As they say, “necessity is the mother of invention”, and the growing African technology sector has been efficient in closing the gaps that needed to be filled. Over recent years, young African technology entrepreneurs have developed numerous companies answering the needs of their people (and in some cases, the world), which have proved to be exciting sources of innovation and progress for the continent. Here are my pick of the most innovative technology companies in Africa that are driving the region’s technological renaissance.
iHub is a co-working space for young people looking to develop technology startups. It is located in the Bishop Magua Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. iHub was started in March 2010 by blogger, TED fellow and entrepreneur Erik Hersman. It was the first co-working space in Africa.
What makes iHub so unique is that it is part open community working space, part investor vector and part incubator. It provides an exciting environment for technologists to collaborate and turn their ideas into successful startups. Startup costs are greatly reduced thanks to the open space, meeting room space, desks and Wi-Fi available for members to use. iHub also provides connections through which entrepreneurs can receive venture funding. For many young African entrepreneurs, iHub is the only door through which they can access the startup world. iHub’s overall aim is to help turn African talent into successful companies, and so far, they have been very successful.
Direct Pay Online
A major technological innovation in Africa is the use of online and mobile payments. The Nairobi-based payment service provider,Direct Pay Online, provides such services to merchants all over East Africa. With its headquarters in Kenya and branches across the continent, Direct Pay Online now serves more than 5000 merchants, mostly in the tourism and ecommerce industries.
Using state of the art technology, Direct Pay Online enables users to make payments and be paid from any location and at any time through online and mobile payment services. They support many different payment types through a single cloud-based platform, such as credit card, mobile money transactions, and they even offer an mPOS solution. This makes transactions easier, faster and more reliable. Direct Pay Online is also the first payment service provider to have PCI DSS Level 1 compliance in Africa. This means that they comply with the highest standards of security when dealing with credit card information.
Konga is the largest online shopping mall in Nigeria. It was launched in 2012 with a mission “to be the engine of trade and commerce in Africa”. Konga provides a huge variety of products to consumers all over Nigeria. Products include electronics, clothing and shoes, books, healthcare and more. In 2014, Konga launched the Marketplace, where third-party merchants could sell their products. This move allowed business of all sizes to showcase their products and reach more customers. Sellers have a rating system similar to the one used by eBay. This gives consumers increased confidence when making purchases.
Thanks to Konga’s innovation, Nigerian consumers now have the chance to benefit from secure, convenient online shopping.
Sanergy is a company that deals with the sanitation crisis in informal settlements throughout Kenya. In 2010, Sanergy began as a small startup run by MIT students at the Sloane School of Management. The students travelled to Kenya and began installing inexpensive, compact and easy to maintain “Fresh Life” sanitation centres. They sold the toilets to franchise partners, providing a livelihood for local Kenyans.
Sanergy’s innovation lies in the fact that it deals with the entire sanitation value chain. It builds the toilets, installs them, operates them through franchise partners, and then collects and converts the waste to useful fertiliser. The fertiliser is sold to Kenyan farms at a fair price. Sanergy’s model has proved to be an effective solution to the sanitation crisis. Not only does it give access to sanitation, but it also capitalises on the value of the human waste produced.
Next on the list isDropifi, a Ghanaian technology startup that provides customer feedback services for businesses through a simple, customised widget. It was founded in 2011 by three young technologists from the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology in Accra, Ghana. Dropifi was the first company in Africa to join Silicon Valley’s500 Startups program. The company has since taken off and has over 6000 clients all over the world.
Dropifi is distinctive due to its widget-based format which is both simple and easy to set up. The tool delivers three different services. Firstly, it collects and organises customer queries and feedback. It also provides a verified review collection service with a smart SEO engine to ensure businesses rank highly in web searches. In addition, Dropifi builds detailed customer profiles and analyses customer satisfaction to discover trends that help businesses retain customers.
Started by two Kenyans in 2013,Angani is a cloud services business based in Nairobi, Kenya. Angani was the first business to bring fully automated cloud infrastructure to East Africa.
Angani’s cloud services enable African businesses to focus more on their goals and less on IT problems and solutions. Like most cloud services, Angani’s services are scalable and pay-per-use. This greatly reduces the cost of running and maintaining an office. A package from Angani includes virtual office infrastructure with website and email hosting, PABX phone services, and data backup services. Another pioneering aspect of Angani’s services is that they provide tailor-made IT solutions specific to each of their clients.
The startup landscape in Africa is growing stronger, with many young motivated entrepreneurs entering the scene. These six African startups are great examples of the ingenuity, creativity, and inspiration that are characteristic of their founders – characteristics that are needed to really be innovative.
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