African tech boffins gather in Lagos to shape the continent’s digital path

by FariedaDecember 9, 2019

LAGOS – Last week 12 technology start-ups from across Africa were in Lagos, Nigeria, for the Google Launchpad Start-up Week, vying for attention from potential investors, and wise words from previous participants of the accelerator class.

Google Nigeria’s head of Start-up Success and Launchpad Africa, Fola Olatunji-David, says entrepreneurship is cool right now, particularly in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria

“A few years ago if you wanted to be a cool kid (in Nigeria) you were in oil and gas.

This year you’re an entrepreneur.

“There’s a lot of noise (about tech entrepreneurship) but when you sift through all of that noise, you’ll find actual gems,” says Olatunji-David.

He said some of the tech start-ups who had assembled in Lagos were solving real problems, understood what was demanded by their customers, and were using technology to effect this.

“What we’ve seen is an increase in our ability to find those people. Before now you couldn’t tell. Everybody was pitching, everyone was saying they were doing XYZ numbers but there’s a lot of transparency that is required now to operate.

“Consumers now have options,” says Olatunji-David.

Launchpad Accelerator Africa, Google’s first regionally based start-up accelerator programme, is a three-month mentoring plan that provides more than $3million (R44.2m) in equity-free support to more than 60 African tech start-ups, helping them to build, scale and optimise their products using the best of Google.

South African tech entrepreneur Rorisang Posholi, 24, who is the co-founder of the Brandbook customer loyalty app, says he and his partner Bukuena Ntshasha, 25, had dreams of starting a tech enterprise when they were still students at the University of Pretoria, although they’ve been friends since Grade 9.

The Brandbook mobile app rewards customers for visiting certain stores when they scan their receipts.

In return, shoppers are rewarded with digital gift cards and airtime.

For the retailers the app provides meaningful customer data.

“Initially, the concept was a lot different from what we have now.

“There were about two critical pivots in the time it got us to where we are but from the pivots we understand our business a lot better.

“We were able to get more market validation and we should be able to deliver a more market-ready product,” says Posholi.

Mike Kipkorir Bill, who is the chief executive at Elewa, which is an educational start-up based in Nairobi, says the idea of starting the company for him was grounded in his experience as a student.

“For me, in Kenya, I absolutely did not like the way I was educated.

“You’d find a lecturer standing in front of you just reading notes without engaging in the subject,” says Bill.

He says initially when he started, he blamed teachers, but later he got to understand that he had to work with teachers.

“You find a teacher in Kenya, in a secondary school, if you’re a mathematics teachers you learn mathematics for three or four years, but then you learn how to teach mathematics for only two months, and then you also don’t learn it in a practical way, you learn it in a theoretical way,” says Bill.

Elewa is a computer program that helps teacher development, and Bill says although there was initial resistance from the Kenyan government, they have found acceptance from teachers, and unexpectedly from universities.

Rodney Kuhn is a relative veteran when it comes to tech start-ups, this time in Nigeria to show off his latest creation Sortd, which initially started off as a side project and has evolved useful tool to declutter and organise a messy Gmail inbox.

“Building all these different start-ups we always struggled with email and managing client service work, recruitment, or sales.

“Our email and inboxes are very chaotic and keeping on top of your work is almost impossible, and with the influx of all these different communication tools and messages you never keep up.

“You’re always behind and when you look at your inbox you feel stressed,” says Kuhn.


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