These Ten Ugandan Startups Have Been Selected To Pitch At This Year’s Seedstars Kampala

After Kenya, Rwanda And SA, Nigeria Set To Become The Next Stop For Jack Ma

Andrew Christian August 12

Chinese business magnate and founder of Alibaba Group recently made a trip to Africa to speak to an audience-full of startup entrepreneurs on the essence and merits of being persevering key players in the business ecosystem of their respective fatherlands. Sequel to this visit, a lot of media platforms have been pumping with information and accolades, with Jack Ma’s move to launch a USD 10 Mn initiative as mainstream. With the way this e-commerce giant is planning, there is little doubt that he will be one of the key drivers of improvement for African entrepreneurs. Jack Ma’s address and fund-pumping in South Africa is not the only way he has impacted on the African entrepreneur ecosystem, because he has long been committed to the continent’s growth and development.

In 2017, Jack Ma attended an entrepreneurship discussion in Nairobi, Kenya. As Special Adviser to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) for Youth Entrepreneurship and Small Businesses, he participated actively in the two-day visit to address matters regarding entrepreneurship, e-commerce, China-Africa trade and business opportunities. This marked Jack Ma’s first trip to Africa, during which he spoke on the value of constant learning and the power of the internet. He discussed how both variables could be combined and utilized to bring about tangible solutions to the daily problems faced by the continent. To the Kenyan audience present, he spoke about the failure process and how it can be a catalyst for innovation and progress. In this way, he urged African entrepreneurs in the public lecture at the University of Nairobi to see tumbling blocks as stepping stones on which they can come up with new, innovative ideas to better tackle the pressing issues faced in the ecosystem of Africa.

“You must get used to failure. If you can’t, then how can you win?” he said.

His trip to not only Kenya but Rwanda as well was heralded as one of the most significant events in African entrepreneurship history. To share insights with African entrepreneurs, Ma embarked on the two-day trip which was celebrated with floor-to-ceiling posters and billboards featuring his face. Jack Ma’s pictures were used to repaint the walls of the venues where he has been speaking in Nairobi. The Youth Connekt Africa Summit, held in Kigali, brought together more than 1,500 participants from government, entrepreneurial and investor communities, multinationals, and startups shaping the African technological ecosystem.

He met with President Uhuru Kenyatta, and his entourage comprises Chinese billionaires, investors, and real estate tycoons. This visit coincided with China’s growing influence in Africa, with foreign direct investment from China to the continent marking a 106 percent growth rise in projects in the previous year. At the panel session with the head of the private sector alliance, Ma informed that he and his cohorts were scouting for investment opportunities and looking for partners interested in building logistics centers. He also said they were on the lookout for those who share their interest in supporting African entrepreneurs. As at the time, a Chinese firm has recently completed a new railway connection from Nairobi to Mombasa, Kenya’s port city. The construction was conceived to spread tracks to Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ma said that he and his company were out to make sure that they built companies everywhere they went, not for themselves, but for the locals.

In November 2017, Jack Ma selected 25 African entrepreneurs to join the eFounders Initiative Entrepreneurship Training Program, which was titled “Shaping Champions for the New Economy.” It was tailored by the collaborative efforts of Alibaba and the UNCTAD. It was a two-week initiative during which founders and a high-ranking executive at Alibaba shared a variety of highlights as regards their 18-year history. They discussed their successes and failures, as well as the price they had to pay to become one of the largest retail companies in the world. The apogee of the event was Jack Ma’s lecture, with which he encouraged the African entrepreneurs and pointed them in the right direction as to how to become key players in their industry.

Participants got to learn how to focus on mobile. During Singles Day, Alibaba processed more than USD 25 Bn in sales, of which 91% came from mobile transactions. More than 50 percent of the Chinese population bought an item from Alibaba on that day with the help of their smartphones. With this, Jack Ma taught Africans that by using mobile, hundreds and billions of people could use products and services that they previously were unable to access. 600 million people in Africa are expected to own a smartphone by 2025, and as mobile internet upheaves, it will, in the same way, provide millions of people in the continent with unlimited access to products and services previously not had. Jack MA told the African entrepreneurs that there is a massive opportunity that startup companies that concentrate on offering their products and services via mobile applications.

