10 startups making a difference in Africa
From Lagos to Cape Town, entrepreneurs and innovators in cities across Africa are harnessing digital technology to tackle economic and social challenges on the continent. A vibrant startup scene is burgeoning in Africa, and investors are taking notice.
African tech startups raised funding in excess of $129 million in 2016, with the number of startups securing funding up by nearly 17 percent compared to the previous year, according to data compiled by Disrupt Africa, a Nairobi-based blog tracking the continent’s tech startup and investment ecosystem.
Some have already received funding from top tech executives, while others are partnering with local governments and organizations.
Here are 10 startups to keep an eye on in 2018 that are making a difference in Africa.
Founded in 2014 by entrepreneurs in both Africa and North America, Andela trains software developers in Africa and gives them full-time roles in companies around the world. Backed by Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, GV and Spark Capital, Andela has become one of the best-known tech startups on the African continent.
Andela has received more than 70,000 applications from 19 African nations over the past two years, accepting the top 0.7 percent. Once accepted, the software developers relocate to Andela’s offices in Lagos, Nigeria, or Nairobi, Kenya, where they spend six months specializing in a specific technology stack and completing open source projects to gain exposure to the worldwide developer community. Each developer is then paired with one of Andela’s vetted company partners as a full-time, distributed team member.
“Identifying and securing technical talent is a pain point for organizations all over the world, and a problem that Andela is addressing by bridging the gap between the most promising developers in Africa and the companies that need them,” Jeremy Johnson, co-founder and CEO of Andela, said in a statement.
Andela also aims to achieve a more balanced ratio of men to women in the developer community. Currently, 23 percent of Andela developers are women, compared to a global average of 5.8 percent. Andela has held multiple women-only recruitment cycles and bootcamps in Lagos and Nairobi. It also launched the “She Loves Code” initiative, in which women developers mentor young women in the community and host local events.
Andela has raised $40 million to date, including $24 million in a funding round led by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation in June 2016.
"We live in a world where talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not. Andela's mission is to close that gap," Zuckerberg said at the time. "Companies get access to great developers, and developers in Africa get the opportunity to use their skills and support their communities. Priscilla and I believe in supporting innovative models of learning wherever they are around the world — and what Andela is doing is pretty amazing.”
Meet the Spotify of Africa. Launched in 2015, Boomplay Music is the fastest growing music streaming and download service on the African continent. Millions of people are using the app to listen to music, watch videos and read entertainment news every day. Boomplay Music boasted 16 million users by October, compared to 6 million at the end of 2016.
Like Spotify, Boomplay Music users can follow each other as well as artists, allowing them to listen to and download their playlists.
One feature that separates Boomplay Music from the pack is its support for African artists. The service has an option for local artists to sell their music on the app, giving them a source of revenue as users access their music for a fee.
In November, Boomplay Music won the award for the “Best African App” at this year’s AppsAfrica Innovation Awards in Cape Town, South Africa.
“Bagging the award for the best African app showcases our renewed efforts to build a sustainable ecosystem for content providers, while ensuring that content consumption is a walk in the park for our users,” Joe He, managing director of Boomplay Music, said in a statement after accepting the award. “The growth we have experienced in only a little over two years is super impressive.”
What if there was an Uber for emergencies? That’s the concept behind Flare, an emergency services app that launched in Kenya in December 2016. It allows patients or hospitals to request emergency help using their smartphone, similar to how ride-hailing companies link up riders with drivers.
Founders Caitlin Dolkart and Maria Rabinovich came up with the idea after working in the healthcare and tech industry in East Africa for five years. They saw firsthand how Nairobi lacks a centralized ambulance-dispatch system, and getting one can take hours. In February 2016, a three-month old boy reportedly died while waiting more than five hours for an ambulance.
“How can you get Uber or food delivered to your door, but you can’t get an ambulance?” Dolkart told Quartz in December 2016.
Flare seeks to close that gap. Flare users can call for an ambulance as well as track and communicate with the dispatched emergency response team until it arrives. Ambulance drivers are equipped with smartphones that tell them the exact location of pickup and give them directions that account for traffic. Like Uber, Flare takes a percentage off the fare from each ride booked through the app.
“The really cool thing about what we’re doing is that it is cloud-based and smartphone-driven,” Dolkart told The Economist in November.
Founded in 2016 by a team of African entrepreneurs, engineers and ex-bankers, Flutterwave provides the underlying technology platform that allows banks and businesses to make and accept payments anywhere in Africa.
