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How Blockchain Technology Can Help Foster Development In Africa

Nzekwe Henry September 14

With the arrival of blockchain technology and the advent of cryptocurrency – two concepts whose discovery and development can be credited to a person or group of persons called Satoshi Nakatomo (possibly a pseudonym) – there has been something of a jostling for places on the global tech scene. And the scramble can be thought to be somewhat justified especially when the potentials held by these innovations is put into perspective.

In various circles around the world, a number of organized institutions are sort of tripping over themselves to get in on the act as they think up best possible ways to leverage what the technology has in the offing.

It is much the same narrative on the African continent as there has been something of a proliferation of blockchain-based tech startups who are looking to impact their immediate communities and solve some of the continent’s lingering problems through the development and adoption of this novel technology-driven approach – a valid case in point being South African fintech platform, Wala, who recently bagged USD 100 K for their blockchain-based solution in the 2018 edition of the Zambezi Prize for Innovation in Financial Inclusion. More so, such names as Kenya’s Bitsoko and ChamaPesa, Nigeria’s NairaEX, South Africa’s The Sun Exchange and Bankymoon, Zimbabwe’s Golix and Bitfinance, as well as numerous others, have been making the rounds in media circles lately.

This can be considered just one out of a number of instances in which the technology is being put to use with a view to solving societal problems. In many ways, blockchain technology is threatening to revamp the global financial market, as well as the manner in which we do business on a daily. And these could be thought of as just the more common instances from a myriad of other ways in which the technology can be put to effective use.

Blockchain technology may have been met with skepticism and cynicism from the onset (as is often the case with any system that has its sights trained on changing the long-established, albeit, not necessarily flawless methods of doing things), and even labelled as just another fad that will have a brief reign and create a temporary buzz mostly due to the Fear-Of-Missing-Out (FOMO), and fizzle out just as quickly as it had arrived. But there is very little doubt now that the technology has somewhat held its own in the eyes of enthusiasts and skeptics alike.

On the African scene, there exists a number of ways in which the technology can be leveraged for the provision of useful solutions. These solutions can be thought to hold a lot of importance on the continent as they can serve to better the lives of its people, as well as bring about developments in the economic and social strata. Now, here are some of those ways the technology can help foster development in Africa.

Identity Management

The continent’s struggles with proper identification and citizen data management is well-documented. Since what seems like time immemorial, Africa has had to contend with shortcomings in the area of managing identity and efforts to curb this debilitating problem have mostly turned out a snafu.

The need to manage the identity data of the citizenry might not come across as one to be fussy about at first glance, but it does make for even gloomier reading when you factor in instances in countries like Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, and a number of others, who have had to contend with problems associated with ghost workers in public sector payrolls; a scenario that has amounted to millions in losses.

While several efforts geared toward purging government payrolls off fictitious names have been anything but successful, this issue can be effectively dealt a coup de grace with blockchain technology.

Since data stored on the blockchain are immutable, unerasable, and unalterable, it will come in handy in the bid to tackle the problem of citizen identity management. The implementation of this novel approach for this purpose should be considered a plausible option by governments as it affords a veritable means of putting a stop to cases of false, multiple and mistaken identities, through the adoption of cryptographic hashing – a feature of blockchain technology.

An identical current use case scenario which can be looked upon as a case in point is US-based blockchain startup, Civic, who are known to leverage Bitcoin’s public blockchain for the purpose of delivering identity management solutions to individuals and businesses. In largely the same manner, African governments can take a cue and get in on the act. The services of such players can be sought to address not only the loopholes in the wage bill but also other issues associated with citizen identification and authentication.

And it does help that a number of African startups are looking to explore that dimension as a recent publication on WeeTracker revealed Bace as one of seven African startups that have been shortlisted to receive USD 100 K each in funding from MEST Africa. Bace is a platform is looking to solve problems associated with identity and KYC (Know-Your-Customer) in Africa through the use of blockchain technology and cutting-edge facial recognition.

Remittances

Through the use of cryptocurrency or tokenized fiat currency, blockchain technology can be leveraged with a view to getting rid of the current difficulties associated with money transfer systems. Through the provisions of the technology, the issue of delayed transactions which are known to still bedevil such platforms as MoneyGram, SWIFT, Western Union, and a number of others, can be eschewed and consequently eliminated.

