Africa is the world’s most enterprising continent. It has become fertile ground for innovation and development, and even though it seems like the wave of development came to us a little late, we are fast catching up. Ideas that would not have been dreamt about ten years ago are now reachable due to the influx of technology and advancement on the continent. Africa’s tech field is one of the fastest-growing in the world, and every year new ideas are given life. These serve to better the economy, alleviate poverty, create opportunities for youth, encourage creativity and fill the various gaps that are left in our development.
The following are nine of the more recent, craziest start-ups that have caused a buzz on the continent with their daring, ground-breaking and imaginative ideas. They are not just focused on technology-economic, medical and socially-focused start-ups are highlighted too, and the reasons why they stand out explored in length.
COUNTRY: CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
FOUNDED IN: 2014
Being a parent is difficult at the best of times, and even more so when they have to leave your immediate sight to go to school, visit with friends and grow into the people that they will become. For parents,it is distressing not knowing where your child is, especially with the growing spate of kidnappings and child molesting in the society. This is where sBubble comes in. It keeps parents informed about their children’s movements in a way that is not intrusive to the child, creating a safe bubble of space they can interact in.
sBubble works with a small Bluetooth tag device attached to the child’s clothing, which is then connected by Bluetooth to the parent’s phone. This comes in very handy in rough neighborhoods, crowded places and when the child is left with a caregiver. Once the child steps out of the “bubble” which is the parent’s comfort zone, the parent gets an immediate notification on their phone.
The idea is smart, simple and works on already existing technology. It gives parents peace of mind and makes them not have to hover to keep their child safe, as they can know in what area the child is allowed to visit. It reduces the influence of child molesters and kidnappers and other nefarious activities that the child could get entangled in. sBubble is not limited to children, though, it can be used to tag pets, household items and other property to make them easier to find when misplaced and alert the owners if they are stolen.
While still under development, sBubble is already gathering some buzz both locally and internationally and is one start-up to watch.
FOUNDED IN: 2014
There are hundreds, if not thousands of online vendors of different products, and instead of making shopping a more relaxing experience, it makes choosing a vendor for specific products confusing. Yaoota is an Egyptian online search engine for the myriad of products sold online.
Yaoota helps shoppers to search online for the products they need, comparing prices and different brands of products from several online stores, making specific choices easy. The tech developers came up with an algorithm that computes all the products, providing an optimal user experience for the shoppers. The application then diverts sales traffic to the merchants who are included in their algorithms for a cost per click fee. With this, the shopper does not have to start searching for different websites to buy different products from, all they need is the Yaoota search engine to direct them where they need to go.
The growing e-commerce market in Egypt means that the market is expansible and fertile for exploitation by the right type of tech start-up. Seeing that the online shopping experience in Egypt was more of a chore than a pleasure, the founder Sherif ElRakabawy and his partner Mohammed Ewis devised a way to streamline the experience and make sure shoppers get what they want in a short amount of time with minimal stress.
This start-up began as a self-funded operation, but due to the rousing success and the growing demand in the market, they have attracted the attention of tech bigwigs KBBO Group based in Abu Dhabi who have raised them up to $2.7 million, the largest for an Egyptian tech start-up so far. The developers took advantage of the budding economic climate of the country to insert themselves into the industry and create an opportunity in the gap created by the recent political unrest in Egypt. They generate so much traffic that it has surpassed that of Google and Facebook in the country. This does not mean that they do not face challenges, as the political climate is still unsteady, but it is admirable that they still prevail.
FOUNDED IN: FEBRUARY 2015
Smallholder farmers usually depend on experience and trial-and-error to solve the problems they run into during the planting season. More experienced people who plant flowers and gardens and have access to the Internet only have to connect to Google to get the information they need, but most of these farmers who depend on agriculture for their livelihood are in rural areas where they do not have the access or literacy to use the Internet.
