No More Job Fairs And HR Drama – Why Hackathons Are Pulling Crowds

Andrew Christian November 23

So did you hear? Ethiopia’s game is changing! Well, here’s what’s up: the US Embassy in Ethiopia is set to train 600 youths on how to create solutions for their respective communities. Dubbed as Ethiopia Hacks!, the development saw the launch of a 12 hackathon series as part of its year-by-year Global Entrepreneurship Week celebration. This program, organized by the United States Embassy in Addis Ababa, in partnership with the Google Developers’ Group (GDG-Addis) and the Centre for Accelerated Women’s Economic Empowerment (CAWEE), is going to ensure that participants explore how tech can be leveraged to support innovation and job creation. The hackathons are reported to challenge young tech developers to identify prototype solutions to Ethiopia-based challenges. This move by a group as seemingly unrelated as an embassy cements the need for hackathons in Africa.

Have you ever attended a tech event in your community and they devoted a larger part of the meet time to a computer-based competition in which “hacking” met “marathon”? You saw young people striking at their keyboards, repeatedly pressuring the mouse with the index and getting their eyes more and more glued to the system screens. What’s more? The winner receives tens of hundreds of dollars in seed capital for proving to be a cyber-samurai. Well, as fun as it may seem, hackathons’ effectiveness lies in the aspect of exploration. As innovation is the brainchild of sheer curiosity, most businesses today are built on the foundation of formidable engineering. And as business thrives, there is that junction where engineering aligns with business needs and innovation then retires from the front seat. According to Apurva Dalal, an ex-Googler and Vice President of Engineering at Komli Media, hackathons are a way of letting the engineers do their stuff, allowing people come together and build something entirely outside their jobs – and having a good time while doing it.

Well, to burst the bubble that may have developed in your mind, hackathons don’t necessarily improve innovation, because whoever are the brains behind tech events and innovation-driven companies are aware that innovation is already the lifeblood of operations. In Africa, many companies are putting effort into inculcating hackathons into their programs – too many to begin to mention. It may seem the organizers of the Ghana Tech Summit, the Hajj Hackathon, Fintech Summit 2.0, Financial Inclusion Summit, Facebook-Developer Circles Community Challenge and the MIT Mic Africa Summit have so much money to throw around. But, while these think tanks want to reward startups for their innovative displays and grant them seed funding; here are other reasons why we won’t get enough of hackathons.

 

Focused Teamwork

Hackdays are spiced up with time constraints, and that serves as a motivation for teams to synergize quickly and stay as focused as possible. In hackathons, the teams have to make most of the time they have by playing to the strengths and abilities of one another. An event with good facilitators and some significant challenges potentially bring out the best in people, producing results that may change the world. As one can find in just about any team, agreeing on responsibilities early enough can go a long way in helping everyone stay on track and garner that feeling of value as the project progresses. You may not be entirely wrong to think the tasks are nerve-racking, but also know that some of the best working relationships owe their thanks to hacking day opportunities. Attending an event to build something fresh and impressive in one’s own time is a demonstration of great commitment over and above the norm. When techies get in the zone and put in their best alongside new people, it can be challenging, especially for the fact that it is often done in relatively new environments. But it doesn’t cut hackathons short as an opportunity to show people what you can do, without the pressures and pains that job interviews and HR teams have in the offing.

 

Anything Can Happen

No, this possibility is not on the wrong side of things. The opportunities that hackathons offer are usually vast and varied – new products could be devised, a business can be created, a startup could get funded, and meaningful relationships can be formed. These events are often one of the few places where the best ideas come from, asides incubation hubs and co-working spaces. Concepts are developed quickly, battle-tested to the witnessing of field-expert panels and passed into working as the potential changer bringer in the tech space. Even that seemingly great idea thought out by an Einstein-like brainiac may get shut down early by an experienced industry insider. Many people see this as a negative turnout, but on the bright side, it is incredibly valuable – you won’t be wasting your time, energy and even money on something with little or no makings of a difference. Failing fast actually means you can succeed quickly next time, and that could be achieved with minor changes.  If the idea of being in a hackathon team has ever shaken your bones, draw comfort from the fact that you are going to learn something new. Even as you are pushed out of your comfort zone, you will be provided with a limitless avenue to learn more stuff. With new datasets to access and challenges, you need to overcome, alongside expert people willing to help, hackathons are one of the largest technological learning pools.

