Issue No.123 / October 2017

Getting stuff into shops: Four start-ups in Africa looking for ways to change the retail value chain

One of the most interesting areas for start-ups in Africa are those tackling improving the retail value chain. It’s the unsexy backroom stuff that will help transform the lives of both shopkeepers and the bottom 80% of the income pyramid. Over the last few months Russell Southwood has spoken to Grant Brooke, Twiga Foods; Greg Murray, Koko Networks; Daniel Yu, Sokowatch; and Arnaud Blanchet, Last Mile for BOP.

The latest video clip interviews from Smart Monkey TV can be found at the bottom of this e-letter

The arrival of malls and supermarkets in Sub-Saharan Africa has been the occasion for much media coverage and comment. But the majority of Africans still buy most of their daily shopping from small, tin shack shops by the roadside or in neighborhoods. There’s lots of them with almost no differentiation in stock or prices.

These shops often sell out of things and customers often pay a premium for an inefficient retail value chain where – particularly with certain types of fresh produce – there are high levels of stock loss. Also if shopkeepers need more stock, they tend to go off and buy it themselves. There’s almost no credit in the system for either shopkeepers or customers because most of the transactions are “off the books”.

The four start-ups interviewed below all want to give a better deal to both shop customers and shopkeepers, whilst making the lives of the latter easier by delivering. The logistics piece is already generating an ecosystem for individual delivery people. Because the transactions are recorded, they can lay the basis for both consumers and shopkeepers getting credit.

And last but not least, it helps manufacturers understand this huge informal sector more fully and serve it better. As Arnaud Blanchet, founder of Last Mile for BOP told me:”You can see where products are sold on a map. It’s a goldmine for companies with data you can analyse”.

If these kinds of start-ups take hold, they could begin to change the kind of retail outlets Africans can expect and places that offer them a higher quality and a wider range.

Twiga Foods (Grant Brooke)

In Kenya, 96% of food and FMCG products are sold through small and medium size retail stalls, supplied by large-scale, over-capacity, open air markets. This inefficiency results in 43% of the average household income being spent on food-affecting what individuals and families can spend in other critical areas such as education and healthcare.

“In the past, shopkeepers would wake up a 4 or 5 in the morning to go to the public sector markets with a push cart and shuttle their goods directly back to their shop. We deliver directly to them. We give better quality product and lower prices. We use our aggregated purchasing power to push back to the farm gate to offer farmers guaranteed markets with higher prices and run the logistics in between…The advantage for the farmer is about 10% higher prices in a steady market.”

Twiga is the largest distributor of several basic food staples in Kenya, having sold more than 55 million bananas alone and delivering more than 4,000 orders a week. It has introduced cold storage to cut waste:”In a lot of value chains like bananas and tomatoes over 30% of stock is lost between farm and market. The end consumer ends up paying for that because the farmer got paid for that stock. If we can control these losses, that’s more margin for us and more value we can share on both sides of the value chain.”

“We run collection points in 7 counties across Kenya. Each collection point has between 50-100 farmers attached. Three to four weeks before the harvest they receive an SMS saying that Twiga’s going to harvest on Thursday, ten tons of bananas”.

“They SMS in what their commitment is (to this figure) and drop off their produce at the collection centre. They receive an mPesa, mobile money based payment with a receipt. If you sell to a broker, there’s no history of that transaction. If you have a relationship with Twiga over a 3-6 month period..the banks are ready to help you grow your business.”

The numbers are substantial. Twiga is already doing several million dollars of business a year and is growing by 30% a month. It deals with 2,000 shops but wants to get this up to 2,400 a day by March 2018. There are 2-3,000 farmers on its platform at any one time but because goods are seasonal 7-10,000 in aggregate.

At the end of July Twiga Foods announced that it had successfully raised a Series A funding round including $6.3m in equity and $4m in debt instruments. The round was led by Wamda Capital and includes Omidyar Network, DOB Equity, Uqalo, 1776, Blue Haven Initiative, Alpha Mundi, and AHL Venture Partners. The investment will enable Twiga to increase the number of vendors it is able to serve each day in Nairobi, diversify its product portfolio, and introduce advanced supplier services.

Additional to the Series A round closing, Twiga closed some $2m in grant funding from USAID, GSMA, and others to support bolt-on farmer services, financial inclusion, and first of their kind domestic food safety initiatives. "The addition of new partners into Twiga, and continued support of our current stakeholders, is a huge affirmation that there's a better way to build marketplaces for Kenya and the rest of urban Africa," said Peter Njonjo, co-Founder, Twiga Foods "We can get consumers and suppliers a better deal, and this support will go a long way in achieving those goals." 

Koko Networks (Greg Murray)

The story of KOKO Networks pre-dates its launch in Nairobi this year. Its founders previously set up an investment vehicle (CleanStar Ventures) to carry out R&D in sub-Saharan Africa, and ran a commercial proof-of-concept in the urban cooking fuel market in Maputo, selling liquid ethanol cooking fuel as a replacement for deforestation-based charcoal. The venture gained strong traction, gaining 10% of the population of the city. There was clearly an opportunity to scale, if the costs associated with downstream distribution could be reduced (and therefore charcoal could be undercut on price).

“We wanted to use technology to make this proven fuel more scalable, and to expand our offering to other goods and services,” says Murray. Thus began KOKO Networks, which commercially launched in Nairobi in March 2017.

So, what is KOKO today? “KOKO is a smart commerce platform for urban mass-market consumers in Sub-Saharan Africa.” The company is building an extensive network of Agent shopkeepers who host its e-commerce kiosks – called KOKOpoints – in their stores. “KOKOpoints are as consumer access points for a range of goods and services, and are built around our first business line, serving as smart ‘ATMs’ for ethanol fuel. Eventually, we plan to have 2,000 KOKOpoints in Nairobi alone, and through licences and co-ventures we will set up in numerous cities across the continent. In Nairobi, we want the ultimate coverage to be so that the bottom 80% of household incomes are never further than 200 meters away from a KOKOpoint.”