WeFarm is a peer-to-peer information sharing service, sort of like a search engine for rural farmers, but it uses an SMS service instead of the Internet. Farmers can ask questions and get answers from other farmers from across the globe via SMS, right from their farms in fact!
Kenny Ewan, the founder and CEO of WeFarm first started growing the seeds of the idea that would become this start-up when he was working abroad for an NGO based in Peru. He had first-hand experiences where a whole community of farmers helped each other with solutions for their agricultural problems, but a neighboring community would be at a loss for what to do with the same problem. There was no information dissemination or sharing, and it was affecting their productivity negatively.
With some other investors based in the UK, WeFarm started as an idea but quickly grew and finally, was launched in 2015.
The use of SMS instead of the Internet is the move that gave this start-up an extraordinary zest. Even though WeFarm is Internet-based, it is accessed through SMS for those who don’t access to it. As technology improves, WeFarm also makes provisions for the clients who can get access to their Internet database too. Because the ideas are crowd-sourced, the database is chock filled with simple, home-grown answers and solutions to most of the basic problems of both animal and plant farmers, solutions that have been used and found to be effective. This information sharing encourages creativity and development in the country, and as the enterprise expands to Uganda and Peru, it impacts more lives and contributes to the poverty and hunger alleviation goals of the government.
FOUNDED IN: 2015
Most Africans depend mostly on commercial motorcycles to move around. They are fast, can meander through traffic and narrow streets and cost less than a taxi ride. This is the case in Rwanda. However, Rwanda also has one of the highest road accident prevalences in the world, with probability for one of the involved vehicles being a motorcycle being up to 80%. In Africa alone, road accidents are the second biggest killer after HIV/AIDS. Motorcycle accidents are frequent and commonplace, endangering lives and property. The SafeMotos service makes the drivers accountable for their driving and their passengers. This helps to streamline the driving methods of the moto drivers, who are notorious in Rwanda for their rough antics and concurrent accidents, most of which are fatal.
The service is like an Uber, except for motorcycles. There is an ongoing assessment of the driver as he provides the service. Interested drivers register with SafeMotos and are given a dedicated smartphone with the SafeMotos application, their vehicle particulars and performance charted. This information is fed into the database which runs an algorithm and based on their performance, they are chosen to work for the service. Drivers must get up to 90/100 and above to start and keep working for SafeMotos. They are provided with a helmet and chin guard and on each ride, the service collects a commission. The drivers are required to have up to three years of experience and are educated regularly with refresher courses on safety, traffic laws, and social responsibility.
Peter Karuiki and Barrett Nash, a Canadian, are friends who saw a unique need and devised a means to fill it. After a motorcycle accident in which they were both injured, their idea for a technology-controlled safety watch for the motorcycle riders that predominate in Rwandan traffic transitioned from a dream to a necessity. With private funding from the venture capitalist firm SOSV and Irish start-up investors Karma Axlr8r, the SafeMotos service was born.
Providing safety for the passengers and economic autonomy for the drivers, SafeMotos shows that there is no price too high for peace of mind. It encourages the drivers to drive more safely and considerately, as the better they are, the more passengers they have access to. SafeMotos drivers are sought after and have a competitive edge over their contemporaries, their red flags making them stand out to passengers who know that they can be trusted. It is economically empowering while reducing the burden of a vehicular accident statistic that is heart-breaking. It also ensures security, as SafeMotos drivers are recognized by the police as being more responsible than other motorcycle drivers and are given leeway due to their recommendations.
SafeMotos has been called “Africa’s answer to Uber”, but it is more than that. With founders in their twenties, it is a vision for what Rwanda could become, a country that is already making strides towards progress with the fastest and cheapest Internet on the continent.
KAJO-KEJI HEALTH TRAINING INSTITUTE
COUNTRY: SOUTH SUDAN
FOUNDED IN: 2013
There is a health practitioner deficit in the war-torn new nation of South Sudan. With a fast-growing population and civil war unrest, there is a great need for doctors and other medical professionals. As of April 2015, there were a reported 120 medical doctors serving an expanding population of 9 million with the highest maternity mortality in the world. The fledgling health care system desperately needs help, and that is what Lou Louis Koboji, Lokiri Peter and other visionaries at Kajo-Keli Health Institute daringly try to fill.
