Projects being presented in “Digital Africa”:
BRCK (Mark Kamau, Head of UX)
+500 SupaBRCKS, +300 KIO KIT
BRCK is a Kenyan hardware producer, who is about to innovate the African connectivity and education sector with solutions made in Africa. Founded in 2013, BRCK first started with the BRCK v1, a modem, that was made for areas with regular power shortages. Since then, the company built a whole digital world around the idea of connectivity. The BRCK v1 was succeeded by the SupaBRCK, a device which combines the modem, a server, a storage and much more. But most important is the idea of free WIFI and the new intranet platform “Moja”, that comes along with the SupaBRCK and intends to revolutionize the connectivity problem of the frontier markets of the global south. Another product that comes along with the SupaBRCK is the Kio Kit, an all-in-one classroom kit. It combines the modem with 40 pads and additional education content.
BRCK is no doubt one of the big motors of digital hardware inventions in Africa. We met up with them to ask about the future of connectivity in Africa and the relationship of private and state engagement.
Ushahidi (Angela Oduor Lungati, Director of Community Engagement)
Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, is one of the most famous software solutions made in Kenya. Basically, it’s a map provider where everyone can add information to special maps, in order bundle geo information about particular events. It was first developed in 2008 to monitor the Kenyan Elections, but soon became a global provider for crisis mapping and monitoring, as well as a project-specific map provider. An interesting part of Ushahidis work is their handling of the digital barrier in certain areas. During important crisis projects, Ushahidi works with its team and volunteers worldwide to transform SMS and Mails into Data for the map. This is an essential part of the map solution, because otherwise big parts of societies across the world would be excluded of the new, sometimes life-saving solution.
In our Interview, Angela highlighted the importance of keeping such a software open source and her experience in a global tech family, that is working for good.
AB3D (Roy Ombatti, Founder)
+60 3D PRINTERS
AB3D is a unique 3D printer manufactory. It produces its printers out of printed parts and local electronic waste. Roy Ombatti, founder of the small company which tries to produce locally and sell globally, highlights the importance of the technology for the industrial revolution 4.0 and especially for a new competitive and agile entrepreneurship in Kenya. 3D printing, as it’s a prominent and controversial technology between an overpriced toy and an allround micro factory, has a special offer for a lot of African sectors, where spare parts are hard to get, because of the usage of old western technology. Now 3D Printing is able to reduce those costs of spare parts massively and it’s also able to produce cheap and easy prototypes or individual items, or even do small production lines.
We spoke with Roy about the benefits of 3D printing, the problem of power shortages for his work and the importance of a “repair” mindset in Kenya.
Gearbox (Kamau Gachigi)
When Kamau Gachigi introduces Gearbox, he calls it “a factory of factories”. The number one makerspace of Nairobi works closely with the iHub and provides a hardware development space for young entrepreneurs, techies and engineers. Around this, it tries to build up a community of makers who can improve their technique, invent their own hardware and work for customers with individual orders. So far, the space is a place for advanced prototyping, but Kamau wants to build up a space for low scale production as well to realize the final version of his “factory of factories”.
Kamau gave us a lesson about the relationship of international funding and local production culture. In his eyes, only a balance between international and local knowledge can solve the problems of today and lead to a more industrialized production site Kenya.
iHub/mLab (Sheila Birgen)
Founded in 2010, the iHub and its subcompany, the mLab, are probably the most famous tech institutions in Kenya and Sheila Birgen is one of its prominent masterminds called the “the Queen of mobile apps”. The Hub provides a co-working space with mentorship, business support services, workshops and events, and the possibility of venture funding through connections with the local and international venture capital community. It was the biggest motor for tech innovation so far and gave birth to the first well-known tech companies like Ushahidi, BRCK and many more.
We spoke with Sheila about the change, that has undergone the hub and the tech scene as a whole in the recent past. According to her, even though she notes a big increase of local and international investments, the mindset of the young Kenyan tech entrepreneur stays focused to social challenges.
