to get people in the mood for the big pitch final. The programme includes ten events, in Hamburg among others a rooftop party, a basketball challenge and a networking meeting for women organised together with Black Female Business. Other locations are Berlin, Düsseldorf, Cologne and Vienna. The new international orientation is also reflected in the AiDiA finalists. The competition is held in two categories. In the "idea pitch", the founders are still at the very beginning of their development. The only Hamburg startup to qualify is Fades & Braids, which is developing a hairstyling app.

In the "founders' pitch" category, five already active companies are hoping to win the main prize, which is once again endowed with 30,000 euros. Kwame AI from Zurich presents EsqA, a digital tool that enables comprehensive legal research. RasaTabula from Rostock produces a plastic-free football, currently still completely handmade. Cloudoplex from Venlo, the Netherlands, advises companies on how to reduce their CO2 emissions. IVY POW from Mainz offers care products for all hair types. And the Sankofa Sprachschule from Berlin is entering the race with an app for learning African languages.

The programme is completed by live concerts, a comedian's performance, catering with Afro-German fusion cuisine and a big after-show party. Thus, AiDiA almost takes on the character of a festival that celebrates different aspects of Black life. But the AiDiA team, which is still largely voluntary, does not want to stop there. Further professionalisation and internationalisation are planned, as well as a considerable expansion of offerings.

© Mathias Jäger/Hamburg Startups: Lucy Larbi, initiator of AiDiA
© Mathias Jäger/Hamburg Startups: Lucy Larbi, initiator of AiDiA

The future of AiDiA stands on three pillars

As early as next year, AiDiA is to stand on three pillars. Of course, the pitch competition will remain the most important element, but it will no longer be a singular event, but part of a business & culture fair. Here, topics such as diversity and inclusion will be the centre of attention and give participants the opportunity to use experiences from different cultures for their own benefit. Not only the Black community will have a place there, but also religious associations will find a stage, for example.

The second pillar will be an accelerator for the startups participating in the pitch. Cooperation with existing funding programmes is envisaged here. The third point is the development of a far-reaching network that offers numerous advantages through membership. These can be discounted tickets to events, workshops and other training measures and much more. 

All of this is pie in the sky and certainly still subject to some changes. But when you see how effective the AiDiA team has been so far, you can definitely expect a lot more from them. Whether Hamburg will remain the most important venue is also still open; other cities have already expressed their interest. In any case, it would be desirable, because this very special startup competition is a real flagship for our city.

© Irene Opoku: Lucy Larby, Initiator of AiDiA
"Hamburg has a special significance for us, especially as Hamburg is the hometown of many AiDiA members and has great potential to become Germany's innovation city. We look forward to making our contribution along the way."
Lucy Larbi, initiator of AiDiA


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