KOKO is currently in a ‘soft launch’ phase, testing 10 KOKOpoints in different neighbourhoods of Nairobi. Once the testing phase is over, they will roll out a total of 200 with a ‘hard launch’ next year: “We’re growing demand for our SmartCook sub-brand gradually over the course of this year. We’ve been really pleased by the very strong demand from shopkeepers and customers across the city - the key issue for us is now supply-side planning as we prepare to roll out the full network in Nairobi next year.”

KOKO’s agents basically run unbranded local convenience stores (“7/11-style”), where the bulk of mass-market transactions are done: “This is where the bulk of the money is and where customers go; it’s hyper-local, and many Kenyans use these kinds of shops twice a day. There is often little differentiation between these shops selling many of the same products, and it’s highly competitive market. Space for products is very limited. We’re not targeting the small ‘Dukas’, but the more formal and profitable of these hyper-local shops. KOKOpoints enable them to add a profitable new line of business, expand their product ranges, and boost customer footfall.

The first product on KOKO’s smart commerce platform, SmartCook, holds strong customer appeal. Customers buy an ethanol-fuelled cooking stove and reusable fuel canister. Murray adds: “Our target customers are urban households who have some disposable income, and who typically have TVs and electricity, but are underserved when it comes to cooking energy. In the past, aspirant customers might have looked longingly at LPG stoves, but the upfront costs of both the stove and the gas cylinders are often prohibitively high.

The SmartCook kit sells for US$45, and customers can buy fuel from as little as US30 cents: “Some will fill up once a day, others once a week.” All transactions are cashless, using M-PESA. Customers can either pay the full amount upfront, or make deposits in advance.

The KOKOpoint has a more than 200-litre fuel capacity, and communicates constantly with KOKO’s command centre and fuel wholesale partner, enabling seamless refilling when required.
Longer-term, there is a clear opportunity to sell other products using through the platform. For example, users could browse a range of household durables on the screens, order and pay using M-PESA, and then pick up the delivered goods from the shop, ‘click and collect’ style. Murray gives the example of giving handymen or carpenters access to buy a better power tool, to improve the quality of what they can do. He adds: “We’re also introducing in-purchase advertising on the KOKOpoint screens.

Wireless internet connectivity, via KOKOpoints, is also being considered: “The fact that we build and operate an agent network means there is a possibility to lower CAPEX for ISPs….and there’s a huge consumer appetite for (connectivity).”

Sokowatch (Daniel Yu)

Daniel Yu’s Sokowatch is an ordering and delivery platform for retail outlets. The idea for it came from living in Egypt where he saw the lack of availability of products in small shops:”I’m a software developer so I thought what kind of implementations might be of use? There was nothing to do restocking. Everyone had a basic mobile phone so you could notify via SMS”.

Initially the system launched in Nairobi allowed small kiosk shops t place orders by SMS: for example, three packs of Unilever soap:”The order comes via an SMS into our portal. There is no charge for the person ordering and you use a short code which means it’s toll free in Kenya and Tanzania. We then send an order confirmation”.

“Originally we were just focused on ordering in the tech layer. It turned out that organizing suppliers and setting them up to fulfill orders was easier said than done. There was a lack of economic drivers. There was no incentive to deliver US$2-3 worth of orders”. The current average order is US$9.

The average spend in these tin shack outlets is US15 cents and the average retailer might turn over US$40-50 per day:”84% of consumer purchases are made at these small shops and this end of the retail market is very fragmented

“Initially suppliers ignored a lot of orders. So we talked to manufacturers who were not set up to handle small orders like on-demand delivery services in Europe and the USA. We can create a B2B delivery network here and make it more effective because we have lower labour costs so you can build efficiency into the delivery model”.

The model was piloted last year and it now supplies 5,000, using 20 delivery agents who go to the warehouse and collect and deliver the orders:”We guarantee 24-hour delivery but we actually do it in 6 hours”. The average order is once a week and the delivery agents are on foot or by two or three wheel motorcycle. The main deliveries are for shops in the slums and many are close to each other enabling a single delivery to say 8 shops. The range of products are FMCG goods from brands like Unilever, Nestle and Glaxo Smith Kline. It did a pilot with Wrigleys and was able to produce a 26% increase in their sales.

It competes with traditional wholesalers and retailers going to do “cash-and-carry”:”There are definite similaritiers to Twiga with our last mile logistics but it’s focused on fresh product.”

In early 2017 it also launched in Dar es Salaam and it’s hoping to open up in Mombasa by the end of the year. By early next year it wants to be operating in Kampala and Kigala.

It has primarily been backed by a set of angel investors and is very much at the seed stage. The money has mostly come from the USA but also from Europe and within Kenya.

Last Mile for BOP (Arnaud Blanchet)

Frenchman Arnaud Blanchet is based at the MTN Solutions Space in the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business. His company Last Mile for BOP aims to improve access to affordable products in townships and rural areas through the small, informal shops known in South Africa as Spaza shops.

These Spaza shops usually charge a premium on goods because there is no working capital and often run out of items because it can cost a lot of money to restock:”We talk about the poverty premium. We’re also trying to give them the opportunity to have a wider range of products.” It also has longer term plans to be able to offer solar lamps to replace candles.

The mobile app the shops can use allows them to check prices across 10 wholesalers and instead of having to fetch the goods, the stock is delivered. The price saving on different products may be as much as 10%. This allows them to reduce their costs and not have to take time out to go to the wholesaler:”It also creates a job using the Uber model for local drivers to deliver in a cashless transaction. We’ve solved the problem of price because we’re more competitive and you can just order baby milk.”

It's discussing setting up a direct link to the wholesalers databases as the system is currently run manually and want to encourage wholesalers to offer promo specials for this delivery channel:”We want the suppliers in future to pay for top placing in the different categories but the best price will always appear first.”

The order record of each shop will over time allow them to build up the possibility of creating a credit record for borrowers:They can approach a bank or microcredit organization and show them their track record and we will handle the loan on the basis that they pass the savings on to their customers. We’ll also use analytics so that if there is a high number of water bottles sold, we can send them water filter products”.

Initially he ran a test with 100 Spaza shops to “make sure the shops love the system. The aim is to have 100 Spaza shops by the end of the year in Cape Town first, then Gauteng, then Durban and then the rest of the country.” It’s still experimenting but depending on the distance, time and value it charges 2% of the price of the goods.

