By LILLIAN KIARIE
Microsoft’s director for virtual capital and startups, Amrote Abdella, is scaling great heights at just 32. She has held top positions at international corporations, including the World Economic Forum and World Bank — and she’s just getting started.
You’ve held very high-ranking positions — what did you study?
I studied economics and political science at Brandeis University in North Carolina, USA.
How do you describe yourself?
As a confident and agile 32-year-old woman born and raised in Ethiopia. I am recently married; no kids yet. I have been working with Microsoft since February 2013 as director, venture capital and startups, Africa initiatives.
Where were you working before Microsoft?
I served for three years as an associate director for Africa at the World Economic Forum in Geneva. In 2009, I also served as a financial analyst at the World Bank in Washington in the department of financial access for a year. Before that, I served as a senior microfinance programme officer for the Global Hunger Project, an NGO.
How old were you when you got your first job, and what was it?
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I was 22, and I was a financial advisor at a small firm in Vaughn, USA. My first salary was around $3,000 (Sh260,000 at current exchange rates).
How have you grown your career to this level in 10 years?
I have dared to push and go forward without limiting myself. With only two years of experience, I have applied for jobs that were asking for seven years. I never followed guidelines but pushed. I push myself to learn new things and have never been confined to the skills I have.
Young people who want to do what I’ve done need to be daring and grab opportunities that come their way. Never feel intimidated by any position that requires more skill than you have. Be open to learning and seek new ways to better yourself. It is also important to have mentors who can guide you in the direction you want to go.
What does your job as director of startups involve?
I am involved in helping startups get technical expertise and support to scale up. We help them note the gaps in the market, tailor their solutions to the market, and offer training and a framework for support.
Recently, five startup companies in Africa received about $500,000 (Sh43 million) for their innovations. They included Mobile LLC from Uganda, two Nigerian companies Gamsole and Save & Buy, and Kenyan startups Africa 118 and Kytabu.
They were selected for the uniqueness and scalability of their solutions, their business models and the relevance of the problems they are addressing.
That’s the criteria startups need to meet to get funding?
Yes. We ask the questions: is it an innovative solution? Does it have an addressable market? Is this solution targeting a niche market? Can we localise the concept and take it elsewhere and use it to address a need gap? Is it relevant in Africa?
Microsoft has launched the 4Afrika Initiative, what is it about?
The 4Afrika Initiative focuses on igniting innovation among Africans and helping startups create African solutions that can be transformed into global solutions. It also aims to provide affordable access to technology, particularly cloud services and smart devices, to accelerate African competitiveness.
If you were not at your current job, what would you be doing?
I would love to be an advisor and consultant helping entrepreneurs drive growth.