Jack Ma also informed the participants of eFounders about how an inclusive ecosystem can help in the growth of electronic commerce. While highlighting the three major challenges facing the growth of an e-commerce company as lack of assortment, logistics, and payments, Jack Ma informed how Alibaba decided to leverage the ecosystem as an approach for their primary strategy in 2008. Rather than converting Taobao to a traditional B2C model, the company set up a dynamic market of reliable partners and started AliPay and Cainiao in an effort to manage their payments and logistics. Alibaba used huge data to streamline both processes and manage the platform. As of now, more than 10 million business partners are beneficiaries of the ecosystem, and that was the kind of business Jack Ma taught African entrepreneurs to do.

African entrepreneurs were as well taught the essence of smart logistics. In 2013, the smart logistics company of Alibaba was launched as Cainiao. In a country with up to 150 cities and with more than 1 million people, more than 4 billion parcel deliveries in a year and where the average cost per delivery is up to 15 percent of the total value, Alibaba needed an efficient solution. With Cainiao, the company was able to connect a variety of logistics companies in China to their various businesses and managed parcel flow by using big data. Such a smart logistic creation strategy is vital for the ecosystem of Africa, and participants were exposed to the actuality.

Alibaba is on a mission to make it easy to do business everywhere. If African enterprises adopt the same strategies as this e-commerce giant, the entire 63 percent or people living in Sub-Saharan rural African areas will be reached and brought closer to the ecosystem. Following Alibaba’s evolution strategy of setting up pickup points was what encouraged Pargo, a South African startup to employ the same technique in the creation of their network. The approach enabled the tech venture to leverage the capacity of physical retail stores to become points for parcel delivery and collection, particularly in areas that otherwise prove a challenge to the service. Pargo is a Cape Town logistics startup that was founded by Lars Veul and a co-founder. The business was selected as the first South African delegate to join an Alibaba and UN Conference on Trade and Development hosted scheme in the eFounders Initiative Entrepreneurship Training Program in Hangzhou, China.

This Paradise Co-Chairman attended the African Ranger Awards Ceremony at the Westin Hotel in Cape Town. Weetracker reported he was set to address startup entrepreneurs, and nothing fell short of that information. On Wednesday at the big event, he encouraged budding African businesses to take giant leaps in view of solving the numerous bottlenecks the continent is faced with, and leverage the digital economy. Jack Ma told them that the greatest of opportunities lie where people complain.

During this event, Ma disclosed the launch of the “Netpreneur Prize” initiative in Johannesburg, which has been established to create a community of 1,000 young e-commerce entrepreneurs from developing countries to be presented with grants totaling USD 10 Mn by 2030. Ma said at the conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday that the opportunity in e-commerce in Africa lies in the fact that the continent lacks logistics, infrastructure and payment systems.

The Netpreneur Prize scheme has been set up by the Jack Ma Foundation to bolster and provide funding for local African entrepreneurs that are working to address Africa’s most essential challenges and further the continent’s digital economy through local entrepreneurship. Having built Alibaba to be one of the topmost ten valuable companies worldwide, with a market cap of USD 542 Bn, Jack Ma is set to inspire, encourage and fund African business and massively impact its startup ecosystem. Alibaba’s initial public offering in 2014 made Ma one of the wealthiest men in the whole of Asia. Having rung bells in South Africa, Jack Ma says his next visit will be to Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation.

In what seemed like a 2017 edition of Ma’s visit to Africa, which was his first, it was revealed that he had plans to partner with African universities in the bid to teach youths internet technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and e-commerce. During the same occasion, he announced that he would be creating African Young Entrepreneurs Funds with the statement: “I want to support and fund online businesses.” He told the press that he would also collaborate with UNCTAD to help bring 200 budding African entrepreneurs to China to learn hands-on from Alibaba, remarking that he wanted to take them to China, let them meet his people, see all they have been doing and all the great Chinese ideas. “They know when they want, and when they do, we can support it.”

