Jon Gosier at NY Forum Africa 2014

This past week I had the pleasure of speaking at the third annual New York Forum Africa in Libreville, Gabon. NY Forum is the brainchild of Richard Attias, who one of the people responsible for the annual World Economic Forum (better known to the world as Davos).

The first question everyone asks when they hear about the New York Forum Africa is why it’s called ‘The New York Forum’ if it’s a conference focused on Africa.

I can’t claim to know for sure, but there are a few things that I can say. The conference was always meant to be for the same types of people who might go to events like Davos or TED: foreign investors, banks, celebrities, media, government officials. It originally took place in New York where the name makes a lot more sense. This particular event included two sitting African presidents (Rwanda President Paul Kagame and President Ali Bongo Ondimba), three former presidents from Latin America (Former President of Peru Alejandro Toledo, Former President of Mexico Vincente Fox, and former President of Bolivia Jorge Quiroga) as well as African superstars Youssou N’Dour, Akon, and Dikembe Mutombo (pictured below).

New York Forum Africa 2014

At some point a partnership was forged with the country of Gabon to bring the event to Libreville. The benefits of having such a high profile event in Libreville is obvious: it’s a boost to tourism. it attracts investors, it encourages multinational partnerships. In other words, it puts Gabon on the map for people who tend to overlook it for better known countries on the continent like Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, or Ghana.

This is a really smart move by Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba. By investing in partnerships like this, he’s quite literally presenting Gabon as ‘open for business’ to the very people who have the desire, positions, and capital to actually do business.

WHERE NY FORUM DIFFERS

There has been some critique of the very idea of a ‘New York Forum’ Africa. But the forum is so unique and diverse in its offerings, it’s hard not to find it compelling. In my experience doing business on the continent over the past six years conferences in Africa tend to fall under the following archetypes:

  • Small local events that discuss important subject matter usually organized by NGOs, local Government or Civil Society
  • Larger pan-African events that discuss the same subjects, but with participants from across the continent
  • Africa industry specific events (think multinational organized banking, telecom, and mining conferences)
  • Events focused on social entrepreneurship
  • Events focused on tech startups

These are events are fine, and are more than exceptional for those close to the issues discussed. Most of these events are dominated by discussions around developmental aid, to the point that the conversation never moves past what I call ‘naval gazing’ at what new NGO programs are working or aren’t – while forgetting there are other things to give thought to. For instance, what do we do for the individuals living on the continent that aid has actually helped to move out of poverty and into the middle class?

But there are few, dare I say no, African events that are trying to position themselves like a World Economic Forum or TED. Both conferences are smartly composed: part entertainment, part industry insider event, part corporate retreat, and part marketing. The goal of NY Forum is to get people to come to the continent, to learn about opportunities, and the develop either a personal or professional affinity for Africa’s Markets. Why does this matter?

I think back to how important TED Africa in 2007 was for changing the awareness of African issues for some. Though I wasn’t there, it was a talk from the event that I saw by Andrew Mwenda that inspired me to invest on the continent.

Those who challenge the content of events like NY Forum Africa and TED Africa, I argue, miss the point. There have been leaders, intellectuals, and writers exploring the state of the continent for as long as Africa has existed. And for as long as they have done so, they’ve been followed by those wh know of them, but oblivious to most because they are too far removed from the problems or the solutions. So how do we get the World to care?  You present the same ideas in a package they are more likely to find compelling. Conferences like TED, WEF and NYF are diplomacy in disguise. Good PR to help open people’s eyes just a little bit, and to expose Africa’s own movers and shakers to the otherwise oblivious world.

This, New York Forum Africa does better than most conferences on the continent. Hands down. While development is important, making it the complete focus of discussions on Africa isn’t progress. We know of the challenges, we’ve discussed the solutions, as Rwandan President Paul Kagame said at this year’s conference, “what matters now is implementation”.

Presidents of Gabon, Mexico, and Peru

SO, WHAT DIDN’T WORK?

The whole conference was incredibly productive and, as always, it’s the people who come, and the side-conversations that really make things worth while. Rarely is any anything said from the stage at a conference like this ground-breaking or different from what has been said before. That isn’t the point of such events. The point is is to convene the people who will actually do what Kigame alluded to: execute.

