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How Evernote is globalising Africa’s tech and building bridges

You can see it in its logo; the elephant symbol stamped onto the green background. Evernote’s got a connection with the African continent, even if it’s unintentional. Taking the theme further, the company has recently gone on an African roadshow in order to establish connections and build communities in the emerging tech space.

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If you haven’t heard, the productivity software company is on a mission to show off Africa’s tech products on the global startup stage. In partnership with the Silicon Valley-based African Technology Foundation (ATF), the note-taking and archiving company is unearthing talent across the continent via its Evernote Platform Awards competition.

The premise of this initiative is to ask and answer, “What can Africa do to make Evernote do better?”

In turn, it also wants the Evernote app suite to become a tool of empowerment that can be used to make people smarter. Local developers are encouraged to use the Evernote API, which sees over 40 000 users globally.

Evernote recently celebrated its six-year anniversary, as well as reaching 100-million users worldwide, most from the US and Canada. More than 1-million users come from Africa, with 500 000 coming from South Africa.

In collaboration with some of Africa’s local tech hubs, the competition asks third-party developers to pitch their apps to the team. After that, the winning team will be chosen to go to Silicon Valley on a 10-day all-expenses paid trip. There, the selected regional startup will be given the opportunity to participate at Evernote’s annual award conference. The ATF also offers a year’s worth of mentoring and advisory services for the winning startup.

Africa’s regional finalists

The Lagos, Nigeria trip saw eight teams pitch their ideas, which boasted great design, development, and impressive user engagement from the community. Prowork was the winner after pitching a unique collaborative business product that could be leveraged using the Evernote platform. The platform describes itself as a project management application that makes team collaboration easy.

Nairobi, Kenya’s iHub hosted the Evernote and ATF team, and investment group management software ChamaSoft was crowned the winner. The Kenyan company has developed a platform that encourages investment groups to focus on their assets while the software takes care of the administration.

Pitching at the Launchpad in Stellenbosch, CatsAndNotes was selected out of the five entrants as the winner. Born out of Stellenbosch University, the platform is designed to serve the community of students sharing knowledge and resources.

The Cape Town event was hosted by Bandwidth Barn and capped OurHood as the winner. Essentially, OurHood is a social network for neighbourhoods. It’s the US equivalent of NextDoor, which last year raised US$60-million.

The OurHood platform introduces a bunch of cool features that helps community residents communicate. For instance, there’s crime alert feature which notifies the relevant authorities, as well as tools to promote local business and the sharing economy. Need to borrow a hammer, lost a dog? Post on OurHood, and your neighbours can help you out.

“We’re looking forward to working with all of the participants, but we see tremendous upside in the future of this market and we’re impressed with their vision,” says Evernote’s Partnership Development Manager Gervis Cash.

Though the competition might offer some startups an opportunity of a lifetime, the main goal behind the initiative is to establish a lasting community of Evernote devotees, which would also further show how the software can be utilised.

Most startups swapped business cards with the Evernote team for possible future relationships, whether they be professional or technical. The competition was created to make the process of promoting and engaging with Africa’s tech space more tangible.

Where to from here?

Cash says that the idea of trip is “getting on the ground,” but also — from a dev stand point — to know where to fill the gaps. And so it would appear to be the case: pitches ranged from solving specific local problems (many in the elearning space) to business solutions with the ability to easily scale globally.

Cash also added, “I’m thankful for this opportunity to meet all these great entrepreneurs from across the continent. My only regret is that the trip was too short. We want people to known that this is not a hi-and-bye meetup. Evernote wants to build a lasting relationship.”

CEO of the ATF Stephen Ozoigbo, who led the roadshow, says: “We want to build bridges between Africa and the world’s tech communities.” With the African roadtrip at a near end, the team is left impressed by the high quality pitches and diverse ecosystems.

Going forward, the Evernote team hopes to establish a blueprint for other Silicon Valley startups that would help draw in global innovators, investors and mentors to the continent. “Africa is to be a key player in global tech scene,” notes Ozoigbo.

As mentioned previously, Evernote describes itself as a 100-year startup meaning that it wants to keep innovating in order to make a difference by making the world smarter. It says that it carries a unique philosophy in that it believes in building an “orchestra” where different people, with different backgrounds, can come up with something great. Let’s see what flavours African startups can add to the mix.

Take note that Evernote is planning to announce the African Platform Award winner on 4 September while the international Evernote Conference will take place some time in October.

Image via Bitelia

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