UNCTAD is partnering with Ma to explore opportunities in the African business to take part in global trade and to raise real-time awareness regarding the 20130 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was put into practice by the international community in 2015.

From being a dark horse to one of the most influential and wealthiest men in the world, Jack Ma’s narrative resonates throughout time, and again. He applied for 30 jobs, including at KFC when they established a branch in Hangzhou, his home city. He also applied for the police. He was turned down by all of them. As a matter of fact, 24 people applied at KFC, and 23 were accepted. Ma was the only person to be rejected. Additionally, Ma applied 10 times to Harvard Business School and got rejected just as much.

Dissimilar from Mark Zuckerberg who created Facebook from his Harvard dorm room, Ma, after three failed exams attempts in college, started Alibaba from the confine of his apartment. It all began when Jack Ma heard about the internet for the first time in 1994 and journeyed to the United States to learn more about it.


South African Supply-Chain App Khula! Wins Grand Prize Worth USD 14 K As MTN Business App Of The Year

Nzekwe Henry October 16

Khula!; a South African app that serves to link up farmers in emerging markets with the formal marketplace, has clinched top honors at this year’s edition of the MTN Business App Of The Year Awards.

In addition to being named the Business App of the Year, the platform has also received recognition in a special category dubbed; Best Agricultural Solution, as it has also emerged the winner in that category. As part of the perks that come with clinching the award, the developers of the app are now entitled to a trip to Silicon Valley in the U.S., worth up to USD 14 K in cash.

The app, Khula!, is known to facilitate delivery on bulk orders from supermarkets, restaurant chains, and even homes. This it does by effectively creating “one big virtual farm” which is basically comprised of multiple emerging farms for the purpose of crowd-sourcing produce to meet demands.

The platform’s complete software suite also incorporates an eCommerce web platform which makes it possible for clients to place orders from farmers. It also comes with an on-demand logistics solution which allows for the completion of deliveries by independent contractors.

According to Wanda Matandela, CEO of MTN Business, the awards afforded the telecommunications company the chance to place innovative solutions on the front burner and render support to these innovations with a view to helping them scale and go fully commercial, as well as help foster job creation in South Africa.

Industry experts, app developers, and past recipients of the award were amongst the panel of judges who selected and scrutinized the offerings of the shortlisted candidates of this year’s MTN Business App of the Year Awards.

Amongst other winners in the latest edition of the award were Pineapple (Best Consumer Solution),  Cowa Bunga (Best Enterprise Solution), Digemy Knowledge Partner and Besmarter (Best Incubated Solution), and Bestee App (Most Innovative Solution/Best Breakthrough Developer).

Other award recipients included such names as Stokfella (Best South African Solution), Difela Hymns (Women in STEM Solution), The African Cyber Gaming League App (Best Gaming Solution), dbTrack (Best Health Solution), Ctrl (Best Financial Solution), and Xander English 1-20 which took home the award in the Best Education Solution category.



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South African Tech Teams Scoop Cash Rewards In The SAB Foundation Awards

Nzekwe Henry October 16

Around a total of USD 875 K in cash rewards have been doled out by the SAB Foundation to a number of South African startups and tech teams who have distinguished themselves to merit recognition in this year’s edition of the Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Awards.

Hustlenomics; an affordable housing provider, as well as Clothes to Good clinched cash prizes worth USD 90 K and USD 84 K respectively for their offerings. While the former was recognized in the Social Innovation Award category, the former took home the accolades in Disability Empowerment Award category.

The SAB Foundation Awards are targeted at innovators, entrepreneurs, and institutions that have developed prototypes of products that are designed to tackle social problems or early-stage businesses that have set their sights on addressing social concerns.