More than half of global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to occur in Africa, according to a 2015 report by the United Nations. Yet there's no universal payment method on the continent and, according to a 2013 report by the African Development Bank, just 3 percent of adults in Africa report having a credit card. Other methods of payments include bank transfers and digital wallets.
After co-founding Andela, Nigerian entrepreneur Iyinoluwa Aboyeji left to work full-time on establishing Flutterwave. He hopes the platform will power a new wave of prosperity on a continent that’s been largely cut off from the digital economy.
So far, Flutterwave has processed 10 million transactions and $1.2 billion in payments. The company has 10 bank partners in Africa and more than 300 developers working on the payments API.
"It is critical that Africans are able to participate in the digital economy," Aboyeji told CNN in July.
Africa is on track to become the largest job market globally by 2035, with the number of Africans joining the working age population projected to surpass those entering it worldwide, according to the International Monetary Fund. But youth unemployment remains a major issue across the continent and has arguably created a barrier to the region’s development. That’s where Fuzu comes in.
The pan-African company launched its employment platform in 2015 to help bring together job-seekers and recruiters. The online service provides search tools for job-seekers and employers as well as career counseling, a resume builder tool and free online courses.
"Youth unemployment is one of the most significant challenges of our time and, unless solved, will lead to social instability with serious global repercussions,” Fuzu CEO Jussi Hinkkanen told Kenyan magazine CIO East Africa in November 2016. “Large part of our users have never received any type of career guidance or participated in professional education. Our vision is to provide hope to millions of users with a digital service that continuously encourages them to fulfill their potential and prepares for alternative career paths, from formal employment to entrepreneurship and self-employment.”
Jean Bosco Nzeyimana was born and raised in a rural village in southern Rwanda where no one had electricity. Like many children in his community, Nzeyimana woke up early each morning to collect firewood from the nearby forest before walking several miles to school.
“That was the main challenge there. People did not have access to reliable and clean forms of fuel, and that's what triggered in me this idea of pioneering waste recycling to produce affordable and clean fuels," Nzeyimana told Rwandan newspaper The New Times in July 2016.
Nzeyimana went on to found Habona, a clean renewable energy company that transforms waste into affordable, environmentally friendly fuels in the form of biomass briquettes and biogas waste. Roughly 70 percent of this waste is organic while the remaining portion can be recycled.
The briquettes are efficient substitutes for wood charcoals and help slash over 30 percent of household fuel spending each year. The remains from the briquette production make organic fertilizer, which is sold to local farmers.
“This is a very smart agricultural technology, because this is the place where farmers can get compost that helps them restore the soil quality lost through applying chemical fertilizers,” Nzeyimana told Reuters in April.
Nzeyimana now employs 25 people and his company is producing at least 50 tons of fuel per month as well as 100 tons of fertilizer every quarter. The fuel briquettes Habona produces are sold only in southern Rwanda for now, but the company plans to build a larger plant to supply the entire East African nation.
Nzeyimana seems to be well on his way to expanding his business. He shared a stage on a panel with former U.S. President Barack Obama and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at last year’s Global Innovation Summit at Stanford University. This year, he was named one of Forbes Africa’s “30 Under 30.”
“My greatest inspiration is that every little thing I do makes an impact in somebody else’s life,” Nzeyimana recently told Forbes Africa. “This makes me feel responsible for all the lives I am impacting, and those I can potentially impact.”
This e-health startup is taking on Nigeria’s complex health system. Medsaf aims to streamline the process of buying and selling medication in the West African nation by sourcing medications directly from leading manufacturers and delivering them to hospitals, pharmacies and clinics across the country. This helps to eliminate quality control issues and ensure fair pricing.
Medsaf also provides customers with an inventory management system that allows them to see real-time stock levels for their medications, receive order reminders and alerts as well as access historical sales data for forecasting.
Since its launch at the end of 2016, Medsaf has signed up more than 200 hospitals and pharmacies. The company has also seen a 300 percent month-on-month average growth rate, according to Disrupt Afric
“We spoke to over 100 medical facilities in Nigeria to access their need and understand how to tailor a solution to them,” Medsaf co-founder Vivian Nwakah told Disrupt Africa in December 2016. “The significant challenge for the medical industry is that the procurement process is decentralized and can be chaotic. For manufacturers looking to enter into African markets like Nigeria, there is no real transparent data on sales trends and opportunities.”
“We felt that if we could create a platform that leverages technology to make the purchasing process easier, then we could reduce overall operating costs, provide cheaper medication, and ensure availability of quality and safe medication,” Nwakah added.