Meanwhile Spaza Shops themselves are undergoing a different kind of revolution. The current South African owners are being replaced by Somalis and Bangladeshis:”They buy a palette together and split it. They are very aggressive on prices and they decrease prices”. A number of Somali Spaza shop owners have been killed:”85% of Spaza shops are now run by foreign owners. We see our role as helping locals to keep their shop. But we deal with everybody as our aim is to get low prices for everybody.”

So far Blanchet has self-funded the project as he only needs to buy goods once he receives the orders “so it’s not cash intensive. But we’re looking for funding to scale up nationally. The first stage funding will be 200,000 euros and the full project to go national will be 3 million euros”.

Background Briefing: Start-Ups in the retail chain

Arnaud Blanchet, Last Mile for BoP on an app to help informal shops get cheaper goods:

Grant Brooke, Twiga Foods on a Kenyan start-up revolutionizing food delivery:

Start-Ups and Investment+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

E-commerce in Nigeria: Konga weathers the recession and rolls out a grocery service to build deeper relationship with its customers

African e-commerce may have suffered growing pains but there’s no doubt it’s at the beginning of a long journey to growth. Russell Southwood spoke to Shola Adekoya, CEO, Konga about surviving the Nigerian recession and the launch of its new groceries service, Konga Daily. was founded in July 2012 and started purely as an online retailer selling baby and beauty products. In 2014, Konga opened Seller HQ – Konga’s Marketplace. Its current CEO Shola Adekoya (who was then on the budget team at Etisalat) was bought in as Chief Financial Officer in July 2013, and later moved to become the Chief Operating Officer at the company before becoming CEO.

”I was bought in to beef up the financial team just before Naspers came in as a shareholder”. Other shareholders include Kinnevik, the founder Sim Shagaya and the employees.

Currently there are 200,000 active users:”This number goes up and down depending on the season and a number of other factors.” The total customer pool is 750,000 and it has to exclude 150,000 customers for “unacceptable behavior.” It has 500 people on the payroll and has 250-300 contracted staff.

The top three selling items are in descending order: phones, electronics (including computers) and white goods (which it describes as home and kitchen). Average delivery from the warehouse has come down from 42 hours to three hours. It has a single warehouse in Lagos and a transport network. The service is available throughout Nigeria and Adekoya told me that it has had a customer from Maiduguri in the North-East.

90% of its turnover comes from its Marketplace where individual merchants hold the inventory and 10% from direct sales.

Because customers have been buying high-value, one-off items, Konga has looked at how it can build a more continuous relationship with its customers. So it has launched Konga Daily, a groceries service, which warehouses everything except fresh produce which is then bought in. Early signs are looking positive. The service is only available in Lagos at the moment:”We have plans to roll it out. We’d like to follow the market and look to serve cities outside Lagos.”

According to Adekoya, the buyers are “not from the top of society”. It’s the middle class in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja which accounts for 60% of the orders. A further 30% comes from other 10% from rural areas. The latter are able to get something at approximately “Lagos price” without the usual stiff mark-ups. 50% are in the 28-45 age range and there is an equal split between men and women.

So who are your competitors for these services?:”99% of the competition is analogue: people physically going to the market or a shop”. Jumia is its biggerst digital competitor:”It has slightly different approaches to the market. For example, it’s only just started a marketplace. We’ve done that for three years. It’s also a blend of offline and digital. But if you compare their online turnover to our online turnover, I reckon we’re neck and neck.” There’s also sites like and, both online supermarket sites.

Will Konga expand into other African countries?:”For us it’s the size of Nigeria, it’s one of Africa’s largest economies. Even though the rest (of Africa) looks interesting, what business model do you take there? What’s becoming clear to us is that buying for the whole of Africa is impossible. It’s more important to build a technology that is flexible enough to move to other countries.

Although Adekoya says that “the Nigerian story went south at the height of the recession”, it has weathered the storm in large part because it gets external investment in hard-to-get dollars. But downward movement of the Naira also affects its growth as customers pay in Naira:”We’ve come down 50% in size in dollar terms. But it’s something you can’t influence and consumers still consume the same. The three investors have been on this journey for quite a while and understand it’s a long-term play.”
Source: Balancing Act

Innovation in Africa Interview: Malick Diouf, LAM

Q: How did you get the idea of your start-up?

A contest of circumstances ... In addition to my natural wandelust, I have always felt a strong desire to be among the actors who do concrete things in Africa.

As an engineer in the telecommunications sector and a member of the Senegalese diaspora in France, I found that the African Diaspora was not sufficiently served by the media and African advertisers.

This is what prompted me to embark on this adventure, offering the first digital and multichannel communication platform in Africa that facilitates interaction between African publishers (media, advertisers and institutions) and their local and foreign target audiences( in the Diaspora).

Q: What does it do and how does it do it?

A: There are such a variety of channels and technical platforms that it makes
communication campaigns that target all Africans complex, costly and often ineffective. That's why we offer a unique cross-channel and cross-country communication platform to target and better interact with the African audience and the mobile diaspora.
(See examples of our products and services on

Q: What’s the competition?

A: I’d say VAS providers in the digital space but also telecom operators . What is paradoxical in our businesses is that these same actors are also our main partners.
Indeed, they help us to animate and develop some niches that we developing as a specialized startup and have the flexibility to exploit with a model of income sharing, which is interesting for us and for them too.

We have established contracts with operators in several countries to disseminate our communication campaigns through their subscriber networks. We pay them a commission on each transaction made. Our 'Value Proposition' is our ability to reach both the African Diaspora and the local African population via African and Western channel operators.

Q:  Have you raised capital for your start-up?

A: Yes, we had raised capital before even starting the business with business angels established in Lyon in France. At the moment we are preparing a more important round for which we invite all investors interested in our activities to come forward.
Our pitch deck is already finalized and we’re happy to talk to anyone.

Q:  Are there many other start-ups in Senegal?