The Institute runs a three-year accelerated medical program to train doctors, laboratory scientists, nurses, and midwives who are desperately needed in the country as the health sector crisis debilitates a country already ravaged by civil war.
Loius Koboji fled Sudan when the civil war that would later divide the country into North and South Sudan was getting unbearable. He worked in Uganda as a Laboratory Technologist, and after South Sudan was created, he came back to the country to meet a health crisis. There were very few medical practitioners working, the practicing ones had a deficit of drugs and finances and equipment, and people were dying from very simple and treatable diseases. In September of 2013 with a class of 65 students, Kajo-Keji Health Institute was born, amidst skirmishes and disturbances of the war which keeps interrupting their medical program.
The accelerated medical program is training doctors who are meeting a very critical and necessary need. The school is in constant peril, with examinations interrupted by gunmen and students dropping out due to the war, but it is has graduated its first set of students in 2016 and is thriving. Even more remarkable is that the school was founded by ordinary citizens with a passion for their nation. Due to the visionary mission of the school, they have attracted international recognition and partnership and is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with in medical education.
BICYCLES AGAINST POVERTY
COUNTRY: GULU, UGANDA
FOUNDED IN: 2009
Most great start-ups are the literal drop in the ocean that creates a mighty flood. Bicycles Against Poverty is one such initiative, providing a much-needed service in predominantly small farming communities. In such small villages, having a means to move their produce to the market could be the difference between abject poverty and having enough to live by.
Most people who live in small villages are far from basic amenities like hospitals, water, and the marketplace. A means of transportation to get to all those services would make the difference in their standard of living, and bicycles are a simple and effective way to bridge that gap. The service provides bicycles for these small farmers on a hire-purchase basis with the option of paying back over one year. Those bicycles do not just provide a means for the farmers to move their products, it gives them the means to access healthcare, take their children to school and get to the water and other basic amenities. The bicycles are assembled locally and paying instalmentally makes the payments easy for the users while giving them immediate access to the means of transportation they need.
Muyambi Muyambi, the carrier of the vision that bore Bicycles Against Poverty, grew up in a family with a mother who suffered from a long-term chronic illness and whenever she needed to be taken to get to the hospital, they had to borrow a bicycle to get her the help she needed. Knowing firsthand that most people who grew up in small communities like him were most hindered from progress by their lack of a means of transportation, he conceived an initiative to alleviate poverty in his small way.
The program is small but effective, spreading through 13 communities and impacting more than four thousand lives. Having the means of transportation gives women autonomy and independence empowering them to take care of their families even without a male figure in the family. Added to that, it has precipitated up to a 30% increase in business creation and family income. A few bicycles in a community encourages sharing and empowers not just the owners but the other members of the community who can borrow it, and this comes in handy in case of medical emergencies and such occurrences when movement is necessary.
SUSTAINABLE POINT-OF-USE TREATMENT AND STORAGE (SPOUTS) OF WATER
FOUNDED IN: 2011
Clean water is a luxury in the more impoverished parts of the world, which is ironic since two-thirds of our planet is covered in water. However, most of not is not drinkable. This is the plight of ten million Ugandans, almost one-third of the country’s population. The number one killer of children under the age of five years remains diarrhea precipitated by bad drinking water. The simplest means of purifying water is unavailable to most of the population who do not have access to chlorine, and proper filters. Moreover, boiling does not effectively purify contaminated drinking water. What is more, some of the population are averse to methods of purification that they are not familiar with.
