The IoT Focus: 9 African startups shaping the continent’s IoT industry [Native Content]

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The Internet of Things (IoT) industry as a whole has been touted as becoming a US$7.1-trillion giant by the year 2020. And around the world companies are more and more looking to this sector in becoming the next trend-setters of our world’s true data revolution.

An everyday, easy-to-understand example of IoT in action would be the Apple Watch — a fashionable device that’s strapped to your wrist and tethered to your smartphone. With a tiny display, you can send emails, hail an Uber, track your heart rate and do all sorts of cool things unimaginable a decade ago. Also unimaginable a decade ago was the ability to connect all things from cars to coffee machines and even sheep to the web.

Today, connecting physical objects to the web is enabling people to gather critical data about themselves and their surroundings, opening up a whole new world of opportunities in all sectors of life, from healthcare and emergency response to agriculture and urban development.

In South Africa, we’ve come across a number of interesting startups taking advantage of this technology to help people better understand and act based on more accurate information about their surroundings and themselves. Below are a couple of our favourites poised to shape the IoT industry as we know it.


Leash crept onto the Ventureburn radar a few months ago. The South African startup was founded by Mark Allewell (also behind Tourism Radio) and sets out to help you keep track the whereabouts of your possessions using a small Bluetooth-enable key chain. The small device connects with any Android or iOS device via low-powered Bluetooth, and can use other Leash devices that are in close proximity to locate your missing item.

The company launched its beta programme in September this year with 1 000 devices ready to roll out, with an additional 15 000 once it’s received favourable user feedback.

Illuminum Greenhouse

Illuminum is an innovative greenhouse that uses solar panels and sensor technology to create a controlled environment in which you can grow and monitor crops. Sensors collect data on temperature, humidity and soil moisture and send this to farmers via text message, allowing them to monitor and regulate their greenhouse without having to be on the farm.

The startup was recently recognised as the best company in Kenya by Seedstars World. Through this competition it now stands a chance to win US$500 000 in equity investments.


Probably one of Africa’s most-talked about hardware products, the BRCK is a rugged, mobile WiFi hotspot that’s described as a back-up generator for the internet.

The device has been designed by the same team in Nairobi, Kenya who is behind Ushahidi, Crowdmap and the iHub and manufactured by Silicon Hills Design. In 2013, the startup raised over US$172 000 on Kickstarter and secured an investment worth US$1.2 million the following year.


Asimmetric wants to help retailers optimise public WiFi spots. The Cape Town-founded company uses bots that “act like users” by logging into WiFi portals and then doing their rounds on the web. By doing this, the startup is then able to provide the WiFi provider with a diagnostics report on how to improve and optimise user experience.

Asimmetric is said to have attracted funding from telecoms industry leaders in Europe, the Middle East and Africa and was recently accepted into the San Francisco-based hardware accelerator Highway1.


Based in Kenya, UjuziKilimo is an analytical system that measures soil characteristics to help farmers understand and quantify soil qualities. Information is collected by using an electronic sensor inserted into the ground, which sends it to a central database for analysis. Farmers receive a text message with a guide on the soil, and personalised advice on preferred crop breeds, pest control, current market value of crops, tools required and where to find them.


The Stellenbosch-based startup is behind the LifeQ technology which is being used by TomTom in its latest wearable device. The LifeQ technology enables fitness trackers and other wearable devices to accurately track your physiology. By using state of the art bio-mathematical models, the tech can help improve people’s health.

Over the last year LifeQ has managed to steal the attention of international media and some of the world’s top industry leaders. At the beginning of this year, it officially launched as a global product at one of the world’s biggest tech events, CES 2015. It also boasts some renowned industry leaders as investors and advisors, including the former VP in charge of the Internet Explorer team at Microsoft, Dean Hachamovitch, and Chris Donnelly, the VP of Global Product and Strategy at Oakley. Its optical sensor technology is today being used by TomTom, with more tech companies lined up.


The South African company last year launched Piing — an app that wants to change the way retailers communicate with retailers. Similar to methods being used by the likes of Macy’s, Target and Best Buy in the US, the shopper app connects via Bluetooth with a beacon in the store which can then trigger push notifications or earn customers loyalty points.


Popular for its QR-based payment app, SnapScan this year rolled out SnapBeacons. This feature enables customers to simply tap a button in the SncapScan app to initiate the payment transaction via Bluetooth at selected stores. SnapScan currently lists about 50 stores where people can use this feature.

The Standard Bank-backed company has over the past few years established itself as one of South Africa’s very few successful players in the mobile payments space. Today, the company boasts over 20 000 merchant clients, ranging from parking marshals to restaurants.


Lumkani is responsible for an early-warning fire detection system geared for informal settlements. Founded in South Africa, the startup has developed a small blue device which consist of heat detectors for homes. Theses are networked with radio frequency and centralised units. When heat is detected, the mesh network is triggered, sending SMSes with GPS locations to community leaders and the local fire department, alerting them of danger.

The startup has over the last few years tallied up a bunch of prestigious awards, both locally and internationally. In 2014 it won the award for best startup in the Global Innovation through Science & Technology challenge as well as being one of the finalists in the SeedStars World challenge held in Geneva, Switzerland. Earlier this year, Lumkani was awarded US$75 000 at Chivas Regal’s global The Venture competition.

The IoT Focus is a series of articles appearing across the Burn Media sites. Brought to you by General Electric, the series explores what impact the Internet of Things is having on business, homes, startups, and other aspects of our everyday lives.

Jacques Coetzee: Staff Reporter


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