 

Access To Mentors

Tech events are often flooded with globally decorated mentors and thought leaders. The facilitators often pay attention to making participants happy and provide for them an optimal working environment. Amidst lots of chops and beverages with quotations marks on caffeine, it is recognised that motivations and a lot of humour do the trick. If teams are to whip up as much as possible in 39 hours, then the facilitators must take into consideration that the participants can run out of ideas on how to go about solving an issue that will bug them. Even if they have such great ideas, they may lack the required experience to make them a reality within the given timeframes. The solution is often setting up a mentoring process and is by far the best decision any facilitator can make. Mentors have time and again proven themselves to be spirits and strengths behind the success of hackathons. With a couple of dedicated and extensively experienced mentors behind participants, low morale will be up, tips will be given, tricks will be in the many, crash-course tutorials will prevail, and creative flow will be jump-started with fresh ideas. Get this – in as much as the mentors will point participants in the right direction, the bulk of the work is not in their hands. If you read the stories about Nigerian and Kenyan schoolgirls that took ‘catching them young’ to a whole new level, then you must know that these prodigies were mentored all through the processes (their mentors are in the group photographs). When you participate in hackathons, you get access to mentors and great ones at that. Nothing then will stop you from being like Mustapha or even Silas Adekunle.

 

Participating In Community Development

The US Embassy in Ethiopia and partners are doing it for the good of communities – for communities to prevail and for the overall African development.Ethiopia is ranked the fifteenth poorest country in the world and one of the five most underprivileged in Africa. But thanks to the efforts of the current Prime Minister of the country, Abiy Ahmed, the country at least is high on the mountain of several challenges that need human and capital resources to create a comfier environment. As a landlocked country, Ethiopia’s primary challenge is drought, coupled with the fact that the more substantial part of the country’s populace comprises farmers. Citizens are living in poverty – estimated as 23.5 percent of the population. After the peace treaty with Eritrea, Ethiopia made a foray down the path of building its state. The U.S embassy, through the recently launched program that includes hackathons, will be helping Ethiopia develop an ecosystem that promotes entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology by investing in indigenous Ethiopians to beat the future of their country into shape. This goes to buttress that hackathons provide the much-needed face time with other people in the community development process. As a developer environment, the events will always bring techies together in a way that will allow them to learn new things from others, and channel the results to bolster the community and better the world.

 

Featured Image Courtesy: MaRs Discovery District 

 

Egypt’s Nawah Scientific Gets USD 1 Mn Funding Boost From Endure Capital

Nzekwe Henry December 10

Egyptian research startup, Nawah Scientific, has secured an investment worth USD 1 Mn in a pre-Series A round led by Endure Capital, with 500 Startups, Averroes Ventures, Egypt Ventures, and angel investor, Dr. A. Abdelhamid, also joining the funding round. This is the first time the startup is raising external investment.

Nawah Scientific is a Cairo-based startup that appears to be carving a niche for itself in the area of scientific research. The startup which was founded in 2015 by Dr. Omar Sakr; a PhD holder in the field of Pharmaceutical Sciences, boasts a collection of advanced equipment that is suited to the research and development needs of both natural and medical sciences.

Nawah Scientific helps scientists and universities who do not have access to sophisticated equipment and facilities carry out critical research tests that would be otherwise improbable or too much to ask.

The startup goes about this by receiving experiment requests via its online platform. Through a courier, the test samples are moved under prime conditions from the address of the client that made the request to premises of the startup.