That said there was one thing about the conference that just didn’t work. ‘Taskforces’ which were held in smaller breakout rooms that were one part panel, one part workshop. Each was focused on discussion and ‘problem solving’ around topics like Improving Education, Entrepreneurship, and other matters. Around 30 minutes was reserved for the discussion, while 20 minutes or so was reserved for the workshop portion. Nothing done in 15 minutes is really going to be accomplished around such issues. Clearly not enough time.

I, as did many others judging by the side-chatter, felt these workshops were a complete waste of time. To come up with anything tangible, it would require almost an entire day or more to capture all the complexities of the issues and to explore what could be done, and that’s before coming up with an action plan. It would have been way more practical to just make these conversations more intimate discussions and skip the ‘tasking’ altogether.

The other thing that was made clear was that there were too many all-male panels. I personally thought NY Forum did a better job at not falling into this trope than other conferences on the continent. Still it’s a valid concern and one that will hopefully be addressed in the future.

A few months ago I cam across a fascinating study by Daniel Evans and Dr. Charles Thomas, two researchers at The Network Science Center at West Point. They set out to undertake one of the more ambitious studies of the business space in Africa, a network mapping study about who the key players in each market and how the influence or affect one another. Why? To quantify the entrepreneurial network in such a way that the analysis provides concrete policy recommendations.

The results tend to look something like this, where each node represents different key players or actors in the respective entrepreneurial spaces of each hub or country:

West Point Africa Research

The trip was several months long, taking them to various countries and innovation hubs all over the continent and the results are fascinating. A description from the authors themselves from their first paper “Who do you know?” Developing and Analyzing Entrepreneur Networks:

Our research goal is to quantify the entrepreneurial network in such a way that the analysis provides concrete policy recommendations. Our Center has experimented with several data collection methodologies and we have developed an innovative yet simple technique that allows us to develop quantifiable entrepreneur networks. Our innovation is not to develop each individual entrepreneur’s network but to understand the entire entrepreneurial network of the community in which the entrepreneur lives and operates. In order to develop this model, we have adapted a technique used in sociology to measure social capital called the Position Generator (Lin & Dumin,1986; Lin et al, 2001). This technique circumvents the massive effort of mapping an individual’s social network before locating the social resources in it. By approaching the entrepreneur’s network through the analysis of his connections to prominent structural positions in the community or society, researchers are able to construct measures that obtain information on the strength of ties and structural holes (Lin, 2001).

Dan Evans has been doign a fantastic job blogging his research over at the WestPoint blog but gave us permission to make his work available through our open data portal, Statfrica.  The first of three of their papers are now available for download here.  They are:

  • “Who do you know?”- Developing and Analyzing Entrepreneur Networks
  • Quantifying Entrepreneurial Networks: Data Collection in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • Network Science Center Research Team’s Visit to Kampala, Uganda Daniel Evans and Dr. Charles Thomas

Each paper is supported by even more in-depth supplemental material at his blog.  For instiance here, here, here, here, and here…there’s way to much to link to so I encourage those of you who are data-driven to dow your own digging to find out some of of their fascinating discoveries. These papers are freely available here and elsewhere but please contact the authors for citations, references, or future publishing.

We’ll post follow up research of our own based on these papers in the coming months.

Download Network Analysis of Africa’s Tech Hubs and Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

For more details on these particular studies, contact: Network Science Center at West Point | http://www.netscience.usma.edu

Nairobi is home to the promised silicon savannah. Far from the 3-dimensional fly-throughs of the future technology park Konza City, we find a technology collective of a different kind side along North eastern Nairobi. Amidst the dusky haze over Kenya’s capital city a sunset makes way for twilight and nightfall.

Konza-Technology-City-3D-Render

The city’s newest thoroughfare, the Thika Superhighway, comes to life with streetlights and headlamps zooming to and from the outskirts and the burgeoning suburbs of Nairobi County. Beside the highway at the Safari Park Hotel and Casino, sundowners are mixed poolside. Investors, founders, writers and entrepreneurs exchange pleasantries after two chock-full days of pitches, launches and exchanges. DEMO Africa 2013 is over but the real work is only beginning.

