The buzzword for the African tech scene this month was “access”, as in fact it has been for many months over the last year.
How do operators and governments work together to get more Africans online? How can rural connectivity be sustainably rolled out? How can African entrepreneurs be helped to promote and monetise their products?
Access and the benefits of access
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There were a number of rollouts during November with access in mind. Facebook launched its Internet.org application in Kenya, the third African country after Zambia and Tanzania in which the app has been launched. It will be rolled out in Kenya in conjunction with Airtel.
The Internet.org app is a Facebook initiative to help connect the remaining two-thirds of the world to the internet, providing a suite of services for free.
Outernet this month announced it will provide free online access to certain information in selected countries in Africa from next year, with South Sudan and Namibia already earmarked.
The project aims to provide a free data service by using broadcast satellites and a receiver, enabling users anywhere to download data. Satellites will project data such as videos, books, news and audio to the receiver, with users connecting their devices to it to download the information even with no internet connection.
Meanwhile, in a bid to help entrepreneurs market their products online, mobile payments systems provider Skrill has partnered Microsoft 4Afrika to launch an e-commerce portal enabling consumers to use their mobile wallets to buy from global internet brands. On the portal, which will be zero-rated, users can also access free educational content and use Microsoft software.
It has been a constructive month for Microsoft 4Afrika, which also launched its EmployMentor programme in Kenya, which aims to boost the careers of female graduates in the business and technology fields.
Over 150 female graduate students in Kenya will join the programme, which is a partnership between the 4Afrika Initiative and the African Centre for Women in Information and Communications Technology (ACWICT). Graduates will take part in one-on-one Skype sessions with mentors and on-the-field EmployMentor week training.
Another interesting month for new launches across the continent saw online classifieds platform OLX announce its entry into the Tanzanian market. OLX is available in more than 100 countries worldwide.
South African non-profit free Wi-Fi provider Project Isizwe launched free video on demand (VOD) service “WiFi TV” on the Wi-Fi network it operates in the Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality. Project Isizwe said the offering is a “bouquet of content produced by young people within the Tshwane communities, about and for the people of Tshwane”.
The South African-developed Payment Pebble, a mobile point of sale (PoS) device developed by Thumbzup and in use across the country, has been launched in Australia. Founder Stafford Masie said the Payment Pebble – built for a “South African environment that is riddled with connectivity, literacy and smartphone issues” – was a product that could be a huge success overseas.
Another South African PoS company looking to make inroads outside the country in Nomanini, a PoS and airtime distribution startup. The company has partnered ICT provider Paratus Telecom to launch its mobile airtime distribution service in Namibia. Nomanini’s “Katiti” service runs of the company’s cloud-based mobile PoS platform, and is aimed at informal traders and budding entrepreneurs.
Bitcoin exchange BitX, which is headquartered in Singapore but undergoes most of its development in Cape Town, has released a mobile app, which the exchange said is designed to help emerging markets better understand and use Bitcoin. Through the app, users can buy or sell Bitcoin. BitX currently operates exchanges in South Africa, Malaysia, Kenya and Namibia.
MTN Zambia launched m-health service Hello Doctor, which aims to improve the lives of customers through an SMS-based service offering expert medical advice on subjects such as maternal health, nutrition, obesity and general health. Subscribers can receive health tips through their mobiles, allowing them to address health concerns without necessarily going to see a doctor.
Nigerian e-commerce startup Konga.com this month opened a new engineering centre in Lagos, saying this was necessitated by the growth of its software development team. The company also opened a secondary engineering centre in Cape Town, and plans to establishment a knowledge exchange programme between the two hubs.
Leading Kenyan mobile operator Safaricom launched M-Pesa payments tracking app M-Ledger, which provides a mobile platform to record mobile money transactions, with users able to view and manage their past transactions.
News from the African startup scene
Safaricom announced more big news during November, launching a US$1 million investment fund aimed at mobile ICT startups in Kenya and boosting the development of innovative mobile solutions. The Safaricom Spark Venture Fund will offer equity investments and other debt instruments for values between US$75,000 and US$250,000.
Konga may have opened new engineering centres, but rival Nigerian e-commerce startup Jumia topped that by securing US$150 million in funding from existing stakeholders, with Jumia intending to further scale the online shopping portal. The new investment brings the company’s post-money valuation to US$554 million.
A number of other African startups received funding this month. E-learning startup Revo received US$110,000 from the Ghana Angel Investor Network (GAIN), Cape Town-based rental listings platform Ekaya secured US$45,000 on the Dragons’ Den South Africa television show, and Nigerian-Finnish mobile payments startup IroFit raised US$600,000 in a round led by Nordic early stage venture capital firm Inventure.
Angel investing in Africa should also receive a boost after existing investment groups came together to form the African Business Angels Network (ABAN), a pan-African initiative to promote angel investing.
The much-anticipated AMPION Venture Bus completed its Western, Southern and Eastern African routes this month. HaltEbola won the West African version for its app facilitating public education on ebola and other diseases, water contamination solution e-Maji won the Southern African leg, and carpooling marketplace Jambo Car emerged victorious from the East African leg.
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