Demo Africa: the future of African startups looks bright

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Flowgear, a South African startup that offers application integration for the cloud era, was named one of the Demo Lions and will be joining four other African startups in the US for mentorship and introduction to potential investors. The Demo Lion awards are under the auspices of the US State Department.

Flowgear offers companies pre-built connectors that allow quick and easy implementation for developers without the need for coding. The company bridges cloud and on-premise applications and simplifies integration management with full visibility of data flows.

Demo Africa gave 40 startups from around the continent the opportunity to demo their products and services to an international audience of investors, media and other stakeholders. The other winners of the inaugural Demo Africa, held in Nairobi Kenya last week, were:

Maliyo Games from Lagos, Nigeria creates multimedia products with an African flavour for a global audience. For instance, the irritating sounding but compelling Mosquito Smasher 2, which has all the makings of an Angry Birds.

Ghana-based mPawa is a mobile recruitment service that brings job notifications to blue-collar workers, which, it says, has been left out of the existing technology recruitment services in existence. It offers employers a central pool of candidates, which it matches to vacancies using an algorithm it has developed. According to mPawa, three-quarters of Africa’s labour is blue-collar. It is currently targeting the construction sector, but plans to expand to agriculture, manufacturing, service and oil and gas.

Qabila Media Productions is an Egypt-based media company that uses crowd-sourcing and social media to produce positive news content. The company produces content for Al Jazeera, the World Bank and various international non-government organisations.

Sasa Africa a Kenyan-based e-commerce platform for the developing world that connects offline craftspeople to online consumers via a simple mobile phone. The merchants don’t need a bank account, internet access or a computer to sell their goods online. Sasa plans to expand to five additional markets in sub-Saharan Africa next year, and aims to have signed up 100 000 artisans by 2015.

E-commerce was a clear trend at Demo Africa 2012, with a number of startups extending MPesa and other mobile money services from transactions between individuals to include vendors in the eco-system. These included Kuza Mobile, iPay, Hewani, MyOrder, Lipisha, mPayer, CrowdPesa, Kivuko and Virtual Bank. As Kevin Schuster, business fellow at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology, said: “The next billion dollar idea is who can do Amazon for Africa.”

Another theme was education, with e-Limu offering mobile-based interactive educational tools; Kytaba, a textbook subscription app on a low-cost tablet; mPrep, an SMS and mobile web-based study services.

Notably absent were any mHealth services and there was one agriculture-based service in the shape of Senegal’s mLouma, which AppAfrica’s Jon Gosier described as an “Etsy for farmers”. The service gives farmers and agribusinesses real-time pricing information via web or mobile to allow them to make the best sales.

This year’s Apps4Africa competition was launched at Demo Africa, and received a hat tip from US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in a pre-recorded interview. The competition is supported by the US government and provides acceleration for mobile app developers from across the continent.

Neal Silverman, senior vice president and general manager of parent company Demo, took the opportunity at Demo Africa to announce the launch of Demo Brazil and Demo Russia — dates and locations to be announced. Harry Hare, the driving force behind Demo Africa confirmed that the event would be repeated in 2013, without naming a host city.

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