Mutua-Matheka-Sunset-Nairobi-Cityscape

Unpacking the previous two days is not merely a matter of reading through the program and evaluating each company and their presence on-and-off stage.  Though it must be said that off-stage is where the bulk of the interactions took place. The DEMO Pit at the Jambo Conference Center was a constant corridor of backlit keyboards, keypads and keystrokes as the finalists took the benefit of time and close proximity to demonstrate their products. The ramifications of the two days this past October, now with the added benefit of the hype and media cycle slowing down, leave us with plenty to ponder.

Let’s look at 10 lessons we can take from DEMO Africa 2013 as we seek to understand trends and insights for the new year ahead.

1. The Changing Face of Tech Financing In Africa

The 40 finalists represented all corners of the continent. The benefit of reviewing the asks of each of the companies gives us context of comparing for any similarities or differences to their predecessors in 2012. Consequently, the categories and ranges of sums of investment proved similarities. Those finalists that chose to explicitly declare how much funding they had raised and what they were searching for ranged between $30,000 and $10,000,000.

When it came to the finalists, the majority were in the bootstrapping phase having involved seed capital by means of savings and personal investments. Interestingly, a fraction of them choosing to match this with grants and taking on venture funding to scale. In the cases where the lines between enterprise and social enterprise become less distinct we find some foundations and non-profit institutions taking to giving grants or in some cases investments for the pilot phase. OTGPlaya, RemoteCycle, Fairwaves, Duma among others being some examples of this trend.

This combination of grant funding and angel investing marks a key point in the African entrepreneur journey. Navigating the challenges of sources of capital and the philosophical questions around committing for a pilot/proof of concept to be non-profit in this discovery phase and transitioning to for-profit or sustainable enterprise soon after. Whether this raises some issues around transparency of intent along the startup’s life cycle remains to be seen. How much institutional investors get clarity on the source of original funding and any legal consequences for them is another question begging to be explored.

Questions around crowdfunding on the African subcontinent are also still pending in this discussion. This would be accelerated by mobile money’s advancement in key economies. Its maturity in Kenya and growth in Nigeria not to mention the mobile network operators aiming to turn the idea of Pan-African mobile money service into more than a gimmick. Is there is room for a Kickstarter of (and for?) Africa just yet or is our ambition better met out by a Kenyan/Nigerian/South African alternative of which there are several contenders?

2. Ushering in the Second Age of the African Technology Hub

Hubs, labs and accelerators across the continent have picked up over the last 3 years. From the iHub in Nairobi, ActivSpaces in Cameroon and Bantalabs among the first ones to well over 100 now all across the continent according to the famed Africa Hubs map by the team at Bongohive in Lusaka.

2014 will be a big test in the model for Nairobi specifically as the dynamics that play in the ecosystem of generating startups and cultivating entrepreneurs becomes clearer. DEMO was an opportunity to look to see any correlations between the finalists and the respective rise of technology hubs in a host of African cities. Though hard to draw a conclusive causal case for the technology hubs from the finalists, ties were evident with the use of space, connections and dissemination of information to the startups.

3. Art of the Start: Pan-African Ambition vs. World Ambition on an African Stage

Kwame Nkrumah said “Africa is one continent, one people, and one nation.” And yet the ambition for today’s African technology startups has been something questioned time and time again. Despite borders, language and geography amongst the list of complexities, there’s the assurances the internet and the mobile phone continue to make in a case for “digital PanAfricanism” and adding a currency to the late Ghanaian leader’s words.

This year’s DEMO Africa gathering confirmed that startups still took the challenge of demonstrating success at a local and micro-level in the cities, townships and capitals seriously. Phrases and notable diagrams typical of today’s lean startup a part of the founders’ vocabulary. Nevertheless there were those who took to the internet to bring the next customer – whether behind an iPad in Honolulu or by a chalet in the Swiss Alps. There was Zehoo getting into cloud computing by serving up a single search engine for one’s different cloud storage of e-mail, documents and attachments. GMobile’s look at the Kenyan Diaspora and their propensity for calling the continent connected with their remittances meant he’d uncovered a strong value proposition for connecting them and their loved ones at a fraction of the price of competing services.

2014’s African tech startup will need to look deep and wide, wrestling with questions of locality and perhaps hyperlocality with solving problems in cyberspace that could lead to a multitude of Africans signing up and signing in.