A team of competent in-house scientists then take the reins from that point onwards as the required tests are carried out and the test results are relayed to the client via the startup’s online platform. Through this simple but effective mode of operation, Nawah Scientific is able to cater for the needs of researchers as it affords scientists access to top-notch research facilities, whilst fostering scientific research in both Egypt and beyond.

Having been established barely three years prior, Nawah Scientific claims to have offered its services to clients within and outside Egypt. So far, the startup claims to have analyzed as many as 15,000 samples from 32 universities. But the services of the startup do not stop at scientists and academia as it also carries out complicated research projects and simple analysis for chemical and pharmaceutical companies.

Commenting on the development, Dr. Omar Sakr, Founder and CEO of Nawah Scientific, tethered his motivation for establishing the startup to the need to make access to cutting-edge research and high-tech equipment more available.

He also noted that a lot of time that should otherwise be put into meaningful work is spent by scientists shuttling between cities and universities to have their samples tested. And in the process, yielding unreliable research projects that are shallow at best. According to the CEO, this has put a strain on the trust between industry and academia resulting in a poor ‘research-to-product’ conversion rate. He, however, believes that the startup is now better poised to fix these problems.

With the latest development, Nawah Scientific has now become one of the first life sciences startups in the MENA region that has achieved success in raising significant investment. Since its inception, the startup has posted an impressive year-on-year growth and this can be thought to have gone some way towards attracting and closing the investment deal. And this bodes well for other science-based startups in the region as the company appears to have broken the proverbial glass ceiling.

Speaking with regards to the investment, Tarek Fahim, Managing Partner of Endure Capital, opined that biotech startups share a lot in common with software startups before AWS and rapid development tools. He also stressed the importance of infrastructure players who can push boundaries to the growth and sustainability of biotech enterprises, stating that they can help “lower cost for starting and increase the speed of prototyping.”

Egypt Ventures; a VC that was launched recently by Egypt’s Ministry of Investment, is believed to be the biggest investor in this round. Hema Ali, Managing Director of the newly launched VC, expressed the company’s excitement at being part of the startup’s journey as it looks to scale its offerings and expand into new markets.

It was this time last year when Nawah Scientific clinched the grand prize in the pitch competition at the 2017 RiseUp Summit. Having emerged winners of the competition, the startup roped in a USD 50 K cash prize.

Now, barely a year on from that night of blitz, the startup appears to be holding its own quite well, and the latest investment worth USD 1 Mn (which is quite substantial given that the startup is raising external capital for the first time) is a testament that Nawah Scientific is on the right track, as this connotes investor confidence.

Plans related to expanding the startup’s services and growing its marketing activities outside of Egypt are expected to get most of the attention with the latest capital injection.

 

 

Feature image CourtesyNawah Scientific

Egyptian Healthtech Startup Vezeeta Raises Investment From IFC

Nzekwe Henry December 10

Egyptian healthtech startup, Vezeeta, has secured an undisclosed amount of investment from World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC). This development sees Vezeeta become the first Egyptian technology company to bag a direct investment from the IFC.

Vezeeta is one of the leading healthtech startups in the MENA region and the latest investment from IFC into the Cairo-based company follows a previous announcement which saw the startup close a Series-C round worth USD 12 Mn. That round was led by STV; a Saudi-based investment firm.

Vezeeta was launched in 2012 by Amir Barsoum. The startup makes it possible for patients to search, compare, book, and consult with doctors in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Lebanon. Vezeeta also assists medical personnel with practice management solutions that help in better management of medical appointments and patient data.

Up to 2 million appointments are believed to be facilitated by the platform on a yearly basis, and that’s according to the startup. More so, Vezeeta claims to have over 10,000 healthcare providers signed on to the platform, providing services to at least 2.5 million patients in the region.

With regards to the development, Amir Barsoum, Founder and CEO of Vezeeta, offered that the investment from a “global power” like the IFC will help accelerate the growth of the startup, as well as buoy its plans of building a formidable global network.

