2014 has been an exciting year for information technology and innovation in Africa. We saw more innovation hubs, accelerators and co-working spaces spring up across the African continent.
Many more events and competitions were organized towards increasing the capacity of developers and startups and we have heard so many stories of how Africans used frugal ways to solve problems.
Below is a review of the information technology trends for 2014 in Africa.
Investor Confindence in Startups
2014 ended off with a huge stamp of confidence in startups with one of Africa's billionaires, Nigeria's Tony Elumelu, announcing a $100 Million fund that will invest in startups less than 3 years old through the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme.
Although the programme is not only focussed on tech startups in Africa but small and idea stage businesses in any sector, it will go a long way in further enforcing the concept (coined by Tony Elumelu) of Africapitalism.
Africapitalism is an economic philosophy that embodies the private sector’s commitment to the economic transformation of Africa through investments that generate both economic prosperity & social wealth.
Another such stamp of approval in African startups, and specifically tech startups, came when former First National Bank of South Africa CEO, Michael Jordaan, launched MonteGray Capital. The venture capital firm will invest in disruptive technologies and disruptive business models in 2014.
Furthermore, Jordaan was one of the co-founders of CodeX in 2014. CodeX aims to train talented young brains in programming to get high paying jobs, and build Africa's digital future. The project had 3 student intakes in 2014.
Andela's founder is Jeremy Johnson although the founding team is composed of Jeremy Johnson, Ian Carnevale, Christina Sass and Aboyeji.
Although aiming to spread globally and provide the world with Andela fellows (Andela trained programmers), it has had successfull student intakes in 2014. With one intake being only for training women programmers.
Andela made headlines as a little known Nigerian startup that raised a seed round from very influentil global tech individuals and organisations such as:
Steve Case, ex-Chief Executive and Chairman of America Online.
Chris Hughes, Facebook Co-founder.
to name a few.
Saya Mobile, a Ghanaian startup which launched at TechCrunch's Disrupt in 2012, was acquired by New Jersey-based Kirusa, a developer of Voice SMS based Mobile Value Added Services (MVAS) for emerging markets.
Saya has often been described as the WhatsApp for feature phones, it is a mobile messaging app that caters to high-growth mobile markets worldwide, bringing cheap mobile messaging to people who do not have smartphones.
Seed fund, 88mph, also announced in 2014 that one of its seed investments, Ekaya, raised an Angel Investment round worth ZAR1,4 million. The startup matches good landlords with good tenants and helps make renting more affordable and secure for both). This round of funding is hoped, among other things, that it will Ekaya expand globally.
Furthermore in 2014 88mph made seed investments in several startups in Cape Town, namely:
Pet heaven. Scheduled pet food delivery. Choose your favourite pet products and tell us how often you want them.
Diarize.Me. Appointments management startup for small and medium businesses.
Graphflow. Matches users with products, allowing our clients to present their users with the most relevant content at the right time.
8bit. Advertising Network that lets premium brands connect with formerly hard to reach audiences.
Catch. Catch shows you who else is going to an event. You select who you would like to meet and we connect you if the interest is mutual.
Byte Money. Receipting and allocation of payments for the insurance industry using a mobile POS (Point of Sale) terminal and our highly scalable PYP (Pay your Premium) platform.
East Africa based seed capital fund, Savannah Fund, had a busy year which among many things also saw them expand their investments beyond East Africa into tech startups in other regions. Such as their first seed investments in South Africa made in BabyGroup and WyzeTalk.
They further invested in tech startups in Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria. Mbwana Alliy (Managing Partner at Savannah Fund) has put together a comprehensive summary of their activities and investments in 2014 which you can find here.
Another organisation that was actively investing in and building African Tech Startups in 2014 was Africa Angels Network.
Founded by Pule Taukobong, who also serves as Chairman, they describe themselves as investing in
Africa-focused startups, primarily in the Tech sector. Our mission is to fuel economic growth in Africa by identifying and investing in high potential startups.
Esaja describes itself as bringing together the continent’s best minds, leveraging on our youthful zest, and deploying resources aimed at fueling cross border trade.. The company was founded in Zimbabwe by Clinton Dale Mutambo. The company was also selected by the Kairos Society as being one of fifty ventures globally who are innovative, promising, have founders under the age of 25 and have customers and/or prototypes.
Having already launched their seed fund in Kenya and South Africa, 88mph partnered with L5Lab in Nigeria to bring seed / early stage tech startup funding to Nigeria through a joint venture called 440NG.
Thus far in 2014 440NG has made seed investments in 9 tech startups in Nigeria (Lagos). These startups include a platform connecting spiritual and religious communities. In times of difficulty, many Nigerians’ first source of help is prayer and inspiration from their pastors known as Prayerbox; as well as Gingerbox, an online fruit store.
For a full list of tech startups that 440NG has invested in, click here.
Also, one of the notable investor confidence highlights for 2014 is the year starting off with iROKOtv, the Video-on-Demand (VOD) platform for African content and Nigerian movies sealing off an $8 million investment (announced December 2013) from international investors, bringing into focus a growing global confidence in the future of emerging African entertainment market.
New research shows incredible growth in tech hubs around Africa. The hubs have become support centers for app developers, hackers and entrepreneurs.
