The Silicon Savannah: Africa’s Emerging Tech Startups

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As the continent expands its internet reach, we are likely to see a lot of great success stories streaming out. In recent times, some of Africa’s problems have been solved using readily available technology. Whether it is to introduce shared computer experience using Keepod or it is mobile money payments, Africa can safely bet on technology.

But for the early adopters, success has come early as they lead the flock into what many call the Silicon Savannah of Africa’s Emerging Tech Startups, likening it to US’s Silicon Valley that has nurtured many billion-dollar tech companies.

Below are some of the top new technology achievers that are well on their way to change the technological landscape of the continent.

 

  1.  Adii Pienaar (South Africa)

Building a global business is not easy, especially if you come from Africa where American online business has dominated for years.

For Adii Pienaar, this was a challenge that he took head-on when he co-founded WooThemes. The company was recently acquired by Automattic, a company owned by Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress.

Adii Pienaar at the Business of Software 2012 conference (Photo credit – Betsy Weber)

WooThemes offers beautifully designed templates for WordPress users and also has a well known e Commerce plugin for WordPress, WooCommerce, that has over 7.5 million downloads.

Even though he exited WooThemes in 2013, Pienaar began a new venture, Receiptful, which generates email receipts for businesses. The company has just secured a US$500,000 investment, illustrating the confidence investors have on him.

His resilience in business has pinned him as a never-say-never entrepreneur. He said on his blog, “I think about this often in the context of our journey with WooThemes, where we made so many mistakes along the way and that after six years, when I exited the company, there were still so many imperfections within the business. My key takeaway from this experience, however, has been that none of these f***-ups or imperfections hindered us from building a thriving, profitable business.”

My prediction is that this internet entrepreneur has not built his biggest company yet.

Caption  Adii Pienaar at the Business of Software 2012 conference (Photo credit - Betsy Weber)

Adii Pienaar at the Business of Software 2012 conference (Photo credit – Betsy Weber)

 

  1.  Raindolf Owusu (Ghana)

I wrote about Raindolf Owusu back in 2012, as he was building one of the few African browsers, Anansi Browser, and a computer operating system — definitely a unique path in the crowded global tech innovation world.

His ambition was an attractive business-centric feature that was to guarantee him great accolades in the future. Back in 2013, Forbes Africa termed him as the “Mark Zuckerberg of Africa”, lauding his innovation without much financial backing.

Fuelled by stories of Google founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, as well as people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Owusu thought to himself that such successes can also be replicated on the continent. He went ahead and founded Oasis Websoft, a company that develops mobile and web applications.

His company has been credited for creating platforms such as Bisa that provides health information as well as Africapp which showcases African-made applications.

When Ebola hit West Africa hard, Owusu’s company came up with Ebola Ghana Alert, a platform used to report infection cases through USSD, SMS, and a web portal to give valuable information. The platform was created in partnership with ThoughtWorks and PollAfrique.

Photo credit - Raindolf Owusu

Photo credit – Raindolf Owusu

  1. Trevor Kimenye & Charles Gichuki (Kenya)

The introduction of a customer relationship management (CRM) product named Ongair has catapulted the founders to a global stage. Trevor Kimenye and Charles Gichuki came up with a product that could use WhatsApp to reach out or respond to customers.

Being one of the more popular instant messaging platforms in many countries, WhatsApp can be used to reach out to customers and also be used for marketing. This makes Ongair a unique innovation.

Being one of the few CRM products that use instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp has seen the company sign a deal with Zendesk, one of the leading customer relations softwares in the world. The deal will see Zendesk users being able to incorporate WhatsApp messaging through Ongair.

Their product has been used across Africa by big-name brands such as Castle Larger, Deutche Welle, Heineken, and Chase Bank in Kenya. Now that they are in the global stage, they are confident that the system will be used by more major companies in customers responses, launching promotions, and others.

Ongair

 

  1.  Marc Arthur Zang Adzaba (Cameroon)

Access to health services in rural Africa is still a perennial challenge despite great investments in hospitals and infrastructure. Screening patients for dire conditions such as heart disease is still quite expensive.

Enter The CardioPad. This portable cardiovascular disease scanner was prototyped in Cameroon by Marc Arthur Adzaba to help the rural population get the service that was previously only available in big hospitals.

Doctors can use the tablet-like gadget to get patients’ scans and send them wirelessly to the hospital for diagnosis. This invention has been hailed across Africa as one that could save many lives, especially for those who cannot travel far to hospitals.

Adzaba has received accolades across Africa and beyond, including the Rolex Award 2014, a global initiative celebrating individuals who take up challenges to change society.

The product is on a testing phase and will be expected to hit the market soon and revolutionize Africa’s healthcare scene.

 

Marc Arthur Zang was nominated for Africa’s top innovation prize as the designer of the Cardio Pad (Photo credit - pangeatoday.com)

Marc Arthur Zang was nominated for Africa’s top innovation prize as the designer of the Cardio Pad (Photo credit – pangeatoday.com)

Clearly, tech businesses are changing the way Africa works and how people see the continent. These four are but a few that have managed to reach a certain level of success, but many more innovators are emerging.

If you think your favorite innovation story was not mentioned here, please let us know more about them on the comments below.