Chief Executive Officer of the IFC, Philippe Le Houerou, also commented on the development expressing his confidence in the ability of Vezeeta to drive innovation in the MENA region. The CEO also expressed delight at the prospect of African entrepreneurs harnessing their creativity and drive with the power of novel technologies to address some of the continent’s most pressing problems.

Vezeeta’s Chief Technology Officer, Adel Khalil, also rendered his voice in support of the development reiterating its importance in helping the startup keep up with its mandate of empowering millions of patients in the region, and making sure patients and healthcare providers are seamlessly connected by leveraging data and new products in healthcare.

Mohammad Elmougi echoed, Vezeeta’s VP North Africa, echoed the thoughts of the CTO when he hinted at the commitment of the startup to pulling down all accessibility barriers and improving the quality of healthcare experienced by patients in the region through the elimination of all the bottlenecks that currently bedevil quality healthcare service accessibility.

While this is undoubtedly the IFC’s very first direct investment in an Egyptian technology venture, it would, however, not be the first this investment arm of the World Bank Group is throwing about its financial weight in the MENA region. Over the course of the past few years,  the IFC is known to have made funding commitments worth over USD 100 Mn in startups, venture funds, and accelerators across the Middle East and North Africa, including such Egyptian ventures as Flat6Labs and Algebra Ventures.

 

Feature image courtesyMENAbytes

Ugandan Startup Swipe2pay Swipes Away USD 40K At BRIDGE East Africa Startup Pitch

Kevin Gachiri December 10

Swipe2pay, a Ugandan startup was picked as the winner of BRIDGE East Africa Startup pitch and secured USD 40K at Weetracker’s first flagship conference event held at Crowne Plaza on 7th December in Nairobi. The announcement was made by Takuma Terakubo the CEO of Leapfrog Ventures whose joint partnership with Weetracker made the event possible. Leapfrog Ventures will add Swipe2pay to its roster of startups, it is funding in East Africa. Other startups that took part in the pitch included Yusudi, Talklift, Zumi and Asilimia.

The Selection of Swipe2pay came as a surprise considering that each of the 5 startups had delivered convincing pitches in front of the panel that comprised Japanese investors on tour in Africa, some for the first time. Solomon Kitumba, CEO Swipe2pay, had come from pitching at #slush18 in Helsinki arriving in time to make his pitch as the last participant for the day. Swipe2pay makes it possible for informal businesses that accept cash from customers to be able to accept digital payments as well as credit card transactions. The startup which was founded in 2017, is already integrated with Visa and Mastercard.

In an interview with Weetracker, Solomon intimated that “We are already active in Uganda with a majority of our customers coming from Mbarara and Jinja. We have built a regular customer base of 550 regular users on our  platform with transactions sometimes growing upto 3,500 per day when we get very busy.”

According to their website, the solution they provide to customers also includes their provision of daily, weekly and monthly reports. The fintech startup has integration with Kenya’s MPESA making it possible for them to venture into the local Kenyan market as well.

Solomon is assisted by a team of six who play different roles in driving the business forward and the funding they have received will go into product development as well as strengthening its talent pool which would be necessary for looking at how the product can be polished, refined or extend its features. Having grown in rural Uganda, Solomon had observed how informal market traders mostly women fail to access finance since they don’t keep records or any form of payments they receive from clients.  This makes it difficult to get credit reference. The need to accept funds from clients who wish to pay by cards also means that they usually turn away clients from this customer segment. Swipe2pay, therefore, helps in attracting more customers.  It is this discovery that made Solomon devise a method of bringing a better solution to these informal traders.

Weetracker’s BRIDGE East Africa, held in Kenya drew a substantial crowd of investors from Japan as well as attendance of local investors, venture capitalists and seasoned entrepreneurs. The event hosted startup pitches that were held in between the panel discussions and fireside chats with selected guests. Leapfrog Ventures announced at the event that it is looking at making 200 investments in Africa in the coming 3 years.

