Africa is full of innovation. Whether it is a startup, or a multinational company, Africa is bursting with potential when it comes to innovation in the fields of technology, applications, education and the ICT sector. According to fastcompany.com, the latest list of the top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Africa has been revealed.
Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology
For training and investing in entrepreneurs. Described by tech blogger and Ushahidi co-founder Erik Hersman as a “finishing school for tech startups,” MEST trains future entrepreneurs from Ghana and Nigeria by putting them through a two-year program that blends an MBA-style education with training in software development. Founded by Norwegian software entrepreneur Jørn Lyseggen, the school also invests in the best business ideas and teams that emerge from the training program, providing developers with $50,000 to $250,000 in seed funding for their businesses.
MEST selects around 40 top university graduates each year, representing less than 2% of the applications it receives. Since its inception in 2008, more than 200 entrepreneurs have graduated from its program, and it has invested more than $15 million in African startups. Two of its Ghanaian companies—Saya Mobile, which provides a WhatsApp-style messaging service for feature phones, and ClaimSync, which digitizes medical records—were acquired by foreign technology firms last year. In the future, MEST plans to develop a hub of incubators across the continent.
For making solar energy affordable for the underprivileged. Since launching its pay-as-you-go solar-energy service in Kenya in 2012, M-KOPA has grown to serve 150,000 households in east Africa, adding 100,000 in the last year alone. M-KOPA aims to provide households living without electricity a cheaper, safer alternative to kerosene. While a typical off-grid household in Kenya spends $200 per year on kerosene, M-KOPA offers solar home systems for an initial deposit of $35, followed by 365 daily payments of 43 cents, which can be made through the M-PESA mobile payment service.
“You can make solar affordable by making it a daily payment,” says M-KOPA’s cofounder and managing director, Jesse Moore. “Affordability to a low-income person is about very small amounts on a daily or weekly basis because cash flows are very tight. It doesn’t work to offer somebody a monthly plan.” M-KOPA is providing power to 500 new homes each day and aims to reach over 1 million homes in Kenya by 2018. It estimates that the global market for off-grid energy spending is around $50 billion per annum, with east Africa accounting for 7% to 10% of that.
One Acre Fund
For improving the livelihoods of African farmers. Africa’s smallholder farmers are among the poorest people on the planet. Yet One Acre Fund is betting that the asset-based loans and training it provides its clients can help lift 1 million African farmers out of poverty by 2020. Instead of lending cash, One Acre Fund offers seed and fertiliser on credit to farmers living in remote areas. It trains them in agricultural techniques and helps them sell their harvests.
It also offers flexible repayment, allowing clients to repay at any time in any amount throughout the year. At the end of 2014, One Acre Fund hit its target of serving 200,000 farmers across Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania, and it expects to reach 300,000 by the end of this year. It has also seen high repayment rates, with 100% of farmers in Kenya and Burundi repaying their loans in full and on time last year. On average, farmers working with One Acre Fund realize more than a 150% return on their investment and double farm income from every planted acre.
For empowering cell phone users at the base of the pyramid. The South Africa-based Praekelt Foundation uses open-source technologies to provide millions of cell phone users in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia with free information on education, finance, and health. Despite growing mobile penetration in Africa—researchers predict a 20% increase in mobile phones in the next five years—many countries still have poor outcomes for maternal health, education, governance, and transparency, says Gustav Praekelt, who started the foundation in 2007.
The social enterprise, which is backed by the Omidyar Network, partners with governments, NGOs, and UN agencies, enabling them to provide potentially lifesaving information. One of its tools, TxtAlert, sends reminders to patients on chronic medication and allows them to reschedule appointments when they have no credit using “please-call-me” messages. Last year, the foundation also partnered with the South African Department of Health to create MomConnect, which enables pregnant women to receive free maternal-health messages throughout their pregnancy, the first such program of its kind in the developing world.
For increasing access to job opportunities. Africa will have the world’s largest workforce by 2040, but high youth unemployment is currently the reality in many countries on the continent. Nigeria’s Jobberman has 1.5 million registered users and aims to increase job seekers’ chances of getting hired by providing an alternative to recruitment agencies and old-fashioned word of mouth. More than 70% of its registered users are between the ages of 20 and 45.
“Jobberman is addressing the massive unemployment issue in sub-Saharan Africa by leveraging the Internet to give job seekers free access to employment opportunities in a region that has historically had limitations on the flow of both information and people,” says cofounder and CEO Ayodeji Adewunmi. Backed by Tiger Global, the U.S. investment firm, and Seek, the Australian jobs site, Jobberman features jobs in Nigeria and Ghana, a market it entered more than two years ago. It also has a presence in east Africa through its sister company BrighterMonday. Last year, its revenue grew by 125% and it placed more than 70,000 people in jobs.
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