The organization is known to offer assistance in the form of financing and mentorship to social innovations that are identified as possessing a recognizably viable business model while serving up veritable solutions to critical social problems. The SAB Foundation also claims to have disbursed more than USD 5.2 Mn since its inception in an effort to promote social innovation. More so, a total of 163 social enterprises are believed to have benefitted from the offerings of the Foundation.

The winners in the Social Innovation category, Hustlenomics, is a platform which makes it possible for underprivileged families who are holed up in the squalid conditions of informal backyard shacks to build lasting structures in their place. The startup does this by employing alternative building technology which incorporates the use of interlocking bricks made out of recycled materials. The new structures cost the homeowners virtually nothing as the housing projects are financed by means of a shared-home financing model. This model allows for the rental home income raked in by the completed structures to be used in offsetting development costs before full ownership of the property is ultimately transferred to the landowner.

Following Hustlenomics closely as second and third-place winners in the Social Innovation category are smart farming tech solution, Famru, and a microfinance solution created by InvoiceWorx for retailers in the informal sector; Spaza Credit. Both teams took home USD 63 K and USD 49 K respectively.

It appears there was enough to go around for everyone as shortlisted finalists in the Developmental Award category also got in on the act with such names as Fix Forward, Solar Lab in a Bag and ejoobi, taking home between USD 28 K to USD 34 K in cash rewards respectively. Bursary Network and Impulse Biomed were also rewarded with seed grants worth USD 14 K each.

Clothes to Good; the winner of the Disability Empowerment Award, was rewarded for helping to provide sustainable jobs and micro-business opportunities for people with disabilities by means of its clothing recycling program. Steps Clubfoot Care and Coral Tech’s VoQal took home USD 56 K and USD 42 K respectively for finishing in second and third place respectively. In what could be described as a good day at the office for Steps Clubfoot Care, the first runner-up in the Disability Empowerment Award category also scooped the Audience Award which came with a cash reward of USD 10 K. Three other shortlisted finalists in the said category also went home with USD 21 K as recipients of a special Developmental Award.



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Meet Silas Adekunle: The Nigerian Prodigy Who Is Fast-Becoming The King Of Robotics

Nzekwe Henry October 16

Africans are known to be making waves and holding their own amongst their peers on the global tech scene, and one Nigerian robotics engineer cum gaming guru is taking this to a whole new level. 26-year-old Silas Adekunle is a Nigerian robotics engineer who is considered one of the highest paid and smartest in the field. And as you will soon find out, these are anything but purported or bogus claims.

At a time when the Nigerian tech scene appears to be playing catch up with their counterparts in the developed world, the young robotics engineer seems to be pulling off remarkable feats in the world of robotics and giving ingenuity and innovation a whole new meaning,

Silas Adekunle, Nigerian robotics engineer

Adekunle, who recently got snapped up by global technology and software giants, Apple Inc., to become one of the world ’s highest paid engineers on the robotics scene, was born and raised to his teens in Nigeria. Having had some of his education in Nigeria, he relocated to the United Kingdom where he completed his secondary school education before enrolling into the University of the West of England to pursue a career in robotics. This was going to pay off as the Nigerian engineer graduated Summa Cum Laude having bagged first class honors from the institution.

Silas Adekunle created Reach Robotics in 2013. The company is known to channel efforts towards incorporating Augmented Reality (AR) into gaming for the purpose of performing functions. Fast forward four years down the line and the youngster already carries invaluable robotics experience under his belt. This feat is believed to have earned him the position of team leader in the Robotics In Schools program.

The Robotics In Schools program is targeted at honing the skills of students in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. His role in the program is believed to have triggered his ingenuity and inspired the idea which led him to another project which involved developing robotics to make education more engaging and entertaining for students in the STEM disciplines.

