African startups clashing with regulators due to non-compliance are often faced with far-reaching consequences, including some that render their businesses defunct or inoperable in some markets – as was experienced by some scale-ups last year.
Non-compliance incidents are pervasive in Africa’s startup community, often due to the lack of proper guidance at the foundation stage. Linda Bonyo, noticed this gap, after founding the legal tech startup, Lawyers Hub, in Kenya six years ago. She noticed that startups struggled establishing their operations within bounds of law.
Her observation led her to launch a legal and tech accelerator program that helps startups to, among other requirements, legally set-up operations, have clear structures and corporate governance, prepare to raise funds, and stay compliant to prescribed regulations or laws.
Lawyers Hub takes startup founders through the curated free program, delivered in partnership with institutions including development agencies, which is also augmented by optional one-on-one sessions with its lawyers. Now in its third year, the 12-weeks program targets seed stage startups that Bonyo says are lacking in terms of access and funding.
“The founders are trained on financials, taxation laws, intellectual property, what they require to prepare for a funding round, and need to scale beyond their borders,” said Bonyo, adding that founders are also guided on co-founder relations, managing conflicts, and company closures – when things do not go as planned.
This year’s cohort consists of 200 startups drawn from across the continent, pointing to a demand for the services Lawyers Hub is offering.
Bonyo knows the importance of structures in a startup way too well after a cancer diagnosis left her hospitalized last year for six months in India, but with little impact in the continuity of her business.
“Lawyers Hub was able to continue operations, and we were able to host the festival last year because the team carried on with the business because we had a structure that allowed continuity in my absence,” said Bonyo.
“Structure is important, it helps founders to separate themselves from the business (because they are just a part of it) and in defining the role of each member. Startups are also able to decentralize operations, and let other people play an active role in the business,” said Bonyo.
In the lead up to Lawyers Hub launching its accelerator program, the start-up was running a fellowship program to upskill traditional lawyers on increasing Africa’s digital policy talent pool– which is much needed currently as policymakers grapple with issues brought about by emerging technologies.
The fellowship continues to attract top talent, with 508 applications lodged from 24 countries in Africa this year. Twenty three, a slight increase from 15 last year, will undergo the six-month paid program.
Besides, they also host the Law Tech festival annually, where experts, policymakers, and founders convene for regional conversations on various issues like AI, and intra-Africa trade, which was the theme of this year’s summit held earlier this week.
Bonyo, and Lawyers Hub by extension, has been instrumental in the development of a number of digital policies including Kenya’s Data Protection Act, and advising various African governments, like Somalia, on digital identity, and Nigeria on AI policy.
Her expertise in digital law and data governance has not gone unnoticed as she was recently nominated to the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on the future of Technology Policy to deal with a range of issues, including regulation, and the tapping of technologies to address the pressing needs of the people, as well scaling them responsibly.
She also consults on digital identity and data governance for the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa, and has in the past worked closely with a number of institutions, including the Africa Union on data and AI policy framework.