PayGo Energy (Laura Talsma, Co-Founder)
300 FIRST USERS
PayGo Energy was one of the babies of Gearbox and it’s becoming a grown-up tech solution, that provides clean gas to the most vulnerable settlements of Nairobi. The idea is to measure gas via IoT and so be able to provide a “pay n go” solution to people which normally couldn’t afford the clean alternative to charcoal or kerosene. With its solution, the company wants to revolutionize the way of cooking for more than 3 billion people and in this way also help to fight climate change.
We spoke with Laura about the possibilities and challenges of frontier markets, and especially the vulnerable group of sometimes illegal settlers in big cities.
Eneza Education (Kago Kagichiri, CEO)
+4.000.000 Registered Users
Eneza is a platform where kids (and adults) get “school” lessons in basically any topic via SMS or an app. It’s one of the most successful education platforms throughout Africa and gives access to education to more than four million children in Kenya, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. It’s one of the best combinations of a digital innovation, a social impact and a profit through high scale approach. Eneza is accessible to everyone, because the high scale of users lower the price to a minimum and Eneza provides the platform for any kind of smart- or cellphone.
Kago Kagichiri told us the story of Eneza from its first steps to one of the major showcases of the Kenyan tech industry. We also visited the Kenyan countryside to check out the impact of Eneza and to talk to young people about the influence of e-education.
Charis UAS (Teddy Segore, Technical Director and Drone Pilot)
+23 PROJECTS PER YEAR
“Charis Unmanned Arial Solutions” was founded in 2014 by Eric R?? and Teddy Segore. The company builds drones and works with them in different sectors, like agriculture, construction or journalism. Even though drones are still a niche in Rwanda, the few government restrictions and a wide application spectrum give them a promising future. Drones have already been used for medical transportation to rural areas and crop mapping, a solution for farmers to monitor their fields and detect diseases, which has a massive impact for farmers everywhere in the world.
We went with Teddy to the Rwandan countryside, assisted during a drone flight and joked about the position of drone pilots: They are maybe the new rockstars of the tech community across the world.
kLab (Aphrodice Muntangana, Manager)
kLab is a unique hub in the African tech landscape, because it’s mostly financed by the Rwandan Government as a part of their ICT development program, that intends to change Rwanda into a knowledge based economy until 2020. It’s comparable to the iHub and has given birth to a number of startups like SafeMoto, the AC Group, that has revolutionized the Kigali public transport payment system, or Mergims, a solution that connects the African Diaspora around the world with its relatives on the continent.
Aphrodice told us about his dream of a whole “hub city” with its own independent infrastructure, from theater to hospital. He also emphasized the importance of the Rwandan government as a supporter of the local entrepreneurs and innovators.
SafeMotos (Peter Kariuki, Co-founder/ Head of Software)
#RIDE HAILING PLATFORM
Safe Moto is a Kigali based private transport solution. Founded in 2014, the startup provides a franchise moto taxi service, that monitors, evaluates and rates its drivers safety skills and gives the user an opportunity to add a personal rate after the lift. So, SafeMoto can be seen as the digital answer to a huge problem of the city transport – the safety risk on the road. The solution is a perfect example for successful local ideas, that respond directly to local problems and don’t need to be cumbersome imposed by international companies.
SafeMoto was our favorite way to explore Kigali and to get to our different interviewees. Peter told us about his first intention for the company and how to bring those intentions to a real product.
ARED (Heny Nyakarundi)
#SOLAR SMART KIOSK
The “mobile solar kiosk” is a local solution to the pan African problem of long power shortages and rare power access in some, mostly rural areas. It started as a mobile charging station for small mobile devices and expanded to a provider of free intranet, low cost WIFI and access point to public authority administration services, which are done only online in Rwanda. As a franchise company, ARED intends also to create new jobs and small entrepreneurs across Africa.
Henry is a passionate advocate of local and social entrepreneurship, which is for him the evolution of international NGOs. The establishment of such an entrepreneurship in Rwanda is his personal goal and dream.