In August, Medsaf was named the most promising startup in Nigeria during the global seed-stage startup competition Seedstars World. The company will go on to represent Nigeria at the Seedstars Summit in Switzerland in April to compete for up to $1 million in equity investment and other prizes.
“Many people in the beginning told us that Medsaf wasn’t possible,” Nwakah told Disrupt Africa in August. “We recently had an 80 year old hospital owner sign up and order from our platform completely inbound, online, and with no assistance from us. Medsaf is working.”
Many smallholder farmers in Kenya lack information about prices and market demand, putting them at a disadvantage when they are searching for buyers after the harvest. These farmers often don’t get the best deal. M-Farm seeks to solve this problem.
M-Farm provides Kenyan farmers with information on real-time market prices, weather and other agricultural aspects via an app or SMS. The mobile technology service also directly connects farmers with buyers, cutting out middlemen who chip away at the smallholders’ profit.
Kenyan computer scientist Jamila Abass founded M-Farm in 2010 after hearing about how smallholder farmers have been "oppressed for decades and disconnected in terms of information.”
"Many farmers only have the produce, but don't have the means to market their produce themselves," Abass told Wired in June 2013. "They have to rely on middlemen who show up and give them both the price and the buyer. They have no information and no alternative market. We wanted to close that information gap between the farmers and the market.”
Abass and her team created a tool that allows farmers to send an SMS to receive vital information regarding the market price of their products, including avocados, cassava, peanuts and passion fruit. M-Farm employs several people in various cities to update the price information daily on 42 crops across Kenya.
Thousands of farmers now use M-Farm, and the company takes a tiny cut from the mobile phone provider. M-Farm also charges a commission of 10 to 15 percent for linking smallholders with buyers.
"If someone sells via M-Farm, they register with us details of the produce they want to sell and we charge a commission. It's similar to eBay," Abass told The Guardian in July 2013, adding that M-Farm has increased the prices its farmers have received.
Only half of Africa’s 128 million school-aged children will have the opportunity to attend school. But 37 million of them will learn so little in school that they won’t attain basic skills, according to estimates by the Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Education.
Mwabu, a Zambia-based education technology company, seeks to change this by bringing interactive e-learning content and resources into communities and classrooms across Africa.
Founded on the belief that one solution doesn’t fit all, Mwabu’s pedagogy strays from traditional “chalk and talk” teaching. Instead, it incorporates various approaches where learners explore and learn through understanding, analyzing and solving a range of different tasks individually, in groups or with the teacher. The company offers the development of curriculum-aligned teaching and learning resources, assessment tools, devices and hardware as well as continued training and mentoring for teachers through its Mwabu Academy.
A 2016 study conducted in Zambia by UNICEF found that children learning with Mwabu improved their literacy scores three times faster than a control group.
“Things changed when Mwabu was introduced in the sense that the tablets cover all the subjects including those in which we don?t have materials,” said Simbali Liseke, head teacher at Kandala Community School in western Zambia. “Now I can say we have enough resources, we even have some things that we thought we would never have. Learning has become much more interesting.”
Since 2013, Mwabu has created more than 5,000 lesson plans in Zambia while providing educational tools to tens of thousands of pupils and teachers. The company recently made its debut in South Africa and is also working in Kenya and Tanzania, with plans for further expansion, according to IT News Africa.
Mwabu, which was a nominee at last year’s AppsAfrica Innovation Awards, aims to reach 100 million learners across Africa by 2020.
Since its launch in 2011, Snapplify has quickly become the largest e-book aggregators in Africa. The South Africa-based company provides a platform for reading digital content, such as e-books, magazines and newspapers. Snapplify works with hundreds of publishers, including Penguin Random House, Pearson, Oxford and Cambridge, to aggregate their e-books within established distribution channels.
Snapplify is also partnering with governments and organizations in a number of African nations to roll out e-learning solutions in schools. The startup is transforming classrooms across the continent by offering e-books to schools, colleges and universities and providing students and teachers digital access to more resources.
Snapplify was the recipient of the “Educational Award” at this year’s AppsAfrica Innovation Awards in Cape Town, South Africa.
“Digital will enable learners to reach a richer and comprehensive library of digital resources and content. Tools also enable teachers to more effectively teach, and create personalized learning paths for students,” Snapplify CEO Wesley Lynch told Disrupt Africa in January 2017. “We are proud to be supporting important projects that empower schools and students across Africa to embrace digital learning. It’s important to us that educators are able to offer students access to world class educational materials and eLearning platforms, regardless of the challenges presented by a low-connectivity and bandwidth availability.”