Silas Adekunle, Nigerian robotics engineer

But the young Nigerian genius was far from done as he again caused ripples on the tech scene when he got robotics circles buzzing after the launch of Mekamon in 2017. In Mekamon, Adekunle is said to have built what is believed to be the world’s first gaming robot. The robot is considered unique in that it possesses the inherent ability to customize its features for the purpose of performing personalized functions. Mekamon may have become an instant hit post-launch but putting the gaming bot together was anything but a cake walk. The young Nigerian’s chances of success were hampered initially when he encountered difficulties in securing funds for the project. But sheer persistence, resourcefulness, and resilience got him over the line, and Mekamon reportedly generated USD 7.5 Mn after its initial launch, having had 500 units sold.

The remarkable success enjoyed by Mekamon can be considered to have opened the floodgates as support began to stream in aplenty soon after the initial sell-out of the bot. London Venture Partners weighed in with USD 10 Mn and Adekunle’s company, Reach Robotics, wrapped up a deal with Apple in the same year — a deal which means the company now has exclusive sales in Apple stores.

The quality and design of Adekunle’s creations are deemed impressive owing to their ability to show emotion with movements that are subtly-calibrated. His four-legged “battle bots” are priced at around USD 300 by Apple, and they are featured in almost all Apple stores in the US and UK. As he told Forbes in an interview earlier this year, while techies and geeks may have accounted for most of the initial scramble for the product, the robot is now beginning to draw patronage from a growing number of parents presumably due to their STEM application which can serve to get children interested in those lines of study.

Image result for Meet Silas Adekunle: The Nigerian Robotics Genius images

“Balance, shared ideas, time management, and being oneself”, are the words and phrases fondly associated with the young robotics engineer as the tonic for the successes he has so far enjoyed. As his works have gained traction, so too has he gained recognition. Adekunle was listed in this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe: Technology. According to TheBossNewspapers, he was also named “Someone to Watch in 2018” by the Black Hedge Fund Group.

Having taken the world by storm with his genius, Adekunle can be thought to be gearing up for even more feats. He currently puts in work at the Bristol Robotics Lab, which can be considered the cream of the crop of research centers in the U.K. Now, here’s to Africans all over the world who are doing the continent proud!



Image Credits: QED, Face2AFaceAfrica, JejeGuysEmpire, Naij.NG

Internet Ventures: 5 Africans Founders Who Have Railed In Massive Online Cash

Andrew Christian October 16

In the course of the past two decades, a significant number of digital ventures have been springing up from different parts of the world, due to the increasing embrace of knowledge technologies, information and social media. Several African entrepreneurs have also carved out online niches to birth economic benefits, employment and in the same way, enable globalization. Pivotal people such as Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim (YouTube partners), as well as Lawrence Page have been scintillating the internet scene and cashing in big on the international front. So what about Africa? The continent is definitely not missing out, as innovative minds in the motherland are citing and exploiting internet opportunities, making them worthy of celebration and emulation. Here are five of them who have built successful online ventures.

Elon Musk – Co-founder PayPal, South Africa

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The legendary Elon Musk from South Africa is the co-founder PayPal. The entrepreneur, who has an African father and a Canadian mother, is one of the brains behind what has to be the most internationally recognized and used payments system. But that isn’t the only of his accomplishment, as he also co-founded in March 2002 – a financial service and email payment company. In a matter of one year, the venture acquired Confinity – a company originally formed to beam money between Palm Pilots. The combined entity then capitalized on email payment through the PayPal domain. In February of 2001, was officially renamed to PayPal, which was later acquired by eBay for USD 1.5 Bn in 2002 via a stock deal. Before its sale, PayPal’s 11.7 percent shares formed the coffers of Elon Musk, making him the largest shareholder in the company.

Kamal Budhabatti – Founder Craft Silicon, Kenya

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Kamal, who is nicknamed Kenya’s Bill Gate, is the fuel to the engine and the man behind the wheels of Craft Silicon. He founded it to be a Kenyan software company that provides core banking, Microsoft, mobile, switch solutions software and electronic payments services for more than 200 institutional clients in over 40 countries spread throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Craft Silicon boasts of an office in the all-time Silicon Valley in San Francisco, which makes it one of the quite few Kenyan companies ever to bask in such affiliation. With its more than USD 50 Mn market value, the company is causing ripples in the African business ecosystem, driving tech in the East African region and putting Kenya on the world map of entrepreneurship. Kamal Budhabatti’s idea of a venture now rakes in annual revenue of USD 6 Mn.