4. Social Media in Africa – less Snapchat, more Salesforce?

MXit has long been one of the continent’s leading stories for social networking. The South African juggernaut of mobile and social pioneering an age of instant-messaging and growing in emerging economies across the world. A fantastic story complete with the garage and long-haired jean-wearing hustle days and the corporate boardroom takeovers of today. But as the likes of Facebook, Whatsapp and more global social and messaging convergence takes place, the face of social media and social networking adapts in Africa.

Facebook recently surpassed MXit in South Africa as their largest social network with 9,4m active users to MXit’s 7,4m. That said for the social-oriented startups at DEMO Africa 2013 it was interesting to pick up on them choosing to bring social into specific workplace and personal scenarios rather than creating an all-encompassing African social network. Notable examples being Eventtus with events, Jooist and ChopUp with games and Famissima for mothers and families. Each one taking on a set target audience and sure not to compete with Facebook which is fast taking over the continent as the social network of choice with close to 50 million on the social network today.

The next iteration of social startups on the continent are set to pick and attempt to dominate verticals: gaming, family, jobs, small business and television (as witnessed by DEMO Africa alumni Djoss.tv) among others.

5. Gaming, gaming wherefore art thou, gaming?

The past few years have seen a steady rise in sexy African gaming startups. The winner of Pivot East 2012 was Ma3Racer – a minibus taxi racing game. One of the big winners who went on to wow at DEMO after winning in the inaugural event last year was Nigeria’s Maliyo Games. This year as well at Pivot East, we saw that Uganda’s Kola Studios was one of the winners with their Matatu card game. And yet, with all this momentum in African gaming there wasn’t a single gaming company featured in the line-up of the 40.

Gaming was a part or extension of several of this year’s finalists present but no out-and-out gaming startup present. It may have been a phase but perhaps the leisure market and content including how long it takes to scale is seeing more startups go for those untested and uncharted waters more.

5. No e-commerce, a tell-tale sign?   

E-commerce also didn’t feature this year. It’s been a busy year in the race to be the continent’s digital shop of choice. Whether you look at Jumia in West Africa, Rupu in East Africa and Kalahari from South Africa the amount of money being invested and growth rates for companies in e-commerce is enough to show big bets are being made. MIH Africa, Ringier and Rocket Internet taking each other to task as the race heats up. Looks like deep pockets count for a lot in this game too.

A large exit or significant liquidity event on the continent is still pending amidst much of the hype of the consumer technology potential. That’s not stopping some interesting news and activity to lead us to believe an African marketplace play will succeed – or a group of marketplace companies together. One Africa Media being an example of this could be set to be one of the ones to watch in 2014. For the DEMO companies, an exit via acqui-hire with Spark, MIH, Ringier, Rocket or other investors might not be a bad place to aim for.

The next year would be a good time to see the shift from the fight for the market to finding technology talent and see some M&A activity too.

6. The Diaspora: Talent, Audience and Finance

The African diaspora of 30.6m according to the Brookings Institute spread across the world sent over  $51.8bn to Africa  in 2010. The growth of “reaspora” through brain gain is another bonus. The affectionate term for members of the diaspora who are returning and getting into business, the marketplace and service in their home countries.

DEMO exhibited founders who could be categorised by this, having lived, worked and studied abroad and having returned to form ventures that made it to the finals. In other cases international citizens traversing the world ending up mixing global perspective and experience with their local counterparts’ insights to make for formidable teams. Eduze, Karibu Solar and Save and Buy among other examples of this.

The Diaspora also prove a strong potential audience with their affinity for technology and disposable income. They form part of ChamaSoft’s secondary audience attempting to bring transparency to savings clubs and groups – which often include members of the diaspora in their target market, Kenya.

7. Hardware made in Africa, For the World

One of the most interesting aspects from this year was in the hardware category. The mixing and matching of Africa’s challenges and needs with entrepreneurs who thought of hardware, software and variations of both made for interesting viewing.

Arguably the most eye-catching example of this was ViviFi. The Egyptian startup using their patented technology to turn any wall or surface into a touchscreen computer with the help of a WiFi connection. Their unique sticker technology means you could choose to switch off your lights by pressing a part of a brick wall or turning part of the wall into a screen to scroll through goods at a store. A myriad of applications in the real-world and with some of the continent’s limitations.