What You Should Know About Google Hangouts’ Rumored Shutdown

Andrew Christian December 9

Sources familiar with the tech giant’s product’s internal roadmap have reported that 2019 will be the last year for Google Hangouts, as the company plans to shut it down by the year 2020. The development, to nearly no one’s surprise, is a reiteration which accompanies the company’s apparent decision to hold off on further developments on the app more than a year ago.

Google had previously announced its pivot for the Hangouts brand for enterprise use scenarios with Hangout Chat and Hangout Meet, so it has been telling for a while that the consumer app would soon cease to exist. With the abandonment of Google Hangouts concerning development and its presumed final extinction, many entrepreneurs have begun charting a course away from the app, even though it will remain a prominent official chat option in Gmail on the web – continuing on the Google Play Store even now. In line with recent reviews, the app has shown signs of ageing which are evident in its display of bugs and performance glitches.

Hangout as a brand will remain with G Suite’s Hangout Chat and Hangouts Meet, with the former tailored for Slack app-comparable team communication and the latter as a video meetings platform. In the same line, Google Voice calling, which was initially independent and then integrated into Hangouts, was restored to its own redesigned app earlier this year.

Worthy of interest is that in spite of its inevitable axing, Hangouts was one of the few apps to receive early support for Android Auto’s new MMS and RCS functionality, alongside Whatsapp and Android Messages.

Nonetheless, Google’s Scott Johnson has chimed in on this development and denied any decision being made about the timeline of legacy Hangouts’ shutdown. He did confirm that users of consumer Hangouts will somehow be upgraded to Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet, both of which have been presented as enterprise-focused products that fill different needs. Scott also confirmed rather explicitly that Hangouts Classic, which is the subject of this development, will eventually be “shutting down’. Meanwhile, there are sources which corroborate the initial report, informing that decisions have been made for the depreciation of legacy Hangouts.

Most of us consider the Chat and Meet to be more business-focused products, and these plans make the situation seem as though they could have more of a consumer-facing component in the future. For entrepreneurs who have continued to use Hangouts, and who are now coming to rely on Slack or Discord style at-mentions, having such features in Hangouts may be somewhat snazzy. If the rumour of Hangouts’ death or transition are true or have been exaggerated, it wouldn’t matter so much if the new upgrades come with those new features.

Meanwhile, another source reports that Google provided an update on its current efforts, and now focuses moving towards a simpler communication experience. Starting on the consumer front, Google has “decided to stop supporting Allo to focus on Messages.” In April this year, Google only noted that it was “holding off investment” on Allo, but the tech giant confirmed that the service is about to get the sunset. Allo will be available until March 2019, with the service continuing to work until then; disregarding today’s downtime. Google has furnished us with details on how users can export existing conversation history from the app.

Google Hangouts, for as long as it has been in use, hasn’t disappointed entrepreneurs, as it can be a great asset to a company of any size – even more ideal for smaller businesses and startups. The app allows you to connect with employees easily, business colleagues and clients via calls and video chat making it seamless for those who travel or work from home. Hangouts also afford companies the flexibility of connection form virtually any smart device. Users can also, during chats, share files via Google Drive, stream live broadcast, participate in webinars and hold staff meetings amongst many more.

As customers will be able to review your business as an accessible one that cares about customer satisfaction, using Google Hangouts is a marketing strategy with all the makings of greatness. With weekly/monthly question and answer sessions, customer chats and feedback reception, you can not only appeal to customers but receive immediate interactions that can help you develop a more robust marketing strategy. Taylor Swift hosted a Google+ Hangout to announce her new album, and with the medium, she was able to reach fans from all over the world – making her song hit number one right after its release.

This goes to say that Hangouts is a great way to make business announcements such as funding rounds, product launches, expansion or any other news that customers may be interested in. The app is also useful in holding online staff meetings, and conference calls with important clients even while you are in transit.

We are yet to find out the actual features that will come with the storied Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet as replacements to the authority-building, customer-gathering, engaging, and collaborative Google Hangouts. 2020 is more than a year from now, so while Sundar Pichai and his team of techies decide the fate of this G Suite member, we still have no less than 12 months to enjoy the existing chat room app.