This plays a major role in the massive technological renaissance in the region, where the population has “leapfrogged” into the mobile age. Millions of users are now using technology created locally, keeping money in Africa, where so many other sectors simply send profits abroad.
Some of the notable tech hubs in Africa are iHub in Kenya, ICEAddis in Ethiopia, iLab in Liberia, HiveColab in Uganda , Bongo Hive in Zambia , JoziHub in Johannesburg, South Africa and Co-Creation Hub in Nigeria.
I am not a fanatic of tech hubs and on a later date I will write at length on this topic and give you compelling reasons why I think emerging hubs in Africa have got it all wrong.
Jon Gosier once said:
The biggest risk to the first wave of tech hubs is that they will implode under their own weight as soon as donors start to realize that the hub model will never be sustainable without some creative thinking about business models.
With that said, a few more tech and innovation hubs launched accross the continent, and one such notable launch was that of the iDEA Hubs in Lagos and Cross River State in Nigeria.
Below is a map of Tech Hubs in Africa courtesy of the World Bank's Map Design Unit. It lists all the hubs as of February 2014.
For several decades, Microsoft has been the dominant operating system for most African software developers and the outcome is that the developers learn and program using a lot of Microsoft resources and languages like Microsoft .NET framework, Visual studio tools, etc.
Thanks to the rise of high level programming languages and open source web application frameworks like Python, Django and Ruby on Rails, the adoption of open source in the developer community has increased.
Ask the CEO of any large multinational organization in Africa whether his company uses open source software and his answer will most likely be, "No". Ask the techies at the same organization whether they use any open source software and from time to time, you'll hear, "Yes!". There is still a disconnect between the techies and business leaders as to whether open source software should be used in large enterprises in Africa, this is a missed opprtunity for Africans to innovate.
The adoption of content management systems has increased dramatically with five of every twenty websites been developed in Africa this year running on either wordpress, drupal and joomla CMS's. This a major win for open source since most of this content management systems were released under open source licenses.
Big data, enterprise and software as a service made it to the African tech news this year. While African businesses are tapping into big data, the region has lagged the global trend. An IBM report this year focusing on Nigeria and Kenya reveals that 40 percent of businesses are in the planning stages of a big data project, in comparison with the global average of 51 percent. Twelve percent of Kenyan and Nigerian firms have big data projects live, just shy of the 13 percent global mean. Although the majority of firms in Nigeria and Kenya claim to be capable of having such projects, formal training in management remains low, according to the report, suggesting that the adoption curve has yet to hit a serious upward trend. We hope 2015 will be a year for us to see how companies crunch the huge amounts of datasets for us to make analytical sense from it.
There were so many competitions and hackathons organized in 2014 in most countries but I will spotlight on the most recent annual DEMO Africa.
DEMO Africa is one of the flagship initiatives of [email protected] and aims to connect African startups to the global ecosystem.
DEMO Africa is the place where the most innovative companies from African countries get a platform to launch their products and announce to Africa and the world what they have developed.
The selected four – Chura allows interoperability between different mobile networks in a multi-SIM environment, Nerve delivers cost-effective, higher quality & mobile convergent smart devices & services to inspire greater productivity in next billion people in emerging nations, PaySail is the easiest way for businesses and accountants to run payroll, file tax and social security and pay employees via Mobile Money or through the Bank and SpacePointe is focused on helping African Small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) increase their bottom line revenue in their Offline and Online market channels - were chosen among this year’s 40 DEMO Africa entrepreneurs and were flown to Silicon Valley to pitch at DEMO Fall during Global Entrepreneurship Week!
What To Look Out For In 2015
Finally I want to highlight on some of the best innovations and personalities that you should look out for in 2015.
BRCK is a technology that keeps the internet on when the electricity goes off. The BRCK was designed and prototyped in Nairobi, Kenya by the team behind Ushahidi, Crowdmap and the iHub.
Jumia aims to be the African Amazon, offers cash-on-delivery in the populous Nigerian cities of Lagos and Abuja (just like its Nigerian competitor Konga). Ordered online or via mobile phone, the products are driven by motorcyclist couriers to the buyers' home or business, when cash can be paid.
South African SnapScan aims to be a smart way of handling digital payments. It is now used by more than 10,000 stores accross South Africa with more being added regularly. You can even pay for paking in certain parts of Cape Town using SnapScan's app and QR codes.
Big things are expected of it in 2015.
You've probably heard his name before many a times. My male technology leader of the year 2014 is Jason Chukwuma Njoku, Founder of iROKO Partners. I expect him and iROKO to continue their amazing growth in 2015.
iROKO is arguably the fastest-growing internet company in Nigeria and is currently YouTube’s biggest African partner with distribution deals with Dailymotion, iTunes, Amazon and Vimeo.
My female technologist of the year is Juliana Rotich. Juliana is Executive Director of Ushahidi Inc, a non-profit tech company, born in Africa, which specializes in developing free and open source software for information collection, interactive mapping and data curation.
She is a board member for Ushahidi Inc, Ltd, BRCK Inc.
If you ask me, this is the best time for you to enter the booming technology industry in Africa with the mindset of building cool apps, exciting software, solve problems, create opportunities and wealth.
Cover Image Credit: Derek Keats