Fairwaves chose to democratise the telecommunications sector with low-cost base stations powered by open-source technology. By changing the audience from the large centralised telecoms companies to allowing smaller villages and municipalities to take their connectivity into their hands they open up a new business segment for themselves. Changing the price too meant innovating around minimal power consumption and building an architecture that sacrificed on sophistication but could connect much of the interior of the continent bringing in the first wave of GSM connectivity.

However, overcoming regulation for spectrum still presents a hurdle for them but it’s not an insurmountable one with the connections they made at the DEMO 2013. Also happens that this finalist had Russian founders, making technology for the continent and beyond.

8. Content is King – Delivery and Payment Remain the Empire

Africa’s next generation of content creators are born rising through the established channels – Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WordPress and the web at large. However even for them to fully realise success there are a number of challenges around getting content in front of an audience that mean the value chain isn’t complete.

Content delivery is still a incomplete piece of the puzzle. Telecommunications companies are noticing the chance to rewrite the path they’re set on to derive value from content rather than ending up as defined in the “dumb pipe paradox.” While their own app stores, music marketplaces and mobile TV partnerships take place there’s still plenty of room for players to add value to a growing audience.

Eduze’s technology for example has seen them create hardware that incorporates a server, router and content delivery network in what they call CLOX or the cloud in a box. Giving a local connection to cached content they are aiming to bring an in-flight entertainment experience to taxis, locations and retail. With sponsored content as well as reimaginging broadcast and radio advertising for the digital age they hope to provide more accessible content and better value for brands to reach the connected audience.

Conclusion

Overall DEMO Africa 2013 proved through the startups present and by those absent that the African continent that 2014 is set to be a year of discovery, surprise and disruption. The best is yet to come and with the kind of ambition of the finalists and the 300 who were shortlisted, this won’t be the last we write of many of them.

Photo by Mutua Matheka.

Santa Clara Valley in California had a lot going for it up until the early 1980s. Having since been the centre for economic growth in California, the Valley was home to picturesque orchards of apricots, pears and other fruits and vegetables. Home to a steady economy hinged on agriculture and food production it’s no wonder the variety and business opportunities earned it the title “The Valley of Heart’s Delight.”

It was then that the introduction of the IBM Personal Computer and more importantly the semiconductor and microprocessor industries that defined the 3 decades that have followed. Consequently known today across the world as Silicon Valley, agri-business paved way for high-end technology, orchards making room for innovation labs and an age of software and hardware ushering us into a present day.

Between the 1970s and 1980s there were mentions of the term Silicon Valley and its imminent transformation but they remained murmurs as it wasn’t at full scale. Africa sits much on the same precipice today. The continent’s geography of hubs, labs and accelerators featuring to testify of the renaissance. MXit, Ushahidi, M-Pesa and a range of examples of innovation colouring dots on the new map of the continent. Regions and more specific countries making their own contribution to the collective redefinition of the brand known as Africa.

Mutua-Matheka-Great-Rift-Valley-Kenya

Coming closer to home is the majesty of the Great Rift Valley which thanks to its happens to form across more than half a dozen East and Central African countries. These said countries were recently represented among the 40 startups at DEMO Africa 2013 in Nairobi. The finalists share the vision of turning the continent into less of a market dependent on agriculture, natural resources and other expected forms of industry and enterprise. Instead by showcasing their businesses they took their chances on bringing software, hardware and a new discussion on Africa to light. The term Silicon Savannah could not hold more meaning and DEMO couldn’t signify a greater opportunity to solidify the credentials behind the term for the African continent.

2013 has been a great year for the nascent hardware production and fabrication sector in Africa. Far from the early days of young William Kamkwamba in rural Masitala. The Malawian inventor of a windmill sparking a decade of emerging under 18 innovators both literate and illiterate alike. This new generation is building and fabricating concepts years before they get access to a keyboard and software technology.

For DEMO Africa 2013, the convergence of hardware and software is a big sign of the times in Africa rewriting it’s present and future. From Ushahidi launching the BRCK to several DEMO participants each bringing longer term hardware ideas or prototypes to market, this year will be make or break in Africa and inevitably Nairobi in realising the truth behind the title of Africa’s Silicon Savannah.

D8A will be bringing opinion, analysis and insights from the two day conference from Nairobi, Kenya here on the blog as we unpack what went into the conference and what the outcomes were.

Image by Mutua Matheka.


