Some of Africa’s market frictions cannot be fixed by software alone: we need hardware startups. Yes, you may have the best software skills, but to help certain sectors, you would need to have a physical device. In the oil industry, software can help you in the reconciliation process, but before that can be done, you need sensors to collect the data. The same applies in agriculture and healthcare sectors where before the data can be processed and analysed, sensors must first collect them from the soil, land or humans.
Largely, the deal is this: without hardware, the impact of software will remain limited in Africa in helping communities and firms. Sure, software will eat the world, but hardware must first cook the world for it.
In this piece, I explain how hardware can become a moat, in Africa, at a certain level, to protect entities from the competitive voltages of the global ICT utilities which continue to take territories using the power of the positive continuum of network efforts and size.
Hardware is rising and I expect the 2020s to become even more promising as AI transforms markets, opening more use-cases. Just like Apple, you differentiate with hardware (iPhone, iPad) to sell exclusive and proprietary software (iOS). Snap is following that path with Spectacle. Amazon has invested on Kindle and Echo with that knowledge. Google has since moved into hardware with Pixel and Assistant box.
Cheaper computing systems, IoT (internet of things), broadband connectivity and drop in components costs will expand the nexus of these sensors into more areas. African hardware startups have real opportunities because without hardware, we cannot bring the power of information systems in facilitating catalytic transformations. For all the health tracking apps, across African technology hubs, they still need hardware sensors to collect the data. If the costs of those sensors do not drop (most are made abroad), the market penetration may remain limited. That is why opportunities exist to build some of these sensors right in Africa.
The video on hardware startups in Africa and the promising future is below.