Yes, the good news is that young people are increasingly daring to set up businesses in Senegal and there are more and more start-ups launched in recent years.
Unfortunately, this is not yet enough to meet all the challenges facing our societies, such as youth employment, social inclusion and so on. But there is still room and plenty to do.

Q:  What are the main obstacles faced by start-ups in Senegal and how will these barriers be lowered?

A: Unfortunately, there are still many obstacles and two main ones are particularly important:

1- Poor knowledge of the start-up world by public institutions and
2- The absence of financial institutions in the support of these same startups

On the first point, when some startups under 3 years old have more than 30% of their costs going to the state, there are real questions to ask about how best to support them. For a startup, these are the very funds that should be used to recruit, invest, and develop ...

Where some countries do tax exemptions to startups to help them develop in the early years, it is the large multinationals that benefit from the exemptions to set up in the country and supposedly create jobs. In developed economies, we know that SMEs are the vehicles of employment. Take the example of France, the startups industry is very mature and SMEs hire 80% of the working population. Our public authorities must genuinely think what to do to support SMEs and start-ups.

However, there is also a real educational work on our part as startups and from all the structures that try to support us (incubators, schools, hub etc ...) to explain these realities better.

On the second point, I don’t want to make enemies by saying that the majority of young entrepreneurs in the country have little faith in our financial institutions: banks, financial companies etc. because they are not very responsive to the concerns of startups.

Where we really need from them is ways of financing investment in start-ups or proposing flexible solutions to support our development. They are not there yet but
somehow we need to find solutions. Sometimes we can find alternative solutions or create those solutions ourselves, but I think there's still some work to be done on that.
Source: Innovation in Africa

Inbound technology deals stagnate in Africa this quarter

Baker McKenzie’s latest quarterly Cross-border M&A Index showed that there were no inbound technology deals in Africa in the second quarter of 2017. This is in comparison to global results, which noted a high volume of technology deals in the first half of 2017. Globally, besides H1 2016, the number of cross-border technology deals was higher in H1 2017 than in any post-crisis half-year period.

Morne van der Merwe, Managing Partner at Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg, explains, “Africa has several technology hubs, including one in Cape Town, South Africa and the development of technology in the banking and finance sector, for mass usage on the continent, is well advanced. A positive explanation for there being no inbound deals in this sector in Q2 2017, is that this is not due to lack of IT development in Africa, on the contrary, it is because IT companies are structuring their operations in a way that allows them to enter into partnerships offshore and bringing their operations into Africa through licencing arrangements.

Technology tied with Business Services was a top target industry for Africa’s outbound cross-border deals by volume with a total of three deals for the quarter (20% of total). In terms of deal value, the Financial Services sector led slightly with USD 535 million or 35% of total deals. Technology deals came in close second, accounting for USD 510 million or 33% of total outbound deals from Africa.

Globally, in 2016 there were 787 cross-border deals in the technology sector, an increase of 33 on 2015 and a post-crisis record. Value also hit a post-crisis high of US$187.7 billion in 2016, a 78% increase over 2015.

While cross-border deal activity in the technology sector slowed slightly in the first half of 2017, down 0.7% in volume and 17% in value year-over-year, the volume of deals was higher than all other half-year periods, except for the first half of 2016, and deal value was higher than all half-year periods between 2009 and 2014. The US has been the most targeted and acquisitive country over the past two years.
Source: ITNews Africa

Cape Town IoT startup Sensor Networks raises 4Di funding

Cape Town-based Internet of Things (IoT) platform Sensor Networks has secured funding from 4Di’s Exponential Ventures Fund.

Founded by Mark Allewell, previously known for location-aware travel guide Tourism Radio, Sensor Networks has built a bespoke platform aimed at helping insurance companies reduce risk through integration with IoT sensors.

“Traditionally, insurance companies base risk and premiums on historical data. The rise of the IoT has brought about the seamless integration of millions of sensors – smart devices – into our daily lives. Insurance companies can use these sensors to manage their risk better, in real-time,” Allewell said.

Sensor Networks started out in 2015, building Bluetooth trackers to help people find lost items. The team of nine has now created an IoT platform, allowing them to build bespoke hardware purely focused on insurance-risk reduction.

The company offers a full suite of white-label services, including hardware development, the Sensor Networks IoT platform and data analytics for hardware sensors. Allewell said the team had spent the last year building hardware for some of the insurance industry’s most common claims, with plans to start rolling out with insurance partners in the fourth quarter.
Source: Disrupt Africa

Seed Academy release results of SA’s largest entrepreneurial survey

More impactful business development support that provides entrepreneurs with robust business basics is needed to increase small business success rates, while a decline in youth owned businesses has emerged as cause for concern given South Africa’s dire unemployment figures.

These are just some of the findings of South Africa’s largest entrepreneurial survey, the Real State of Entrepreneurship in South Africa 2017, announced by Donna Rachelson, Seed Engine CEO, incorporating Seed Academy and the WDB Seed Fund. Conducted by Seed Academy and now in its third consecutive year, the survey is the biggest and most widely referenced of its kind. This year’s survey, which canvassed over 1,200 entrepreneurs, expanded its scope from start-ups to all entrepreneurs at any stage of business development to gain valuable insight on the true state of entrepreneurship in South Africa. “Encouragingly, we are seeing the gap between the number of male and female entrepreneurs start to narrow as women represented 47% of entrepreneurs surveyed. This gives some indication that efforts focused on the development of women owned businesses are beginning to pay off. Similar initiatives are now urgently needed to develop youth entrepreneurs so that entrepreneurship is viewed as a ‘real’ career option,” notes Rachelson.

Expanding on the success of previous years, the 2017 survey sharpened its focus on the challenges faced by entrepreneurs in key areas such as access to funding, business support and skills development. Although some 65% of survey respondents were in possession of a post-matric qualification and a sizeable majority at 85% had at least one year’s work experience before starting a business, many entrepreneurs indicated that they require education specific to the practicalities of running a business such as marketing support and business planning. Rachelson says that while Centres for Entrepreneurship at TVET colleges are making strides in entrepreneurial education, both the public and private sectors need to look at what more can be done and how this kind of education could be incorporated into both basic and tertiary curricula.

