Fourty young startups from across the continent took centre stage at DEMO Africa in Nigeria on the 24th September 2014. Each startup pitched their innovations to investors in hope of securing financial and technical support from some of the world’s largest tech companies. This kind of innovation injection can be a platform for taking their business to a commercially viable level with the snowball effect of positively impacting thousands of lives and growing Africa’s knowledge economy.
“Africa is full of problems. But these problems present opportunities for innovation and what we are seeing is local developers shaping technology for the world,” says Fernando de Sousa, General Manager of Africa Initiatives at Microsoft, which under the 4Afrika Initiative was a Platinum sponsor for this year’s DEMO event.
Through Microsoft’s ongoing work with developers, the company has come across several applications which are spearheading this kind of local innovation. Here are just four that Microsoft are currently supporting, who are testament to the power of collaboration between giant organisations and local genius.
1: access.mobile: ClinicCommunicator
According to the company, by 2030, an estimated 328 000 people in Uganda will suffer from diabetes. Without much access to technology, many hospitals in East Africa are still running paper-based operations, where waiting room queues are long and patients don’t have reminders to take their medication or come to check-ups. Hospitals are also far away, impacting diabetic treatment severely. According to the World Health Organisation, nearly 80% of sufferers in low income countries will die from this disease.
ClinicCommunicator, developed by entrepreneur Kaakpema Yelpaala, recipient of a Microsoft 4Afrika innovation grant, is a web-based application that allows hospitals and clinics to automate communication to their patients through SMS. This includes appointment and medication reminders, updates on test results, health alerts and tips to stay healthy. Eight prominent East African hospitals have already signed on to trials of the service, helping to save lives.
“ClinicCommunicator eases difficulties of patient scheduling, feedback and follow-up, saving on lost revenue, costly patient communications and other inefficiencies in patient engagement for African hospitals and medical practices,” says Kaakpema Yelpaala. “We hope to build additional healthcare products that are relevant for more people across Africa.”
An estimated $1 billion worth of livestock currently roams Senegal’s countryside, which makes cattle rustling a major challenge in an economy so dependent on agriculture. “Cows are our livelihood, our sustenance and retirement savings,” says Amadou Sow, a local farmer and the man behind the idea for Daral. After taking a computer class, Amadou saw an easy solution to preventing cattle rustling: Mobile technology. He worked with Microsoft and NGO Coders4Africa to build Daral, a livestock management app. By inserting chips into cows, farmers can use their mobile devices to track and monitor the state of their cattle. Animals are registered on a web-based application, which generates a unique number, and a photo can be uploaded with a description. If the animal should fall victim to rustlers, the farmer can contact police and have a region-wide SMS alert sent out using his basic mobile handset. About 2 000 farmers use the solution to date, which also provides vaccination reminders, and an additional 10 000 cattle chips are on their way.
In 2012, malaria caused an estimated 627 000 deaths, 90% of which were in the African region. Due to a lack of healthcare services in rural areas, malaria often goes undetected or is discovered and treated too late. To solve this problem, a young group of developers from Uganda built Matibabu, a malaria-detection app. Using a Kinect sensor and a mobile device, Matibabu detects a person’s malaria status without even pricking a body part. All of the data is read off the person’s finger. In 2013, the app competed in the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition and won the United Nations Women Empowerment Award.
4: Chifco: The InnerJ Solution
With a goal to reduce local energy bills by up to 30%, Tunisian entrepreneur Amine Chouaieb created The InnerJ Solution. Developed using Microsoft Azure and Windows 8, a system called the InnerJ Box captures the complex relationships between devices, premises, customer accounts, networks and services that must be managed by any Smart Grid in order to save energy.
“InnerJ Box connects people on the energy grid and allows them to earn points for saving energy. For example, when the demand is high users can opt to receive an SMS asking them to shut down their air-conditioning. Once they do, the system detects that activity and offers them a number of points that can be accumulated and later exchanged for tablets, phones, internet or electricity,” say Amine.
This technology is a first in Africa and the first solution of its kind to introduce an ‘energy trading system’. Amine has already signed deals with a number of high-profile customers ranging from consumers to enterprises, and they are currently working with large telcos and utility companies in various continents. “By being able to launch my company in Tunisia, I was also able to increase the vote of confidence in the country’s future economic landscape at a critical time in our political history,” says Amine.
Editor: Darryl Linington