July 11 ,2014 | by Hari Sri

The new SME boom: A look at the African startup revolution

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Africa has been experiencing something of a startup revolution as of late.

Over the last few years, local entrepreneurs with plenty of ideas and ambitions have been developing products that are focused on meeting the specific needs, and transforming the image, of the continent.

Part of the reason for this recent surge is the increasing presence of technology in Africa.

While there is clearly a lot to do in terms of developing accessible electricity required to power innovation and champion progress, greater wireless connectivity and access to smartphones and computers is having a positive impact on the continent.

 

A new generation of tech-savvy luminaries has emerged, determined to offer cost-effective and relevant solutions to problems that are, for now, commonplace in many African countries.

Reporting on this, the Wall Street Journal summed up this new chapter by explaining that “Africa’s challenges are tech startups’ opportunities”.

Technology has the potential to enrich people’s lives and effectively get the continent on track to modernisation in the 21st century. For instance, approximately 12 months ago, there was a nationwide blackout in Nairobi, Kenya. The supplementary surge that came about as a consequence of this delivered a shock of electricity through the city’s grid, damaging various electronic devices.

This kind of thing is commonplace – electricity basically stutters along – and, realising this, BRCK, a team of software developers, engineers and technologists who live and work in Africa, sought to address this very particular problem.

Brck -1

The company is in the final stages of releasing a portable surge-resistant, battery-powered router that is capable of accessing data through cellular connections. It is, in short, a very African-centric product.

The brief was simple, said Philip Walton, co-founder of BRCK – how to develop something that “kicks in” when the power goes out.

 

Companies like BRCK genuinely believe that not only do startups have the ability to make real change within their borders, but above and beyond.

“Many ideas have surfaced from a small but growing group of technology entrepreneurs in Nairobi,” stated the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

“They gather in the city’s shared office spaces and coffee shops with free wireless internet. All aim to design the next product that will ‘leapfrog’ the current generation of technology, similar to how mobile phones replaced the need to build landlines in much of Africa.”

 

There are a number of startups that are making noise and beginning to get noticed. A few months ago, Tech Republic listed ten companies to keep an eye on in the foreseeable future.

The list includes Dropifi, which delivers ‘intelligent contact forms’ (and was the first African startup to be accepted into 500 Startups); Angani, a public cloud computing provider; and Able Wireless, an on-demand wireless streaming service provider.

Other notable names include SleepOut, an online portal that provides visibility to types of accommodation in Kenya; Mellowcabs, which delivers urban micro transportation; and Jumia, an Amazon-esque e-commerce website.

“Africa was already a leader in mobile to mobile payment systems with its m-Pesa system, but now startups are being launched all over the continent, even in rural areas with little to no electricity, as more people gain access to wireless internet and smartphones,” stated WSJ.

It noted, “Africa is a rising global competitor in the technology industry.”

Hari Sri

Hari is the LSBF Blog's News Editor. He manages the editorial content on the blog and writes about current affairs, SME, entrepreneurship, energy, education and emerging market news.

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