Interestingly, 33% of entrepreneurs that have been in business for more than two and half years attribute the primary reason for their success to cultivating strong personal networks. This finding bears some correlation to the fact that 95% of businesses are funded by a combination of owner’s funds and funds from owner’s friends and family. “What we can interpret from this is that entrepreneurs place a high value on cultivating strong trust-based relationships that can help the business owner with access to markets and other opportunities including access to financing, both of which were stated as the most pressing challenges by 67% and 43% of entrepreneurs respectively.”

Rachelson adds that only 18% of entrepreneurs surveyed have attempted to secure funding from banks or development funding institutions like the IDC or DTI. “Some entrepreneurs indicated that they simply don’t know where to go for funding especially in light of the fact that most early-stage business funding requirements are below the R100k threshold. There is certainly a case to be made for funding providers to revise certain requirements to better accommodate the unique needs of small and early-stage businesses. Of course, one unfortunate implication of self-funding is that growth potential is limited to the owner’s own pocket and diminishes the ability for a small business to increase capacity, hire more staff, and make a more meaningful impact on the South African economy.”
The full report is available for download here:

In Brief

Ma, who founded Alibaba in 1999 and built it into a global e-commerce giant valued at more than US$231 billion, was speaking at the Youth Connekt Africa Summit co-hosted by UNCTAD and the Government of Rwanda.“I want that fund supporting African online businesses,” he said. “The money is set. This is my money, so I don’t have to get anybody’s approval.” Ma said he is poised to hire staff for the fund, which will begin operations this year, while he was also work with UNCTAD help bring 200 budding African business people to China to learn from Alibaba hands on. He has already been working with UNCTAD to explore opportunities with African businesses to participate in global trade. “I want them to go to China, meeting our people, seeing all the things we have been doing, all the great ideas China has,” he said. “They know what they want. And when they know what they want, we can support it.”

Applications have opened for third Round of Miss.Africa Seed Funding, which offers US$7,000 in grant money to women in and girls working in STEM fields in Africa. The programme aims to help African women and girls to launch or expand their own initiatives that will increase digital opportunities in IT related training, jobs and leadership roles.

Start-up Mobile-based lender Branch has disbursed a cumulative Sh3.63 billion ($35 million) loans in Kenya where virtual lending is growing in popularity.

The World Bank Group used the G20 leaders’ summit to announce the creation of a new facility that will enable more than US$1 billion to advance female entrepreneurship and help women in developing countries gain increased access to the finance, markets and networks.

Global mobile operator Orange has agreed to support and fund Egyptian technology-focused startups to help them transform their ideas into sustainable businesses. This comes after Orange welcomed Egyptian minister of communications and information technology Yasser Al-Kady to its facilities in Paris last week, during which he met with members of Orange’s executive committee such as deputy chief executive officer (CEO) Bruno Mettling. As part of the company’s interest in supporting emerging, innovative companies, it was agreed it will support and fund tech startups in the country to help them transform their ideas into reality.


Cell Phones Bring Power to Africans Living Off the Grid

Fenix International, a San Francisco startup making solar-power systems for people with no access to electricity grids, is expanding in Africa through a partnership with the continent’s largest wireless carrier.

The company is extending its partnership with MTN Group Ltd. to Zambia, targeting close to 1 million new users in the country over the next three years. Customers will use MTN’s mobile-money app to pay as little as $0.20 a day until they own the solar-panel and battery system, which is about the size of a personal computer and helps people charge mobile phones and light up homes.

The pact with MTN helps Fenix target consumers with no access to banking or little money to pay up-front for the system. The wireless carrier, which has worked with Fenix since 2010 and was an early investor, is gaining new customers for MTN Mobile Money as it tries to expand beyond providing call and data connections.

Fenix touts its system as a cheaper and cleaner alternative to the kerosene lamps, candles and wood fires used by millions of people living in fuel poverty on the continent. About 15 million Zambians, 80 percent of the population, live without access to the country’s unreliable power grid, Fenix Chief Executive Officer Lyndsay Handler said by phone. Fenix has a goal of providing electricity to at least 850,000 Zambians by 2020.

The deal is another example of the growing investor interest in off-grid solar power in Africa, with Fenix’s London-based rival Nova Lumos recently rolling out similar technology. Phone carriers like MTN benefit from such partnerships as consumers get comfortable with using mobile-money apps for purchases. Fenix’s other investors include French phone company Orange SA.

Fenix is already working with MTN in Uganda and expects its business in that country to turn profitable by the end of the year, Handler said. The company plans to expand into as many as 10 African countries in the next four years and to be profitable as a whole within the same period, she said.

The company is also working with Equity Group Holdings Ltd., which is a bank expanding in the telecommunications industry in Kenya. That partnership will use a similar model as the Zambian one, with consumers paying for solar power with a mobile-phone app. Fenix is looking to enter Ivory Coast and Senegal within the next two to three years, Handler said.
Source: Bloomberg

Solar Street Lights Illuminate Bujumbura, Burundi

Downtown Bujumbura just got a little brighter, thanks to an innovative partnership between Mayor Freddy Mbonimpa and Gigawatt Global (, a founding member of United States Power Africa's Beyond the Grid program.

This week solar-powered ‘light islands’ began appearing in the heavily-trafficked central bus station and nearby marketplace, extending commercial hours and personal safety. 

“The city of Bujumbura is very pleased to be working with Gigawatt Global on this important solar street lighting project,” said Mayor Freddy MBONIMPA. “This project will enhance security as well as provide opportunities for economic development to the citizens of Bujumbura. It is the hope and wish of all involved that this project can spread throughout the city, as well as expand to other cities in Burundi within the near future.”

Gigawatt Global is now in discussions to scale the solar-powered ‘light islands’ program throughout the city and in other major Burundian towns.

Gigawatt Global, which provides 100% financing for its projects, pioneered commercial scale solar power plants in sub-Sahara Africa, launching the first one in Rwanda in 2014, which is currently supplying 6% of the country's generation capacity. Gigawatt Global will complete a 7.5 Mw solar field in the Gitega region of Burundi in the next six months, which will supply 15% of the East African country's generation capacity. Similar projects are currently being developed in 10 African countries, including Liberia and South Sudan, among many others. 
Distributed by APO on behalf of Gigawatt Global.