Mark Kaigwa has spent the last 7 years helping global and African businesses, brands, and nonprofits use technology to connect with Africans online. He is a consultant, strategist, and speaker who likes to get hands-on solving problems and applying ideas that will change the future of the continent and emerging markets. Follow him on Twitter @MKaigwa.

Next week 40 of Africa’s finest startups will descend upon Nairobi, Kenya for the second annual DEMO Africa 2013. DEMO Africa has quickly risen to become the must-attend event for investors, entrepreneurs, tech media and others looking for Africa’s “next big thing”.

On Wednesday, October 23, we here at Appfrica and our partners at VC4Africa are hosting an invitation-only investor reception. If you’re an investor interested in early stage companies coming from emerging markets I encourage you to contact either our team or ben@vc4Africa.com to see if there are slots left. We couldn’t be more excited to be working with the V4Africa team who have truly pioneered a platform that I can only describe as ‘the AngelList’ of Africa!

What’s the purpose of the reception? Ben described it best on his blogpost earlier today:

Part of this year’s activities will include special networking events for investors. This is in the continued effort to foster a culture of investing in innovative early stage companies that have the potential to become Pan African if not global success stories. In addition to well known firms like Intel Capital, Jacana Partners, eVentures Africa, Fanisi Capital and The Blue Mirror Fund, there will be a growing number of ‘new breed’ angel investors mixing in the crowd. Take for example Jerome Kisting, the backer of Kenyan based m-Kazi, or Pule Taukobong, an investor in 7 companies including Wabona and Enzi. These individuals represent an emerging class of investor now coming up across the continent. They provide a critical link for entrepreneurs looking to break rank and they offer entrepreneurs much more than their cash, often sharing critical insights and a rolodex of valuable contacts entrepreneurs would struggle to gain access to otherwise.

Entrepreneurs from across the continent who are in attendance who might be interested in our own Apps4Africa Acceleration program, are encouraged to look for Appfrica staff onsite at DEMO where they’ll be scouting. In case you want know what goes on at DEMO, check out this mini-documentary which our team shot last year called Inside DEMO Africa 2012. You can find similar video at cheetahcode.com

We extend a special thanks to our friends at DEMO Africa, Lions@frica, the U.S. Department of State and AfriLabs for their support of another awesome event!

VentureOut 2013

Thirteen international startups have been selected by the VentureOut Challenge, an initiative of infoDev and CRDF Global, to compete before a live audience and a panel of mobile experts in Chisinau, Moldova on November 1, 2013. The winners included Apps4Africa 2012 Challenge winner ProWork.

Top mobile app entrepreneurs from 33 countries competed in the VentureOut Challenge. The goal: Internationalization of their mobile applications — entering new countries, continents, or going global with their amazing apps. Stakes are high: $10,000 seed funding; Mentorship with international and regional mobile experts; Dragon’s Den exposition in Chisinau, Moldova; and TechCrunch Disrupt Europe Scholarship to Berlin.

The VentureOut initiative was launched to help mobile app entrepreneurs to expand internationally. The finalists include ventures from Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe and Central Asia and represent mobile applications ranging from mobile health focusing on patient-centric health applications to location-based services and different sorts of entertainment including music, gaming and television.

The 2013 VentureOut Mobile App Competition Finalists

  • GoMetro is a transit app for emerging markets that combines trains, buses, rapid transit and taxis into one app using multiple data sources. Alicia Ernstzen, South Africa, gometroapp.com
  • Grikly is a business networking application that allows users to share contact details easily. Dwayne Samuels Jamaica, grik.ly
  • Idram Mobile Wallet empowers users to make payments and transfer money using only their phone. Narek Vardanyan, Armenia, mobile.idram.am
  • M.A.D.E. is a disaster and emergency focused native mobile app providing users with information about what to do before, during, and after natural disasters and national emergencies faced by the Caribbean. Ade Inniss-King, Trinidad & Tobago
  • Manifesto instantly records video or audio with one tap and shares it seamlessly. Dorian Postevca, Moldova, seemanifesto.com
  • Marodi.tv is a replay TV platform for mobile and web playing TV programs from channels in Senegal and Cameroon. Jimmy KUMAKO, Senegal, marodi.tv
  • Nearest Locator helps you easily find the nearest ATMs, banks, eateries, hospitals, pharmacies and more. Ayoola ajebeku, Nigeria, getnearest.com
  • Prowork empowers businesses by bringing project management and collaboration together on one platform. Francis Onwumere, Nigeria, prowork.me
  • SweetSOA offers web services to businesses. Jerome Campbell, Jamaica, sweetandsoa.com
  • Teddy the Guardian is a teddy that uses state-of-the-art medical sensors to capture, report on and share a child’s vital signs like heart rate, body temperature and oxygen saturation. Ana Burica, Croatia, teddytheguardian.com
  • Tuning Fork is karaoke with real-time pitch verification. Dilara Rustam-Zadeh, Azerbaijan, tuningfork.az
  • Waabeh is Africa’s audio market place helping with discovery and distribution of audio content from the continent. King’ori Maina, Kenya, waabeh.com
  • X-Rift is a location-based augmented reality game for mobile devices. Daniel Tonkopiy, Ukraine, x-rift.com

