Tech For Good – Top 6 Socially Conscious African Startups Worth Watching In 2019
Africa is a fast-developing continent composed of both wealthy nations and extremely poor ones. As in every place in the world, people look for solutions for their problems by leveraging modern technologies and funding startups. And those from Africa are incomparable with the rest of the world.
According to Worldometers data, Africa is a home for over 1.303 bln people, with total GDP of $2.19 trillion in 2017 when counted in the UN-standardized way or 6.36 trillion when counted by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). The difference is caused mainly by the lack of compliance with UN standards in many African countries.
Africa is often seen as a land of challenges, including a lack of basic healthcare, illiteracy, poor education, and conflicts. It is true, but not all of it – the continent is composed of 54 countries and the land is rich in natural resources. What’s more, the continent sees an astonishing growth of 4,1% in 2018 and 2019, despite economic turmoil in the rest of the world.
Being composed of multiple countries with even more nations, Africa is incredibly diverse when considering development. There are economic powerhouses of Nigeria (highest GDP and population in Africa, counting for $376.284 bln in 2017 and 195 million people) and South Africa ($349.299 bln and 56.717 mln people) on one side, and fallen lands of South Sudan ($2.9 billion GDP in 2016, no newer data available) or Central Africa Republic ($3.45 billion in 2017).
To show the scale of disproportion – the single city of Cape Town had estimated $78.7 billion of GDP, effectively twentyfold more.
Why Africa’s startup scene is so interesting
Considering the challenges seen in Africa, a local startup and IT business scene differ significantly from software development for startups seen in the US or Europe. There are at least three main drivers of difference:
- The market is not occupied – fin-tech startups in developed countries challenge the banking and insurance systems by providing services in a more convenient or innovative way. In Africa, fin-tech startups challenge the lack of traditional infrastructure by providing services for people who have access to none.
- The market is opened for new technologies – when there are no established providers of services, new opportunities and solutions thrive.
M-pesa is a mobile payment and financial services provider, that allows users to pay using SMS system. Its popularity is dwarfing solutions designed by Apple and Google – about 45-50% of Kenya’s GDP flows through the system. Payments are accepted by street sellers and taxi drivers and service providers launch various additional services based on m-pesa – m-swahri mobile banking or m-kopa, financial support for solar power development. What’s more, access to the effective mobile payment system is a great way to stimulate further mobile app development.
- African states are not as effective as western ones in providing services – thus, African startups tend to provide services, that may be seen redundant or obsolete by the western worlds like providing fresh water or designing a fire alarm. In fact – startups in Africa tend to be more socially conscious due to more real-life problems to solve.
- Africa is highly mobile – smartphones are usually the only way to access the internet, so all the development is web-centric.
Startups worth watching in 2019
Considering all these factors, Ideamotive, a team of hot-headed Polish software developers, cherry-picked interesting African startups worth watching in 2019. Trust us – they differ from their New York-based counterparts.
1. BRCK (Kenya)
A joke about adding WIFI and battery power to Maslow’s pyramid is common and accurate not only in western countries – but it is sometimes hard to deliver the internet to more remote locations, not to mention heat, rain, and unstable electricity supply. That’s what Kenyan’s startup BRCK is tackling by providing hardened modems able to provide Internet for up to 100 connected devices. Since UN resolution from 2016, reliable access to the internet is seen as a human right, fundamental for the realization of other rights, like the freedom to speech, right to development or freedom to assembly. Thus, enabling local businesses in remote locations to establish wi-fi is, in fact, fighting for fundamental rights
Founder: Erik Hersman
2. Babymigo (Nigeria)
According to TIME magazine, approximately 830 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, 99% of them in developing countries due to the lack of education and poor healthcare.
Babymigo is an online community of expecting and young mothers. The tool enables them to connect with other mothers and over a hundred experts, including pediatricians, nurses, midwives, and nutritionists. Currently, there are about 90 thousand registered users on their website and the app has been downloaded more than 30 thousand times. Users mostly come from Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa.
Founder: Adeloye Olanrewaju
3. Lumkani (South Africa)
IoT is powering up change even in the least expected of places – the slums. Shack fires are a serious threat in South Africa. In Cape Town, one of three capital cities, approximately one third of 3,7 million residents live in slums, with limited access to water, electricity or toilets. People leaving there build their homes of everything they find, constructions are highly flammable and devastating fires frequently obliterate entire communities. On New Year’s Day 2013 three fires ripped out Cape Town’s largest slum of Khayelitsha, displacing over 5000 people.
As the aftermath, a group of South African students designed a device to detect a fire outbreak. Considering the fact that most of cooking in slums is done on the open fire, smoke detectors make no point. Instead, Lumkani (“Be careful” in Swahili) detect heat increase. When the fire is detected, the device notifies everybody in 60-meter radius via SMS messages and audio alarms, enabling residents to respond. What’s more, most of the slum community aren’t mapped, so providing information about the fire to the larger group makes the emergency service’s work easier.
Founder: David Gluckman
4. The Sun Exchange (South Africa)
Electricity is taken for granted in developed countries and most advanced economies shift from fossil fuels to green energy to ensure sustainable growth. In developing countries, the case is not that obvious. In South Africa, torn by the legacy of the apartheid, 15,8% people were living without access to the electricity. In 1990, in the last days of apartheid, 40,7% of citizens had no access to electricity.
With increasing electrification, the pressure on the grid rises, causing blackouts, mostly due to aging infrastructure and lack of investments in new power sources. Building decentralized and the green power-oriented system is one of the solutions to that problem.
Sun Exchange uses blockchain technology to gather global investments in solar power in South Africa. Due to the borderless nature of blockchain, anyone may put their money in the system and get returns from monetized sunshine (protip – they have plenty of that in Africa). The company is currently backed by over 14,000 registered members from 90 countries.
Founder: Abraham Cambridge
5. Majik Water (Kenya)
By 2025 over 1.8 bln people will suffer from a shortage of clean, drinking water. The resource often overlooked as common in the northern hemisphere is predicted to be the cause of upcoming wars – in the Middle East, there is only 1% of world water shared by 5% of the world population. With 66% of the continent having arid or semi-arid climate on the continent, African population suffers from lack of water – than a quarter of the population spends more than 30 minutes per round trip to collect water.
On the other hand, Africa has plenty of sunshine. By combining hydrophilic materials and solar power, Majik Water managed to collect 10 liters of water from the air in 24 hours. As the average human need to drink at least 2 liters a day, the amount is considerable. Currently, the company is working on devices producing more than 100 liters a day off the grid, to support entire communities.
Founder: Beth Koigi
6. Wonderbag (South Africa)
As mentioned above, many communities in Africa face challenges in getting access to electricity. Thus, cooking is not that easy and is usually done with open fire, that may result in burning entire neighborhoods to the ground.
Wonderbag tackles the challenge by providing a heat-retention-based, non-electric cooker – a bag, basically. The device is stocked in 52 countries and is being used by 1.3 million people. Apart from reducing the time to cook food in the home, the product is powering female entrepreneurship in Africa, with more than 10,000 women starting their own business of selling Wonderbag-cooked products.
Founder: Sarah Collins
Summary – extraordinary solutions to extraordinary challenges
Business is basically about solving people’s problems. The startup is a specific kind of business, based on challenging the status quo and operating in a risky environment, redefining the business model or looking for new ways to operate and rethink the paradigms of software development for startups.
By tackling the challenges like lack of the Internet, water or electricity supply, African startups redefine the way we think about the role of startups in society.
And that’s what makes them so interesting and exciting to watch, even for Polish software developers.