REDAVIA Commissioned Tanzania’s Largest Solar Farm for Shanta Gold

REDAVIA, a global market leader of cost-effective rental solar power for businesses and communities, has kicked off operations of its eight-container solar farm at Shanta Gold’s New Luika mine in the Chunya district, Tanzania.
With the initial one container solar plant, deployed in 2014, Shanta Gold quickly experienced the benefits: it generated around 100,000 kWh with fuel savings of 28,000 liters and CO2 reduction of 67 tons per year.

Shanta’s underground expansion plans then saw an increasing energy demand, so it turned to REDAVIA to lease an additional seven containers. With eight now operational in total and a capacity of 674 kWp, Shanta is now set to generate more than 1 million kWh per year, saving 219,000 liters of fuel and ~660 tons of CO2.
Source: Press Release

In Brief

Last week, Tanzania and Uganda signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the supply of electricity to villages along the Uganda-Tanzania border.

Experts in Uganda's electricity industry are requesting for the government to boost investments in low voltage power lines before the commissioning of Isimba and Karuma Hydro Power Dams.

3D Printing and Makers++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

UK research team 3D prints open source microscope prototype for only £30

Just days ago we wrote about an open source 3D printed microscope that could be made for as little as €100 ($118). Now, another project, undertaken by researchers from the University of Bath in the UK, has even higher aspirations than that as it has made a prototype of a 3D printed microscope for only £30 ($40).

The innovative 3D printed microscope is being developed by a joint team of researchers which includes Dr. Richard Bowman from the University of Bath’s Department of Physics and researchers from the University of Cambridge and Tanzania’s “digital blacksmiths” STICLab.

The project, which aims to use low-cost consumer electronics and 3D printed components to create accessible medical and scientific tools such as microscopes, was recently awarded with £1 million in funding, which will be provided by the Global Challenges Research Fund over the next three years.

The ultimate goal of the project is to make such devices and medical resources more available in developing regions of the world to improve disease diagnosis and scientific research. By making them open source, the researchers hope that others will not only be able to recreate their scientific tools, but also improve them.

Currently, the researchers are testing a prototype of an optical microscope which is made from a 3D printed frame, a Raspberry Pi mini-computer, and commercial (mass produced) lenses. The prototype, which was made for only £30, is capable of magnifying up to 1.5 millionth of a meter, making it suitable for identifying parasites such as malaria in blood or water samples.

“I think we’re quite used to the idea of open source software, but not necessarily open source hardware,” commented Dr. Bowman, who conceived of the low-cost open source microscope while working as a research fellow at Queens College, Cambridge.

“With consumer electronics being so cheap nowadays we can actually get a surprisingly long way and make a high-quality instrument for serious microscopy. By releasing the designs as free, open-source products we want to enable local entrepreneurs to produce the medical and scientific equipment that will improve healthcare, education, and research in some of the poorest areas in the world,” he added.

Down the line, the research team will also investigate the potential to make the 3D printed microscopes automated, which will make them easier to operate and free up valuable time for healthcare professionals. They also said that having the ability to store images of tested samples digitally could be beneficial, as it would enable second opinions, training opportunities, and more.
Source: 3D Printing Application

In Brief

In partnership with 3D printer manufacturer Sinterit, designer Bartłomiej Gaczorek has designed a custom fitting exoskeleton for children with SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy). The genetic condition, which can severely impede the lives of young children, causes a loss of movement in limbs due to dysfunctional nerves.


Tanzania: Over 1.7m Women Now Access Nutrition Info Through SMS Service

A mobile service dubbed 'Wazazi Nipendeni SMS Service' aimed at promoting knowledge and behaviour change in nutrition practices has been launched.

The Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elders and Children has partnered with the Food and Nutrition Centre (TFNC) and the GSM Association in promoting proper nutrition.

The service offers free text messages in Swahili for pregnant women, mothers with children under 5 years of age, and new mothers.

It also provides Tanzanians with a wide-range of information concerning healthy pregnancy and early childhood care.

Addressing participants during commemoration of the World Breastfeeding Week, and launching of the service yesterday, TFNC managing director Joyceline Kaganda revealed that so far, over 1.7 million Tanzanians have subscribed to the free service from across all mobile networks. She also noted that at least 115 million messages have been sent out to subscribers so far.

Dr Kaganda also said that the service aims at addressing national nutrition priority areas including promoting exclusive breastfeeding practices for children aged 0-6 months and promoting optimal feeding practices for children aged 6-24 months and beyond.
Source. The Citizen

Zimbabwe: biometric voter registration kits cause early election friction

Commissioner Emmanuel Magade, head of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has confirmed the payment of US$3.7 million for the procurement of biometric voter registration kits scheduled for use within the country's voter registration process ahead of the much- anticipated 2018 general elections.

The ZEC says each BVR kit includes a laptop with encryptable USB ports, digital signature pad and pen, fingerprint scanner, ID and document scanner, digital camera, solar kits and encryptable USB flash disks.

However, the procurement has been met with criticism and scepticism locally, particularly among opposition parties.

Read full article here:

AI Medicine Comes to Africa’s Rural Clinics

Smartphone-based diagnostic tools with an artificial intelligence upgrade could save millions of lives

As part of a cervical cancer prevention campaign in six African countries, the nonprofit Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon works with local health clinics on special screening and education events, such as this one in Botswana. 1/4

In rural health clinics across Kenya, women have started showing up with a surprising request: They’ve come for their “cervical selfies.”

Their enthusiasm is a good omen for a public health campaign against cervical cancer now under way in six African countries. Using an optical accessory that snaps onto any Android smartphone and makes use of its camera, health workers are examining women and catching early signs of cancer, enabling them to get immediate treatment. And soon this diagnostic device will be better still. With the integration of artificial intelligence, this technology may serve as a model for smarter health care in Africa and beyond.