All finalists will receive ongoing mentoring from exceptional entrepreneurs and investors from around the globe who have experience building companies and taking them global.

Beyond mentoring the finalists, infoDev and CRDF Global will offer resources for any growing mobile startup to learn necessary skills, make connections, and find inspiration to go global. The conference in Moldova will also include hands-on training sessions to help entrepreneurs identify and develop their customer base and learn other critical aspects of business modeling.

About infoDev

infoDev is a global partnership program within The World Bank Group. Its Mobile Innovation Program supports growth-oriented mobile app businesses by enabling entrepreneurship, building mobile innovation communities, and researching the app economy of emerging and frontier markets. www.infodev.org

About CRDF Global

Founded in 1995, CRDF Global is an independent nonprofit organization that promotes international scientific and technical collaboration through grants, technical resources, training and services. www.crdfglobal.org

Congrats to Apps4Africa 2011 Challenge winner Farmerline and the other teams from Kenya and Senegal who have been named winners in InfoDev’s mAgri Challenge. Winners will receive a spot at InfoDev’s Mobile Startup Camp as well as other resources aimed at helping them grow their businesses.

The four winners, along with fourteen of the best startups from infoDev’s business incubator network, will be invited to November’s Mobile Startup Camp. The Camp is designed to accelerate the growth of early-stage entrepreneurs. A five-day program of lectures and hands on workshops will provide participants with an opportunity to refine their product strategies, business models and marketing pitches, sharpen their negotiating skills and network with investors and peers.

It will also include a Demo Day – a pitching competition before a panel of industry experts and angel investors.

“We were looking for prototype-stage startups in a niche market, and were surprised to receive so many applications of high quality,” says Maja Andjelkovic, Mobile Innovation Specialist at infoDev. “These entrepreneurs are showing not only the potential impact mobile agri applications can have in Africa and around the world, but also the considerable talent behind innovation driven startups on the continent.”

Members of the jury representing leading private sector players in the mobile industry were also impressed by the entries.

Ernest Akinola, West Africa Government Relations for Blackberry said “The winners demonstrated robust and well thought through concepts, but many more entries showed niche applications for specific needs within the agri sector. I wish the best of luck to all of the founders who entered.”

Echoing Akinola’s remarks, Arjun Thomas, Global Product Manager for Nokia Life said, “The competition unearthed very interesting applications. As these startups grow, adapting the business case to ensure steady and versatile revenue generation streams will be critical to their success.”

We would like to congratulate all of the applicants, including the four winners and six runners-up below.

mAgri Challenge 2013 Winners

  • Farmerline, Ghana: uses voice and SMS to collect data, share new farming techniques, and better link smallholder farmers to other actors along the agricultural value chain. Its survey tool allows agricultural workers and NGOs to conduct immediate surveys with thousands of farmers at a fraction of the cost of traditional techniques.
  • Intellect Tech, Kenya: helps farmers and insurance firms track compensation claims in real-time. The platform improves transparency and facilitates faster processing of farmers’ insurance claims.
  • mLouma, Senegal: connects farmers to food purchasers by displaying real-time market prices and localizations. The service will improve the efficiency of the agriculture supply chain, helping farmers to get a better price for their produce.
  • Price Calculate, Kenya: aids agricultural producers to calculate the competitive price at which they can offer their products. The app educates producers on the market structures between them and their final consumer (local or international), helping them make more informed price decisions.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida about the changing business landscape of Africa the opportunities that exist on the continent. I shared about the general market trends of the African continent as well as specific examples from the tech sector, from startups to companies worth over $100 million that are still Africa based and African owned. The slides I used can be downloaded from Statfrica.com or here on Slideshare.