The pan African Tech Summit in Kigali is a tech fair, that brings together the institutions, companies and prominent personalities of the sector. The headline question of the fair was “Why do we still face the challenges we have?”. This is a question that sounds hard, but points right to the question of structural problems within the international and global environment, as well as national challenges and individual problems. But the Summit was also a physical reunion date for a community, which is well connected across the digital borders.
We met a lot of our protagonists at the Summit and spoke to experts of different nationalities about the future of African technology, its significance for the society and the challenges, that are still to overcome.
MobiRecs (Rhonda Boateng, Co-founder)
MobiRecs is a project trying to install a national system of electronic health records. It works with the Blockchain technology, that became prominent with the controversial digital currency “Bitcoin”. The blockchain technology, which replaces physical servers with a transparent network of individual computers, is also discussed as a key technology for the future of African digital technology. It makes African content less dependent of servers, that find themselves mostly overseas, in Asia or Europe and is even more safe in terms of power abuse and transparency. The electronic health records are already in use at two hospitals and they are praised by their doctors, who also benefit thanks to the time saving and less struggle with torn paper health records.
Geraldine generated at one of the hospitals her own Ghanaian health record and we spoke with the doctors about their experiences with the technology. ??? explained her vision of medical empowerment for the Ghanaian people.
Dext (Michael Asante-Afrifa, Charles Ofori Antepim)
+2000 SOLD SCIENCE SETS
# LAB IN A BOX
Dext is basically a cheap science kit for children, that is used privately or in schools. With the kit, the two founders Charles Ofori Antepim and Michael Asante-Afrifa try to cover the lack of practice material in STEM-classes across the country with a cheap set where kids can experience and explore the basic rules of physics and especially electronics. The kit was invented to educate the next generation of tech specialists and makers, and to make the first steps to science a more easy and exciting experience.
We spoke with Charles and Michael about the excitement of exploring physics like a child and how to push this experience in simple ways. Other topics where the challenges and advantages of the Ghanaian education system.
Kumasi Hive (George Appiah)
The Kumasi Hive is a makerspace in Kumasi, that is deeply integrated into the Kumasi tech scene, as well as the local production chains and markets. Additional to the usual qualities of a hub and a makerspace, the Hive is involved in strengthening female techies and entrepreneurs, as well as an ecologically sensitive handling of technology. George Appiah, director of the hive, is a prominent and lively funster, who does his best to strengthen the Ghanaian tech community.
George told us about his view on the future way of African tech solutions and the relationship of the tech community with the public authority of Ghana.
Bisa (Raindolf Owusu, Founder)
To ask for Sex education and certain tabooed diseases is still a critical thing for a lot of teenagers and even adults around the globe. Raindolf Owusu took this as a starting point to create “Bisa”, which means “to ask”. Bisa is an app platform where everyone can chat with doctors anonymously. They started with some doctors chatting during their job, but soon expanded to a community of 16.000 members, with almost 20 “online” doctors, dentists, midwifes and dieticians, who answered already 21.000 inquiries.
When we spoke to Raindolf, a prominent figure of the Ghanaian tech community and known as “the West African Mark Zuckerberg”, he highlighted the importance of anonymous access to health data and sex education, especially in conservative societies with highly tabooed topics and issues.
Farmerline (Shandorf Adu Bright, Director of Farmer Services)
+200 000 users across West Africa
The famous problem of the “last mile” creates a big disparity between the digital metropoles and their margins. It produces an ongoing discrimination of the rural population and often even deprives them of the advantages of modern technology. Farmerline tries to bring the digital, global knowledge about agriculture to farmers of the Ghanaian countryside. To fight the “linguistic, economic and physical last mile” they inform the farmers via voice and text messages in local languages. If the internet connection is already there, they provide a platform.
Shandorf brought us to the Ghanaian countryside giving us an insight to a region where digital innovations are more than rare, but maybe matter the most.