The screening campaign relies on a tool developed by the Israeli company MobileODT—the acronym stands for “optical detection technologies.” Health workers use a clip-on attachment, called the EVA (enhanced visual assessment) Scope, to turn a smartphone into a device similar to a ­colposcope, the tool gynecologists use to view a magnified image of a woman’s cervix. With an associated phone app, the screeners can analyze the image, show it to the patient, and store the data in the cloud.

In Brief

A senior Kenyan election official was found murdered on Monday, three days after he went missing, poll officials said, as opposition leaders warned the killing could plunge next week's national vote into turmoil. Chris Msando, the election board's head of information, communication and technology, was tortured before he died, the board told journalists, without giving further details. He was responsible for the computer system that will gather election results.

MORE than 400 teachers in Botswana have undergone training in computer coding as part of a globally-recognised, continent wide initiative to equip youth in the continent with the requisite digital skills. Multinational software corporation, SAP, along with its partners and Botswana’s Ministry of Basic Education, successfully trained the educators this week through a series of Train-the-Trainer sessions in preparation for SAP Africa Code Week 2017.

The inaugural edition of the Africa Data Revolution Report (ADRR 2016) will be launched on 19 July in Accra, Ghana, as part of activities marking the 2nd Africa Open Data Conference, which will take place from July 17 – 21, 2017. Jointly published by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Wide Web Foundation and the Open Data for Development Network (OD4D), ADRR is a biennial report that maps the data ecosystem in Africa with reference to the production, distribution and use of data by public, private and civil society actors, as they relate to the 17 SDGs.

The healthymagination Mother and Child Programme announces its second cohort of social enterprises that will receive training and mentorship aimed at improving and accelerating maternal and/or child health outcomes in Africa. The programme – launched in March 2016 ( by GE ( and Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship – aims to continue to accelerate health innovations in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Innovation in Africa+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

New Bitcoin Exchange launched in Kenya

Belfrics Global, a Malaysia based, bitcoin technology provider has launched its Bitcoin Exchange in Kenya to allow traders and Bitcoin users to trade at a much lower cost. The cost of transactions while using Belfrics will be 5 percent.

Belfrics Kenya will offer exchange services in addition to other digital services revolving around the Blockchain.The company also provides a POS system and payment gateway for merchants to accept bitcoins as payment, enhancing their scope of business.

The rise of this digital cryptocurrency and the underlying technology, the Blockchain, has also brought with it many investors and companies looking at how they can expand their footprint in this space.

According to the company CEO and Chairman, Praveenkumar Vijayakumar, the company has received very positive support in the last couple months it has been testing its services in Kenya. This has necessitated its official launch to further expand its growth in the country and the region.

According to the CEO, Belfrics intends to reach and offer its services to between 100, 000 to 1, 000, 000 people in the next one to one and half years.

Belfrics Global is also offering its initial coin offering (ICO) as an investment vehicle. The launch will be on September 8th, 2017 when it launches the Belfrics Blockchain. According to the company. Belfrics Blockchain will allow users to be identified, thereby enabling the tracking of transactions on the platform.

Belfrics already has operational offices in Singapore, India, Indonesia, Hong Kong, China and Dubai and now has added Kenya to the list.

Blockchain offers a big opportunity for money transfer services by bringing the costs down to only a fraction of the current costs. Belfrics Global intends to leverage this huge gap in the coming months.

The company also intends to expand its operations to Nigeria and Ghana.
Source: ITNews Africa

Art Meets Science At Africa’s First STEAM Symposium

OPEN Design Cape Town, the Mother City’s most dynamic design and innovation festival, is set to host Africa’s first international STEAM Symposium when the festival returns this August. STEAM is a global movement that adds the creativity and vision of Art and Design thinking to the traditional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) subjects.

The 12-day citywide festival will again bring together an extended community of thinkers, designers, entrepreneurs, educators, students and members of the public for a series of exciting experiences, talks, workshops, exhibitions and more. Open Design Cape Town, now in its fifth year, aims to illustrate and explore how creative solutions and sustainable design can benefit South Africa’s economy and society.

Open Design Cape Town 2017 will take place between 13-20 August at Cape Town City Hall and at various locations throughout the city as part of the City Wide Activation programme from 21 – 25 August. The STEAM Symposium will be held at City Hall on Monday 14 August.

STEAM, a concept championed by the Rhode Island School of Design in the US under its STEM to STEAM motto, has three broad pillars. First, to transform research policy to place Art and Design at the centre of STEM learning. Second, to encourage the integration of Art and Design thinking into education across all learning areas, from kindergarten to graduate degree level. Third, to influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation and add significance and meaning to their businesses

Professor Mugendi K. M’Rithaa, originally from Kenya, an industrial designer and researcher at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, President of the World Design Organization and one of the speakers at the Symposium, says future global citizens will need a strong educational foundation underpinned by a creative and practical knowledge of the STEAM subjects.

“Proficiency in STEAM not only guarantees competence in a wide range of professional disciplines, but also fosters an appreciation for lifelong learning as well as a transdisciplinary and collaborative ethos in young learners,” he says.

Tickets for the Open Design International STEAM Symposium on Monday 14 August are on sale via at an early-bird special of R895 until 15 July.  Thereafter tickets will cost R1055. The symposium will be held at the main auditorium of the Cape Town City Hall on Darling Street between 10am to 4pm.

Follow Open Design Cape Town on Twitter and Instagram @OpendesignCT and on Facebook at

For more information and to view the speaker line-up visit

In Brief

The MTN Ghana Foundation in partnership with Women in Tech Africa has launched the maiden edition of the MTN Apps camp for girls, dubbed: “MTN Girl Code: Tech camp for ladies going places.” The initiative is to encourage young women to participate in coding and computer programming, thus increasing the number of females actively involved in the development of programmes and Apps. Cynthia Lumor, Director, MTN Ghana Foundation, says as an organisation with a vision to lead the delivery of a bold new digital world to customers, MTN sees Apps development and ICT as tolls to help eradicate poverty, create wealth, and enhance the development of Ghana as has been done in other parts of the world.