SPOUTS of water is a non-profit organization that aims to make affordable and drinking water available to rural Uganda with its ceramic water filters. These filters are cheaper than the other commercially available filters in Uganda and because the material is made out of ceramic, it leaves a terracotta aftertaste that is preferred because the villagers are used to storing their water in clay pots. SPOUTS is the only water filtering plant in Uganda, using locally sourced materials to manufacture the PURIFAAYA filters which increase the local economy by creating jobs and opportunities. Their method of distribution by sale instead of through free aid encourages the users to view water as a commodity worth investing in, attaching its due importance to their lives. With the help of existing organizations, we will jumpstart a change in the way water is viewed.
The PURIFAAYA water filters are durable, lasting for up to two years, and it has been proven that having a stable water source keeps the family healthy, increasing their productivity and all-round improving the society.
In 2010, the founder Kathy Ku came to Uganda for the summer and spent too much on drinking water. The only source of water for drinking was bottled water, which she could only afford because she was a foreigner. This condition made her team up with her friend and fellow Harvard student John Kye to start the SPOUTS initiative with the sustainable ceramic filter initiative.
SPOUTS meets a need that not only improves the lives of the users of the ceramic filters but also creates a wave of socio-economic change that imparts the whole African continent. With aid from foreign organizations and donations, it has created a difference in many lives and continues to do so as they expand their operations to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
FOUNDED IN: 2013
Writing is a dicey undertaking, and added to that is the hassle of publishing. Writers seldom get their money’s worth from the publishers and sellers-and that is for the writers who are even published. Okadabooks is a publishing platform that breaches that gap.
Okadabooks is a platform where the writers and readers can interact, with the readers paying to read the stories and the writers getting paid directly for every read. Books are not expensive, ranging from #75 to #500 except for some special cases like for new releases. Of course, the application gets a percentage of every sale as their remuneration-the writer gets 70% of the proceeds from the book by logging into their Okadabooks account and the money is uploaded to their bank account. The readers have the option of paying through their airtime credit or linking their account to the application platform to buy books directly and read directly it on the application. Readers who have bought a book can always access it whenever they log into their account.
Okechukwu Ofili, who is the founder of Okadabooks, is a prolific writer, satirist and comic book artist who has a great gift for using sarcasm to pass his messages on mental conditioning, cultural and educational limitations and other socio-economic barriers that Nigerians are faced with every day. Ofili used his own personal experience as a launching pad for the platform. As a writer, he experienced frustration after his book “How Stupidity Saved My Life” was published in 2011. The bookstores carrying his book withheld his payment for the longest time, prompting him to go on a social media crusade to get it back. His experience fostered the idea that became Okadabooks.
It makes publishing simple and controlled by the author – an autonomy that most writers don’t usually get. It is developed for the African market and converts the reader’s airtime credit into virtual money for the writers. It has opened up the market to writers of all genres and Nigerian languages who would generally find it difficult to be published in the mainstream publishing world.
FOUNDED IN: AUGUST 2016
It has been estimated that up to 170 million Africans do not have access to specialized health care providers like radiographers and medical imagery scientists and this leaves a gap in diagnostics. Dr. CADX is a mobile medical imaging specialist, helping health practitioners to provide well-rounded care to their patients even in rural areas without the delay of having to travel long distances for a specialist.
CADX provides an essential medical service by helping medical practitioners to read and interpret medical imaging files (x-rays, CTs, MRIs and ultrasound images) uploaded to their computers and tablets. It is a diagnostic system that is uploaded with the relevant data it needs to read medical images, focusing on head injuries, breast cancer, lung and heart diseases. This eliminates guessing and reaching, and proper all-round healthcare is achieved by the medic providers.
This start-up was founded by Gift Gana, a visionary physics degree holder and Tatenda Madzorera, a professional and experienced radiographer. They saw the mortality rates caused by lack of access to professional care and errors in medical imaging reading, and the vision to change the situation by involving more reliable technology was created.
With an 82% success rate of differentiating unhealthy from healthy tissue images and a growing database, Dr. CADX is one to watch. This beats the 70% accuracy that has been observed with human radiologists, who are not above making errors. Already they have been singled out by international investors who are watching out for the full version to be launched in 2018.