Microsoft today announced innovation grants for five African start-ups through the 4Afrika Initiative, which aims in part to invest in high performing, African start-ups. In addition to financial backing, these start-ups will receive technical support and mentorship from Microsoft.
The five start-ups selected are access.mobile, Africa118, Kytabu, Gamsole and Save & Buy. They were identified through Microsoft’s partnerships with 88mph, CC’Hub and HiveColab, as well as the company’s engagement with local developer communities.
Key considerations in the selection process were uniqueness, scalability and local relevance.
“As part of the 4Afrika initiative, we are excited to be supporting startups that have developed innovative solutions that address key issues in Africa,” said Amrote Abdella, director of startup engagement and Partnerships for 4Afrika.
“Our support is aimed at showcasing the importance of local innovation, but more importantly, it highlights the great potential that African innovators have in competing with world-class developers and entrepreneurs.”
The start-ups are:
Africa118 – Kenya
Founded in 2010 by Ezana Raswork, Africa118 is a mobile directory service in Kenya. After watching his father experience difficulty trying to find a local vet for house calls, Ezana – who was working at the Yellow Pages – decided to develop a world-class information centre in Africa.
Working with mobile partner, Safaricom, Africa118 gives users access to an up-to-date and highly accurate database of local services in Kenya. For a cost of 20 Kenyan shillings per search, a user calls in, requests contact information and receives an SMS with the relevant details. Africa118 celebrates a 50% growth rate since 2011 and has a user satisfaction rate of 8 and 9 out of 10. Users are recorded as using the call service up to 10 times per month. Through the Microsoft 4Afrika innovation grant programme, Africa118 will expand their service by developing an online platform and mobile app. They also have plans to expand into Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ghana and to be in 10 African countries within the next three years.
Kytabu – Kenya
Meaning ‘book’ in Swahili, Kytabu is a textbook encryption and subscription service in Kenya. Founded in February 2012 by double graduate Tonee Ndungu (who also suffers from dyslexia) and his father, Kytabu is designed to provide universal and affordable access to learning material. Users can rent an entire textbook, or selections of a book, for any period of time using a mobile money platform, which translates into a 60% overall saving. Kytabu comes with a memory card pre-loaded with every textbook in the Kenyan education curriculum and a SIM card that allows the app to be updated over cellular data. Kytabu also comes with its own app store, where users can download audio books, learning games, virtual classrooms and past tests and exams. In June 2013, Kytabu was identified by the Kenyan Ministry of Education as one of the applications that would benefit the government’s push to digitise and distribute educational content. It was also selected by Google and the San Francisco tech (The Gratitude Network) community as the education application most likely to change the world in this decade.
access.mobile – Uganda
Founded in 2011 by Kaakpema ‘KP’ Yelpaala, access.mobile provides high-quality and customised mobile technology solutions to a wide range of enterprises. KP stumbled onto the business idea while talking to a coffee exporter in rural Rwanda. He built a mobile app to help the exporter move from a paper- and cash-based system to a digital one, where he can track his transactions and get insight into his flow and inventory.
access.mobile now helps enterprises of all sizes adopt and integrate technology by digitising their operations. The technology provides the ability to collect, analyse and share clear, real-time information about operations and supply chain activity – and carries a 90% customer satisfaction rate from rural users who have previously had very limited access to technology. They currently offer solutions in healthcare and agriculture, but have plans through the Microsoft 4Afrika innovation grant programme to expand their sector and country reach.
Gamsole – Nigeria
11 weeks into its launch, mobile game production company Gamsole had over 1 000 000 game downloads. Five years later, CEO Abiola Olaniran is Nigeria’s highest paid Windows Game developer and Gamsole has over four million downloads, stemming from both local and international fans. Having competed at Microsoft’s Imagine Cup twice and worked with accelerator 88mph, Abiola now looks forward to working with the Microsoft 4Afrika innovation grant programme to produce high quality mobile games that entertain and educate.
Save & Buy – Nigeria
Founded only seven months ago in July 2013 by CEO Hugo Opi and partner Toni Osibodu, Save & Buy is an application that helps users create a savings plan for specific products they want to buy online. By clicking the Save & Buy button on select eCommerce sites, users start a saving plan customised with a duration date and deposit reminders. Once the full payment has been made, retailers send the products to the user. Save & Buy will be working with the Microsoft 4Afrika grant funding programme to move their application over to world-class servers, which will provide a more stable platform for increased traffic volumes. They also have plans to introduce new features, such as virtual products (holidays and birthdays), group saves and a credit feature. Their goal is to expand into three African countries over the next three years.