Nigeria’s postal service, NIPOST, has just announced its adoption of the innovative global addressing system what3words ( Nigeria is the seventh country to adopt what3words, and the third in Africa. The system is already being used for mail deliveries in Mongolia, Sint Maarten, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Tonga and Solomon Islands. Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and its most populous country with approximately 184 million inhabitants. It has the seventh largest population in the world. Nigeria’s poor addressing system means that only 20% of its inhabitants receive mail at home. 79% of homes and businesses cannot receive deliveries to the door, and the remaining 1% receive their mail using one of the 478,000 P.O. boxes throughout the country. A postcode system does exist, but only 5% of mail gets properly addressed with the postcode, hampering the efforts of NIPOST to improve its quality of service.

Benin and Liberia were ranked highest among the 40 African countries that participated in the just ended FIRST Global Challenge robotics competition held in the United States capital, Washington DC.  At the end of the event, Benin ranked 7, followed by Liberia which ranked 12 out of the 163 participating countries for getting the most cumulative points over the course of the competition. Their tasks were to build robots which will accomplish engineering tasks as a global society to solve water crisis. Robot kits were delivered to each team in the first two weeks of March 2017. The teams were organized into two competing alliances, each alliance composed of three national teams that rearrange into different alliances for each match. These alliances are tasked with accomplishing engineering tasks such as the storing of drinkable water, filtering of contaminated water, and procuring of new sources water.

The inaugural Africa Architecture Awards (, founded by Saint-Gobain, attracted an unprecedented number of entries for an architecture awards programme in its first edition. More than 500 projects registered to enter the awards before the closing date of 14 July 2017, and a total of 307 projects from across the continent, situated in 32 African countries, completed the registration process and qualified to enter. All 307 projects have since been published on, with the awards website now acting as a repository of thought-provoking projects spanning the African continent. As a yardstick to gauge the depth and breadth of contemporary African architectural practice, the site alone is an invaluable resource, visited by over 40 000 unique users from mid-May to end-July 2017, with 800-1000 unique visitors accessing the site per day.

Three African innovators have been awarded prizes for the impressive innovations that they have conceived and brought to life, as part of the Innovation Prize for Africa 2017. Aly El-Shafei of Egypt was selected as the grand prize winner, with Philippa Ngaju Makobore of Uganda securing the second prize, and Dougbeh-Chris Nyan of Liberia winning the special prize for social impact, according to Innovation Prize for Africa’s website.

If you would like to subscribe to Innovation in Africa, just send an email to with Innovation in Africa in the title line. If you’d like to see one of Africa’s innovators interviewed by Smart Monkey TV, just drop me a line on

Yours sincerely

Russell Southwood
Smart Monkey TV

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Kunle Afolayan on the 3 films he made in the last 12 months: Omugwo. Roti and Tribunal

Nollywood actor and director Kunle Afolayan talks about: how he came to make 3 films in 12 months; how easy it was to do it; the genres and stories in the three different films; and the next film that he’s working on.

Michelle Andrade on how Lagos’ Workstation helps entrepreneurs turn ideas into reality

Michelle Andrade, Head of Business Development, Workstation talks about: the type of co-working spaces it offers; the additional support services for members; its programme to help start-ups and its expansion plans.

Christopher Baker-Brian, BBOX on how start-up BBOXX is providing off-grid solutions to Africa

Christopher Baker-Brian, CTO, BBOXX talks about: the idea for the company; how its off-grid service is supplied; the number of people using the service; controlling its off-grid boxes using mobile connections and its future expansion plans.

Izu Ojukwu on his current film 76 and his forthcoming film about warrior Queen Amina of Zazzau

Nigerian film-maker Izu Ojukwu talks about: the story in 76; Nigeria’s “decision-making” decade; the importance of understanding history; and his latest film that is in post production about Queen Amina of Zazzau.

Sara Gamay, Cairo Angels on its investments and the start-up sector in Egypt

Sara Gamay, Cairo Angels talks about: the founding of Cairo Angels and why it happened; some examples of the start-ups they have invested in; the scale of investment; how they assess start-ups; one of the key incubators in Cairo; the exits that have happened; and future opportunities.

Chika Uwazie on Nigerian HR and payroll start-up TalentBase that is raising US$2 million to expand

Co-founder and CEO Chika Uwazie, TalentBase talks about: how the idea for the company came about; why it’s timing was good; how it pays people without bank accounts; how it will get beyond orgaic growth; and its latest fundraising round.

Missy Mwendwa and Roselyn Awili on how edtech start-up Eneza reaches 1.8 million students

Missy Mwendwa, Chief Business Development Officer and Roselyn Awili, Content Manager, Eneza talk about: how the platform works; the number of students active monthly on the platform; how it gets its revenues; the countries it operates in and the ones it is expanding to; how its content is created; teacher feedback for students; and the kinds of phones the service can be used on.

Walt Banger on his Nollywood Noir film and his next film Area Dogs

Film director Walt Banger talks about: the story in; how it presents a different view of the Lagos police; when it will be released in Nigeria; why the film is very different; and the origins of Nollywood Noir.

Joshua Mwaniki and Mbithe Nzomo on how Andela will create 100,000 African developers

Joshua Mwaniki, Country Director, Andela and Mbithe Nzomo, Software Developer, Andela talk about: its ambitious target to close the developer talent gap in Africa; how it recruits and trains software developers; its Fellowships and the real-life projects they work on; its online distributed learning communities; its work with Google; and what it means to be a Fellow.

Arnaud Blanchet, Last Mile for BoP on an app to help informal shops get cheaper goods

Arnaud Blanchet, Founder, Last Mile for BoP talks about: the problem of the poverty premium and how it affects those living in the townships in South Africa; how the app helps Spaza (informal) shop owners; what savings they are able to make; the social products it wants to sell to these outlets; the changing ownership of Spaza shops; and investors in Last Mile for BoP.

Moses Babatope, Executive Producer, The Wedding Party on The Wedding Party Pt 2 Destination Dubai

Moses Babatope, Group Executive Director, Filmhouse Cinemas and Film One Distribution and Production and Executive Producer, The Wedding Party talks about: why The Wedding Party was the highest grossing film at the box office in Nigeria; the release on 15 December 2017 of The Wedding Party Pt 2: Destination Dubai; the success of The Wedding Party on Netflix; and the slate of five other films it has in production.