Four African Startups Announced As Regional Winners Of 2018 MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge

By  |  September 10, 2018

Kenya’s trio of Lynk, Wefarm, and Solar Freeze, as well as South African startup, Wala, have been announced as regional winners in the latest edition of the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge (IIC) in Africa; the global economic prize of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy.

One of the regional winners, Lynk, is a technology platform that is designed for informal workers; a kind of LinkedIn for the ‘LinkedOut,’ which helps to connect informal workers who may be otherwise difficult to reach. The startup is sort of an ‘entrepreneurship infrastructure’ that offers support to informal workers in areas of less opportunity by linking them up with work prospects and income opportunities.

Fellow winners, Wefarm, is another Kenyan startup that is designed as a medium of information-sharing for the world’s estimated 500 million small-scale farmers who may be hampered by lack of internet access. The platform offers a free, digital, peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing network which makes information available to smallholder farmers via SMS.

Making up the Kenyan contingent is Solar Freeze; a startup that is looking to carve a niche for itself as a one-stop, turn-key, portable off-grid toolkit for localized food production. The platform serves up what can be considered a complete ecosystem of smart farm technologies to increasing agricultural productivity in isolated and less developed areas.

Wala is the only non-Kenyan enterprise that made the cut. The South African startup is a fintech platform whose services are built on blockchain technology. By virtue of its design which incorporates a zero-fee app that is aimed at increasing economic participation, the platform has set its sights on providing financial services to both the unbanked and underbanked in emerging markets. 

Having seen off competition from nine IIC finalists and ten other finalists in the Zambezi Prize for Innovation in Financial Inclusion at a summit that was held in Nairobi, Kenya, late last month, these four startups have now been named regional winners. The Nairobi event was held in conjunction with the MIT IIC Africa Collaborator and the MIT Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship; who are the organizers of the Zambezi Prize, with the Mastercard Foundation as partners.

Around USD 1.6 Mn in total will be awarded to the winners of the global challenge who have distinguished themselves in the area of leveraging technological innovations with a view to reinventing the “future of work” and “creating a more equitable economy.” The latest edition of the Challenge is reported to have drawn applications from up to 195 for-profit and nonprofit enterprises from various parts of Africa.

The participating enterprises were vetted and evaluated by a team of regional experts. A Selection Panel of regional leaders chose three of the four winners in the IIC Africa category after processing feedbacks on the entries received. The nominating partner of the IIC, The Zambezi Prize, was saddled with the responsibility of selecting the winner in the fourth category, that is, the Financial Inclusion category.

As covered in an earlier publication by WeeTracker, the earlier-mentioned Wala bagged USD 100 K last month, including other benefits, after emerging winners of the 2018 Zambezi Prize for Innovation in Financial Inclusion, with Kenya’s Tulaa and Nigeria’s RecyclePoints following closely in second and third place respectively. It is by virtue of this victory that the South African startup has now been drafted in the top four of MIT-IIC initiative – having come out tops in this final category. The three other winning startups in the IIC Africa category; Lynk, Wefarm, and Solar Freeze, were selected by a panel of regional leaders after reviewing over a hundred applications that were received initially, and subsequently analyzing the offerings from the nine startups that made it to the finals.

As part of the perks of their victory in the Challenge, the four African startups will now participate in the Grand Prize Gala and a Zambezi Prize-sponsored boot camp slated to take place at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Cambridge, MA, respectively, in November, on an all-expense-paid trip. They will now also be in the spotlight with guaranteed coverage from Pan-African Syndicated Media Outlets in over 30 countries. A sponsored trip to Mozambique for Angel Fair Africa where they stand to meet over 60 Africa-focused investors is also on the cards as part of the spoils of victory.

At the culmination of the MIT event in November, these four startups will also have a shot at winning up to USD 250 K each in funding when the IIC Champion Committee will name four Grand Prize Winners from a roster that includes the four winners from Africa, as well as 16 other winners from four other regions covered by the MIT IIC Initiative – North America, Europe, Latin America, and Asia.

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