Here are some game-changing health and agritech startups

Green Apple

Whether it’s information-led mobile startups, innovative ways of distributing crucial equipment or finding better ways of gathering health-related data, these award-winning startups use science and entrepreneurial ingenuity in order to address significant issues. Last week I wrote about local elearning and eco-friendly startups and how both industries are becoming more and more lucrative. Similarly, agriculture and the health-related tech industries are also in high demand.

Agri-and biotech startups

The need for sustainable and innovative methods of farming has become crucial in relieving Sub-Saharan Africa’s food insecurities. A report by the World Bank, titled How Africa can feed itself, notes how innovation can play a significant role in alleviating many of these issues. Similarly, in The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa, written by Harvard professor Calestous Juma, the new crop of entrepreneurial leaders and their impressive strides made in the fields of science and technology are highlighted.

One example of such impressive innovations is the award-winning agritech startup, AgriProtein. The company uses some unsavoury but ingenious methods of sustaining small-scale farming. The Stellenbosch-based AgriProtein collects organic waste and feeds it to flies that, in turn, produce larvae that are ground into protein– providing a sustainable, natural livestock feed. Not only has AgriProtein been awarded a number of times, the startup has an interesting sustainable business model.

KickStart designs, promotes, and mass-markets simple tools that smallholder farmers can buy and use in order to start profitable enterprises. Earlier this year, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) has named its top 10 Game-Changing Examples of Advocacy and Innovation that includes KickStart.

Focused on information technology rather than agricultural science, Agri-Fin Mobile has also been named one of CGI’s top 10. Like many variants, Agri-Fin is an innovative initiative that offers bundled mobile agricultural and financial services to smallholder farmers in Indonesia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

iCow is another popular example of local entrepreneurial ingenuity in the industry. Launched in 2010, the app which was originally designed to work with SMS and USSD, now provides a calendar, advice and veterinary information to dairy farmers. The award-winning startup has been funded by the likes of UK’s Indigo Trust and has since partnered with Kenya’s telecom giant Safaricom.

What iCow, Agri-Fin and similar services have in common is all of these applications use mobile technology to share valuable information on mass scale. Collecting data, however, is becoming just as critical if not more so.

Health and medical startups

In the health industry, a few notable initiatives have recently sprung up into existence. The mobile health (mHealth) market is expected to grow 20% annually over the next three to five years. Launched earlier this year in South Africa, FolUp provides a platform, allowing patients to connect with existing forums, medical apps and software that will interface with a myriad of medical apps, peripheral devices and self-help tools in the mHealth market.

Impilo helps people easily locate health and well-being service providers in South Africa. It can also be used to give confidential feedback on the services received at public health and South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) service points.

Similarly, MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action) uses mobile phone technology and the popular mobile chat service MXit to provide mothers with valuable maternal-related information.

Instead of sharing and distributing medical-related data, gathering data about people’s health has become more and more important. An exceptional example of entrepreneurial and scientific ingenuity is that of HealthQ. Founded in Stellenbosch, the startup has created an opensource metabolic chamber that enables accurate tracking of human metabolism.

This biotech research company is also in the process of designing a wearable human metabolic sensor and dashboard, called LifeQ. This would enable you to record, track and be able to determine the amount of calories and type of food that is being metabolised by the user in real-time.

According to this report, among the key reasons why medical and health technologies tend to stagnate in Africa is mainly due to the “cultural mindset of scientists and domestic and international policy-makers whose focus is not commercialization.” Lack of commercialization is the problem, it argues, not lack of ideas.

Startups in these industries still face other major obstacles like lack of funding (more importantly local funding) and unsustainable business models. The biggest dilemma seems to lie in learning how to define the right mix between for-profit investments and social impact.

Image via Nick Perla

Jacques Coetzee: Staff Reporter


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