Nigeria’s Logistics Startup Kobo360 Raises USD 6 Mn From World Bank’s IFC

Andrew Christian December 7

Nigeria’s Uber-like trucking logistics startup Kobo360 has raised USD 6 Mn in its second investment round this year. The equity financing which was gained from World Bank ’s sister organization IFC, will help the company upgrade its e-logistics platform and spread its tentacles to Ghana, Togo and Ivory Coast.

This recent investment for Kobo360, which also involved efforts from other platforms such as TLom Capital and Y Combinator, will be used by the startup to become more than just a transit app. The founder, Obi Ozor, told Techcrunch that the company broke into the logistics market as an app that connects truckers and companies with freight needs, but now looks to build a global logistics operating system and become a full-fledged platform.

While bridging the gap between truckers, producers and distributors, Kobo360 is now chomping at bit to build the platform that will offer supply chain management tools for enterprise customers. In a statement, Ozor revealed that large firms are now demanding for movement, tracking and sales-related specific features, which is why the startup is looking to leverage two options – integrate other services such as SAP into Kobo or building the solutions directly into the e-logistics platform.

With this new investment round, the startup will sally forth with the said upgrade by developing its API and opening it up to for the use to large enterprise customers. With the intent for clients to use Kobo360’s dashboard for everything from moving goods, tracking, sales and accounting, the platform wishes to tackle the challenges faced by its customers.

It is also reported that the company will forge a more physical Nigerian presence in order to serve its customers better. Concerned about truck movements and monitoring, helping operation’s collect proof of delivery and accessing trucker owners more closely for inspection and training purposes, Kobo360 is poised to launch 100 hubs before the end of 2019, according to its founder.

The startup, remaining “aggressively” focused on reducing logistics friction for large enterprises and SMEs alike, alongside connecting new markets and unlock better community wellbeing, will add more warehousing capabilities to support its reverse logistics business. By matching trucks with return freight after they drop their loads, Kobo360 will bring down prices and eliminate the return-empty challenge facing its customers.

In a statement, the IFC enthused that the company currently has over 5000 trucks empanelled on its platform, from more than 600 small fleet owners, serving some of the largest enterprises in Nigeria. Kobo360 told Techcrunch in January that it is looking to add 20,000 trucks to its platform and latch on to the expansion which is now made possible by its USD 6 Mn raise. According to the founder, the expansion, which is scheduled to take off in 2019, will be with existing customers – one in the port operations business, another in FMCG and the last in agriculture.

As a matter of strategic priority, the funding, which was announced by both parties on the eve of the opening of the IFC’s Next 100 African Startups Initiative, will be used by the startup to also expand programs and services for its driver members. Along this line, Ozor remarked that neglecting drivers would crumble the company to a pile of issues while iterating that the same loophole hinders ride-hailing companies from becoming trillion-dollar enterprises.

Because owning trucks may be too cumbersome to handle, Ozor opines that the best scalable model is to aggregate trucks, while handling more volume at cheaper prices to leverage the startup’s asset-free digital platform and business model to outpace traditional long-haul 3PL providers in Nigeria.

According to a Weetracker report, Kobo360 raised USD 1.2 Mn in June this year from U.S venture capital firm Western Technology Investment and became a Y-Combinator cohort, while receiving USD 120 K equity investment from the seed fund. The logistics startup, which has served 900 businesses, aggregated a fleet of 8000 drivers and moved 155 million kilograms, is welcoming IFC’s regional head for Africa, Wale Ayeni and TLcom’s senior partner Omobola Johnson to take seats at its board.

Kobo360 also offers training and programs on insurance, discount petrol and vehicle financing to its drivers. The startup has also created an HMO for drivers, alongside an incentive-based program to afford education, which is monikered as KoboCare. The company’s top clients include Honeywell, Dangote, Unilever, Olam and DHL.

 

Featured Image Courtesy: Macktrucks

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