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A primer on the South African artificial intelligence ecosystem

Artificial intelligence — intelligent computer systems capable of learning from data — was one of the main trends in tech innovation this year. The tech is increasingly becoming ubiquitous across all industries from the automotive industry, fintech, social media, ecommerce to even entertainment.

We are living in the age of big data, as increasingly more enterprises invest in AI and machine learning — a branch of AI which is in its simplest definition is a form of data analysis — startups are taking notice and disrupting whole industries by employing that tech.

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With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about the artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tech ecosystem in South Africa.

SA startups using AI

There are a large number of South African startups using AI-related technologies in their software solutions. Here below is a list of some of the more well-known startups — some of which have developed cutting AI solutions, or potentially disruptive technologies using AI.

DataProphet: Founded in 2013 by Francis Cronje and Daniel Schwartzkopff, this Cape Town-based startup touts itself as a machine learning specialist. DataProphet provides consulting and product development services across a range of industries, from finance to law.

Clevva: This Stellenbosch-based startup was founded in 2011 by Mark Pederson and Dayne and Ryan Falkenbrg. Clevva has an AI platform that enables non-coders to build and maintain navigation apps (virtual advisors that can help staff analyse situations, make the right decisions and take the right actions)

AeroboticsAerobotics is a data analytics company that makes use of aerial imagery and machine-learning algorithms to solve specific problems across a number of industries including in agriculture and insurance. The Cape-Town based startup was founded in 2014 by Benji Meltzer and James Paterson and has operations.

Strider: Strider was founded by Julian Dallamore and Mark Karimov in 2013, initially going by the name, the startup offers a number of AI solutions to financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies. Strider also offers white label micro insurance tech products and digital onboarding and compliance services.

XineohFounded by Vian Chinner in 2014, this startup specialises in the application of mathematical modelling and machine learning to ad technology.

Fo-Sho: This insuretech startup offers short-term insurance to lower-income consumers. Fo-Sho’s insurance products use AI, machine learning, behavioural economics and peer-to peer underwriting. Policy holders are grouped into similar risk profiles. These groups create savings pools which then reduce the cost of risk and act to mitigate excess payments in the event of a claim.

Isazi ConsultingSpecialises in machine learning and optimisation. The machine-learning hub using creative thinking, maths and artificial intelligence to solve some of South Africa’s toughest problems in mining, logistics, software and app development, disease control, online casinos, fraud detection, and pharmaceuticals.

Daptio: This Cape Town-based adaptive learning platform was founded in 2013. It uses AI to help students, mentors and teachers to understand the proficiency level of each student as well as match the relevant content.

NuvaLaw: An alumnus of Startupbootcamp London and a semi-finalist at the 2017 Hague Institute of Innovation in Law Awards, this legaltech startup is based in Cape Town. NuvaLaw designs and implements digital platforms, it aims to revolutionise how legal information exchange is managed and how disputes are settled.

Emerge Analytics: Emerge Analytics solves complex business problems using advance data analytics like AI. The company aims to help its clients navigate the corporate data maze, emerging with better answers, news insights and optimised profitability.

MySmartFarm: Founded in 2012 by Wolfgang von Loeper, this agritech solution aims to provide farmers with agricultural intelligence that will assist them save time and money through optimised decision making. MySmartFarm is hosted in the cloud, is driven by statistics and powered by intelligent models and machine learning.

Jumo: Founded by Andrew Watkins-Ball in 2015, this Cape Town-based fintech platform Jumo aims to provide large scale, low cost financial services to emerging markets. The startup uses behavioural data from mobile phone usage to create financial identities for small to medium sized enterprises.

ThisIsMe: This Cape Town-based fintech startup has developed proprietary, true identification tech. The startup’s platform allows businesses to reduce fraud, automate Know Your Customer checks and improve on-boarding as well as increase revenue while providing an on-demand, seamless customer experience.

Hepstar: Founded in 2013, Cape Town-based Hepstar provides specialised travel insurance merchandising services to online travel merchants. The startup employs data analytics, emerchandising, and machine learning.

LinkdPro: Launched in 2016, this digital freelance platform makes use of big data and machine learning technology to automatically match consultants to project briefs.

DroneClouds: This Cape Town-based drone startup helps farmers find crop issues sooner through satellites, drones and local agricultural experts. The company has been investigating the use of machine learning.

BotsZA: A Johannesburg-based startup that develops chatbot platforms across multiple messaging apps. BotsZA’s platforms use AI and machine learning to respond to users more effectively.