Jason Njoku – Founder Iroko TV, Nigeria

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Jason, who happens to be one of the few Nigerian entrepreneurs that beat the odds of raising capital even in impossible situations, is the founder and CEO of Iroko TV in Nigeria. The internet company is now reported to be the largest distributor of African movies in the world. While that may come as a shock to you, this may be an absorber – Iroko TV is labeled as the Netflix of Africa according to a Forbes publication. In 2013, Jason’s business was able to raise USD 8 Mn in venture capital from Tiger Global Management, which is a New York-based private equity and hedge fund being managed by billionaire Chase Coleman. Iroko TV is an online streaming website that makes enormous profits from lucrative content distribution deals with companies such as Daily Motion, iTunes, Amazon, and Vimeo. According to analysts, Iroko TV could be worth an estimated amount of USD 30 Mn, with Jason Njoku being the company’s largest individual shareholder.

Njeri Rionge – Co-founder Wananchi Online, Kenya

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Rionge is the co-founder of Wananchi Online, one of the leading internet services providers in East Africa’s cable, broadband, and Internet-based IP phone companies. This woman is regarded as one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Kenya, and her turning point was when she succeeded in turning a USD 500 K startup into the echelon internet form in the whole East African region. Wananchi Online now has a net valuation of no less than USD 175 Mn. She was one of the few people who went tooth and nail to put it out there that internet is not cut out alone for the elite, as just about anybody can found, build and make a fortune out of it. Her ISP company became massively successful so much that it rose to nearly USD 60 Mn in growth capital from a consortium private equity firm.

Mark Shuttleworth – Founder Knife Capital, South Africa

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Mark Shuttleworth is the founder of Thawte and Ubuntu/Knife Capital, South Africa. He founded Thawte when he was 22 to be a digital certificate and internet security company, which he later sold to VeriSign for USD 575 Mn in an all-stock deal. The company today is the second in the world when it comes to the provision of digital certification. When Shuttleworth was 26, he used a fraction of the proceeds from the Thawte sale to start a venture capital firm HBD Capital, which is today popularly known as Knife Capital, based on Cape Town. The firm invests in innovation-driven fintechs with proof of traction. Knife Capital was one of the participating investors in the Weetracker UberPitch series. Another of Shuttleworth’s founding was that of Ubuntu, a computer operation system that is distributed as free open-source software. The entrepreneur’s net worth is reported to be USD 500 Mn.

NEIP Disburses USD 10 Mn To Ghanaian SMEs

Andrew Christian October 16

The government of Ghana, through its flagship National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan Initiative (NEIP) has successfully funded 1,350 owners of Small and Medium Enterprises, with a total of USD 10 Mn in seed capital.

The disbursement is meant to aid these SMEs successfully set up their own business or vamp up the existing ones to gain some traction.
Each beneficiary of the scheme received an amount ranging between USD 2 K to GHC 20 K as financial support.

Owusu Karikari, the Director of Business Support at NEIP, told the press that the support is a loan expected to be refunded with a 10 percent interest, repayable within three years to enable more SMEs to expand and create more jobs.

According to him, NEIP identified the lack of knowledge about product development, limited market, insufficient management skills, lack of funding and little or no technical support a few of the many challenges facing SMEs in the region. He said that the support would shore up indigenous enterprises, so they have a competing chance with their international counterparts.

As part of the government’s support for small businesses, 7,000 more entrepreneurs have been taken through intensive training to build and handle their enterprises. This is quickly followed by the announcement of tax holidays for young entrepreneurs under 35 years of age, as is a respite for their businesses.

NEIP Business Support Program essentially concentrates on the provision of business development services, startup incubators and funding for early-stage businesses, seeking to enable them to grow and become successful.

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