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Things are going to be very interesting for African startups this year and Microsoft 4Afrika wants to be right in front for it. Today the initiative announced a new innovation grant for African startups designed to invest in notable startups that will help further Africa’s global presence.
According to the press statement, in addition to financial backing these startups will receive technical support and mentorship from Microsoft. Last year the tech giant expanded its venture’s arm into Africa through this initiative and showed its interest in investing in tech startups from Africa.
The five selected startups seem to be more East and West African startups: access.mobile, Africa118, Kytabu, Gamsole and Save & Buy.
According to 4Afrika:
“These startups were identified through Microsoft’s partnerships with 88mph, CC’Hub and HiveColab, as well as the company’s engagement with local developer communities. A key consideration in the selection process was the uniqueness, scalability and local relevance of the startup solutions, which range from agriculture to education and consumer.”
Africa’s tech startup ecosystem is booming and there have been interesting developments from both East and West Africa. This is the first of the grants that the company hopes to dole out on a regular basis.
Below is a bit more detail about the selected startups.
Africa118 — Kenya
Founded in 2010 by Ezana Raswork, and fully operational in 2011, 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 eight and nine out of ten. Users are recorded as using the call service up to ten times per month. Through the Microsoft 4Afrika grant funding 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 ten 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 grant funding 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 Seed Funding 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.