Six African startups receive Microsoft’s Affordable Access Initiative seed grants


Microsoft announced yesterday (26 June) that it will award seed grants of an undisclosed amount to six innovative African businesses.

The seed grants are being awarded through the multinational tech company’s Affordable Access Initiative (AAI) which aims to create academic and economic opportunities for startups to deliver internet and energy access to rural communities.

“We’re inspired by our grantees’ passion to bring internet and energy access, and the economic benefits that flow from it to parts of the world that need it most,” said Paul Garnett, the senior director of Microsoft’s AAI, in an interview.

Recipients will also receive hundreds of free training classes and other technical content through the Microsoft BizSpark programme and get development and test software that includes: Azure, Windows, Visual Studio, Office and SQL Server. In addition recipients will also receive mentorship and access to the company’s extensive network of entrepreneurs.

AAI seed grants empower startups to offer internet, energy access to rural communities

The seed initiative focuses on startups using alternative broadcasting methods including last-mile internet access technologies such as TV white space. Other areas that AAI is focusing on include energy access for off-grid communities and Internet of Things (IoT) for agriculture.

The AAI recipients are:

  • Kukua Weather Services — Is a Ugandan social enterprise which aims to help farmers better utilise information on the weather to improve their crops. The grant will help Kukua conduct an impact study in Uganda to further develop its app, delivery channels, products and to scale up.
  • Solaris Offgrid — This Tanzanian energy startup uses a pay-as-you-go platform to assist communities in getting affordable access to energies. The AAI seed grant will help the startup pilot the use of 1 000 tablets for about 7 000 users.
  • Standard Microgrid — Is a Zambian startup which uses microgrid solar packages together with IoT home sensors. The seed grant will help the company roll out of 150 units in Zambia.
  • SunCulture — Is an agricultural startup based in Kenya helping smallholder farmers to improve their crop yields using solar-powered irrigation systems. The fund will help the startup to expand its current irrigation systems by adding sensors, camera technology and drones.
  • VisionNet — This company aims to provide rural university students in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with internet access. The seed grant will help increase VisionNet’s hotspot coverage and WiFi services, as well as assist its employees with training and capacity building focusing on women in science.
  • WrightGrid — Is a startup from the DRC which designs, develops, manufactures and deploys solar-powered phone charging and WiFi stations in public spaces. The AAI seed grant will assist WrightGrid in deploying 15 solar powered phone charging stations.

Alex Okuonzi Bahati, the founder of VisionNet’s Pocket Cyber Cafes, said the idea for his solution was motivated by the high cost of internet access in the country.

“The internet was so expensive and considered to be a luxury.” he said. “I had to pay $1 to have access to the internet for 15 minutes, which was not enough time to perform my assignments.”

Featured image: Paul Garnett, the senior director of Microsoft’s AAI via YouTube



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