Vizibiliti Insighta predictive tenant default solution that works through artificial intelligence to enable property managers to proactively identify and respond to tenants at risk of paying late.

Predictive Insights: This Stellenbosch-based startup was founded this year by Rulof Burger, Neil Rankin, Kevin Kotze and Richard Barry. Predictive Insights works at the intersection of machine learning and behavioural economics to analyse, predict and nudge human behaviour. In addition, Predictive Insights also provides training on business behavioural science and machine learning.

Cortex Logic:

Founded in 2015 by Jacques Ludik, Cortex Logic is a machine intelligence software company that provides an AI Engine for businesses to operationalise Big Data and Analytics and delivers state-of-the-art AI-based applications, solutions and products. The startup is also an AI partner for Clevva, NuvaLaw and others

Cortex has developed solutions and products that include intelligent virtual assistants and advisors, fraud detection, churn prediction, smart risk scoring, smart trading, real-time customer insights, smart recommendations and purchase prediction, smart payment, medical risk prediction, precision medicine, and personalized AI search tools.

BrandsEye: Although it’s slightly older than the average startups we usually cover, this list would not be complete without BrandsEye, an opinion mining and analysis company founded in 2008 by Craig Raw. The company uses a proprietary mix of search algorithms, crowd-sourcing and machine learning to mine online conversations for sentiment and the topics driving that sentiment.

Incubators and accelerators

Injini is a Cape Town-based edtech incubator, it’s first cohort included startups employing artificial intelligence. Johannesburg digital innovation precinct and incubator Tshimologong has in the past held workshops on AI, while Standard Bank Incubator has expressed interest in disruptive fintech solutions, products and services that support the Fourth Industrial revolution and use AI.

Experts to follow

Jacques Ludik, who holds a Ph.D in computer science, has over 25 years experience in machine intelligence, AI, data science and its applications.

Robert Elliot along with Nick Pentreath founded Graphflow in 2013, startup was a big data and machine learning company.

Tommie Meyer , a professor in Computer Science at the UCT, is the Director of the Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research.

Deshen Moodley is an a associate professor at the UCT’s department of Computer Sciences. He is an expert in adaptive and cognitive systems.

Barry Dwolatzky is the director and CEO at the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering.

Organisations, hubs and co-working spaces

Machine Intelligence Institute for Africa is a Cape Town-based non-profit organisation that was launched in 2015, it aims to transform Africa through machine intelligence and data science research and applications. The institute has over 1 650 members across Africa.

The Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research (CAIR) was founded in 2011 by Tommie Meyer and Deshen Moodley. CAIR conducts research into various aspects of AI and has nodes at the University of Cape Town, University of KwaZulu-Natal, North-West University, University of Pretoria, and Stellenbosch University.

SingularityU, the Silicon Valley-based think tank and startup incubator, has Cape Town and Johannesburg chapters which hold regular events where discussions are held around around how tech can bring about disruption.


Barclays Africa Group has expressed interest in working with fintechs working with AI through its Rise open innovation programme. Rise also regularly holds event that explore how technology is shaping the future of the financial industry.

Retail bank Capitec aims to gain a better understanding of client data through data science and machine learning. Startups developing such solutions can email


In 2015 IBM launched an enterprise development programme which provides training, business support, software and hardware support as well as access to IBM’s AI solution Watson. The programme includes: a six-month programme to assist aspiring entrepreneurs, another to help and fund black-owned IT companies and a third (which the company aims to launch next year) to help existing black-owned tech firms to expand.

The UCT announced in August that it will offer an interdisciplinary MPhil in Data Science of Financial Technology degree.

The Wits University‘s Electrical and Information Engineering school runs a course in AI methods.

NobleProg specialises in training any kind of AI from machine learning, big data, rule engines, automatic process optimisation to meta-heuristics.

The University of Pretoria‘s Intelligent Systems Group aims to create real-world intelligent systems that can be applied and used in South Africa.

Unisa has a course titled Techniques of Artificial Intelligence which aims to equip students with the fundamentals of AI tech.

Innovation challenges

Sagarmatha Technologies a Cape-Town based integrated African technology platform last month announced it will provide $1-million in development funding, as well as more than $2-million in marketing value-adds and prizes to the leading African AI startup as part of its AI Revolution Challenge.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you feel we skipped a startup, organisation or an expert, please let us know and we will update the article.

* This article was updated on 20 December 2017.

Featured image: ITU Pictures via Flickr (CC 2.0 BY-SA, resized)

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