For those looking for information on Africa’s internet penetration, visit the deck below…

Apps4Africa 2010-2013Apps4Africa 2010-2013

The Apps4Africa program has come a long way since late 2009 when it was conceived. For one, its evolved from a series of annual competitions into a full-fledged acceleration program. This was to address the primary feedback we got from the first few classes of participants funded by the program that the funding was great, but they really wanted ongoing mentorship, and opportunities for more funding.

As we focused on this on-going relationship with our companies, we realized that was one of the best ways we could help these portfolio companies to continue to accomplish much more, which they did! Entrepreneurs like Eric Mutta went on to raise over $300,000 for his startup Minishop, Alloysius Attah has traveled the world speaking about his company Farmerline, while other companies have found successes in other areas. The biggest need these guys have is maintaining a relationship with advisors and mentors like us as they grow and establish Africa’s next generation of game-changing services and organizations.

apps4africa companies

Announcing our 2013 Participants

So this year rather than continuing the tradition of our challenges, we’re doubling down on this aspect of what we do by launching an Entrepreneur-in-Residence program! This program will work on behalf of four new companies who will join the ranks of our Apps4Africa participants, to benefit from the relationships we’ve established for our community of entrepreneurs. Similar to the previous ranks of A4A winners, these groups are social entrepreneurs using technology to solve challenges for Africa and, in some cases, the world.

These companies will receive funding, support and mentorship in varying degrees.  You can read more about the Apps4Africa EIR program here.

The 2013 EIR inductees are:

  • Remit.ug (Uganda/USA)- A competitor of sorts to Western Union and MoneyGram aiming to facilitate transactions from the African diaspora to relatives in Africa. There are over $62 billion dollars in remittances sent to Africa by the diaspora annually. Remit’s mission is to try to capture a portion of that market.
  • Upstream Analytics (Congo/USA)- An analytic platform used by multinational corporations to ensure the resources they source from Africa are compliant with international standards for avoiding corruption, bribery and illegal operations.  This, for example, might help organizations like Google, Samsung, Shell and others to ensure that the minerals and commodities they source from African countries are not fueling conflict, illicit, or immoral activity.
  • SiftDeck (Kenya) – A customizable application that alerts organizations and businesses to how social media and mobile conversations relate to and reference offline interests. (For example: The recent attacks in Kenya, and subsequent discussion affects countless businesses, places, people, and institutions. This tool catalogs this information and aims visualize the contextual relationships between these things.)

We’re proud to welcome them all to the family!

2014 Challenges

So what of the Apps4Africa challenges?  Well traditionally we visit anywhere between three and sixteen countries in an effort to find and engage with as many young entrepreneurs as possible.  We then run a competitive funding initiative that allows them to compete for $10,000 seed capital.  The ones that make it through the rigorous vetting and judging process go on to receive awards, funding and attention.

We haven’t ended this program, but due to the costs associated with the EIR program and maintaining the other aspects of the accelerator for our 2010, 2011, and 2012 participants, we’re putting off the Apps4Africa Challenge to early 2014.  If you’d like to learn more, you can follow this blog, @apps4africa on twitter or join our mailing-list here.

Africa’s experiencing a bit of a boom in startup activity right now. What’s driving it? Who’s helping to grow the ecosystem? This graphic explores the topic.

Africa's Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
Infographic available from Statfrica

White lines represent the monetary support organizations like Indigo Trust and Infodev are proving to the innovation hubs of the continent which in turn support entrepreneurs with non-monetary services represented by the gray lines. Mentoring, workshops, events, conferences, investor meetings etc. are the types of things these hubs are responsible for organizing. Meanwhile, Local governments have mostly been responsible for enable policy decisions. Can they become direct financiers of entrepreneurs and/or the network of hubs? The fact that this ecosystem has emerged mostly without their intervention certainly presents that opportunity.

For a more in-depth analysis on startup entrepreneurship as a driver of economic growth in Africa download our latest report New African Business.