Blockchain technology has the edge over its peers on the backs of the sheer speed of financial transactions carried out using the technology, as it boasts the ability to have thousands of dollars transferred from one part of the globe to another within a matter of minutes or even seconds – all other things being equal. And it comes as a plus that blockchain-based money transfers, when juxtaposed with the traditional methods, come at costs that are significantly less.

And if you are still yet to come to terms with how big a deal this is, there are figures to back this up. According to the World Bank, as at 2015, it was estimated that Africans in the diaspora weighed in with up to USD 35.2 Bn in terms of remittances back home. It was also reported that these transfers accrued a whopping 10 percent of the total value of the transfers.

This can be construed to imply that a considerable amount of these remittances ended up in the coffers of third-party service providers in lieu of the intended beneficiaries. With blockchain technology, the need for these third parties can be bypassed and these charges can be avoided. This will translate to lower fees and increased remittances as transactions become largely be peer-to-peer.

The Electoral Process

The African continent is no stranger to post-election squabbles which is often the outcome of disputed election results. There have even been some extreme cases were violence which resulted in the wanton destruction of lives and property was recorded as a result of conflicting election results. But blockchain technology can help put an end to this vicious cycle as it has the ability to serve up full-proof electoral systems that can help maintain the sanctity of the polity and the sanity of societies and communities.

Here is a dose of reality: something unusual happened in the 2016 general elections held in The Gambia, as it was reported that marbles were used by voters to cast their votes. Now, while this process may not necessarily imply gross inefficiency, it can be thought to go against the fundamental tenets of ballot privacy that should basically be the hallmark of an electoral process.

During the election, voters were seen dropping marbles in ballots in containers for their choice aspirants in open view of everyone in the vicinity. This may have scored points for transparency only if the same open approach had been witnessed in counting the “stone ballots”. And that’s not to mention question marks on the accuracy of result collation especially when you factor in human error.

Much like its use case in citizen identification, blockchain technology can come in handy in the electioneering process as it possesses just the right mix of publicity and privacy. The technology will enable voters to cast their votes faster and in an electronic manner, and the accuracy and speed of results collation will be sure to leave no one in doubt.

This automatic process that is beyond any form of any external influence will serve to dispel disputes and restore the confidence of the populace in the electioneering process. A blockchain-supported electioneering system offers a platform that is immune to manipulation, and since the eligibility of voters can be ascertained by way of age and other criteria, results obtained can generally be considered above board.

Transparent Government Expenditure

There is a certain misconception about the use of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies which revolves around the idea of transactions involving these elements being enshrouded in some cloud of apparent secrecy. This is a far cry from what is actually the case, as these transactions are actually available on a public ledger that can be accessed and viewed by all and sundry.

With a view to solving problems associated with accountability and embezzlement of funds amongst public office holders, Blockchain technology can be incorporated to bring about absolute transparency in the financial dealings of governments and institutions in Africa.

This move will come as a much-needed respite to a significant fraction of the continent’s demography who are increasingly becoming disenchanted with the system or have lost faith altogether in the government on account of the unchecked misappropriation of public funds. The implementation of blockchain technology can make it possible for taxpayers to keep tabs on government spending. And isn’t that what true transparency and accountability are all about?

The adoption of the technology in public sector finance dealings will serve to curb corruption and embezzlement more effectively than any legislative injunction, as transactions will be followed in real-time. This way, shady transactions can easily be flagged, called up, and x-rayed – which should prove a better fix than waiting to uncover misappropriations from the usual annual audit statements.

This practice of delegating certain operational aspects of governments to the blockchain is becoming commonplace in various parts of the globe and African governments might want to consider hopping on the bandwagon if talks of progressiveness and fairness, with the interests of the citizenry at heart, are to be taken with more than a pinch of salt.

Land Title Registration

The current land tenure system in Africa is something of an impediment to growth and development as it casts a dark cloud over the prospects of many landowners and aspiring landowners on the continent.

Problems associated with legitimate land ownership in Africa can be tackled with blockchain technology as it has the potential to streamline and automate the entire process of land registration, with a view to providing a more reliable system that is devoid of manipulations and fraud.

And it comes as a plus that a number of African enterprises are making significant headway on this front, with a good example existing in the form of Ghana’s Bitland; a company that has designed its business model on the idea of assisting both existing and aspiring landowners, as well as stakeholders, with services which revolve around surveying and recording deeds onto the BitShares blockchain.

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.

 

 

Image via LinkedIn

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.

 

 

Image SourceSAGoodNews

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 X.com 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, X.com 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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