How Google is helping African startups break even
London, July 17, 2018 (AltAfrica)-Silicon Valley giant Google is expanding its regional mentor-ship programme for top early-stage technology startups in Africa, with the aim of helping them become commercially viable.
The Launchpad Accelerator Africa programme started off with six countries at its launch eight months ago — Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa.
Beneficiary firms received $10,000 each equity-free cash grants, and have so far raised more than $7 million between them.
Now Google has spread its wings to include technology startups in Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Botswana, Senegal, Ethiopia, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.
At stake is $3 million in funding, working space and access to expert advisers from Silicon Valley and Africa, over the next three years.
Folagbade Olatunji-David, who heads startup success and services at the Launchpad Accelerator Africa programme said that in order to benefit, the startup must seek to find solutions to a need in its home city, country or Africa, and create value for its users.
“These startups must be based in sub-Saharan Africa, their target must be the African market, and they need to have raised seed funding,” said Mr Olatunji-David.
The EastAfrican spoke to startups participating in the first phase of the programme about their experiences and vision:
- OkadaBooks – Nigeria
OkadaBooks is a marketplace for users in Africa to quickly publish, distribute and sell their digital content, and for users to access cheaper books than conventional bookstores via a digital device.
OkadaBooks was founded by Jude Nwoko. He came up with the name while riding an Okada (motorcycle taxi) in 2013.
He noticed how the motorcycles were able to navigate Lagos’ gridlocked traffic, offering a cheaper, faster and more efficient means of transportation.
OkadaBooks bypasses the “traffic” in the book publishing industry including poor distribution and high printing costs. Earnings are paid directly to user bank accounts.
“My experience of trying to get bookstores to carry my self-published book How Stupidity Saved My Life was frustrating. It pushed me to create the application. I used it to sell my second book,” said Mr Nwoko.
OkadaBooks fuses the simplicity of blogging with e-commerce and strips down the publishing process to a bare minimum. The app has a DRM Protector to guard against piracy, a growing concern for publishers across the globe.
“We are leveraging on the penetration of mobile devices to digitally distribute and sell books across the continent, utilising several payment platforms,” said Mr Nwoko.
The start-up plans to raise $125,000 by the end of this year and attain a 12,000 monthly book sales platform over the next year.
So far it has more than 211,000 registered users, 35,000 monthly active readers and has clocked up more than 2,000 book sales.
- Teheca – Uganda
Teheca is a digital health service start-up that creates better experiences for invalids and mothers during pregnancy, delivery and postnatal care.
The Teheca app helps users find a dedicated care assistant for their loved ones when they are unable to be there for them. The care givers help the women with daily living chores, ensure doctors’ orders are carried out and offer companionship.
“Teheca rose out of the need to provide each individual with a tailored care plan during illness or pregnancy. We have evolved from offering home patient and post-natal services in Uganda to the uptake of maternal healthcare services through mobile and web applications. Our team works from home or in a hospital setting. We provide these services day and night,” said founder Daniel Ruyonga.
Founded in 2015, the start-up targets young people of childbearing age, pregnant mothers, new mothers as well as hospital and healthcare institutions that offer maternity services.
“Our platform allows both the mother and the hospital to initiate a consultation session and empower the mother to search for the closest health workers who suit their needs. So far, the response has been positive. We are currently working with the Ministry of Health to develop products for public hospitals,” said Mr Ruyonga.
“With the understaffed health centres in Uganda, an alternative healthcare workforce will make it easier for families with loved ones who need support to find care givers quickly and easily, give them access to healthcare information and mentor new mothers.”
- Babymigo – Nigeria
Babymigo is a fast growing community for expectant mothers and young parents.
It offers information in local languages, and connects users with experts and hyperlocal childcare services via short messaging, a mobile app and web portal.
“Founded last year, this company was inspired by my experience working with expectant and nursing mothers in maternity clinics across Nigeria. I realised that they lacked a support system during their most critical time of parenting,” said one of the co-founders Adeloye Olanrewaju.
Babymigo uses simple mobile technology that is accessible to every mother irrespective of her social status or location.
“We’re building the most trusted support network for moms and moms-to-be irrespective of their social status or geographic location. On the Babymigo platform, mothers ask questions and get prompt answers from experienced moms and medical experts. They have group chats with experts, connect with moms in the same age group and city, find, book and review local maternity and childcare services, and also get to read mother and baby articles,” said Mr Olanrewaju.
He added: “We have more than 75,000 registered users so far and have helped mothers answer more than 20,000 questions. We want to reach five million mothers over the next three years and so help reduce avoidable infant deaths.”
- FlexPay– Kenya
Founded in March last year, FlexPay is an SMS-based platform that helps customers pay for essential goods and services piecemeal through their mobile phones.
The platform allows a customer to reserve an electronic product in their favourite retail store in Kenya by depositing a given amount, then complete the payments in instalments using the mobile money platform M-Pesa over a specified period.
FlexPay targets the unbanked and underbanked in developing economies who do not have the financial muscle to pay for most goods or services on a one-off basis.
“The idea was born when we faced difficulties raising money to buy essential household electronic items. This gave us the idea to develop a platform that would provide the low-end segment of the market with a piecemeal payments gateway,” said one of the co-founders Johnson Gituma.
The company is currently working with Tuskys retail chain to offer piecemeal payment solutions for its electronic goods.
“We are in the business of enabling flexible payments for merchants and their customers for the purchase of goods and services through mobile money and bank transfers. For merchants, the model increases sales of inventory, resulting in higher profit and goods/services sold. For the customer, it provides a cheap, convenient and simple payment option to own goods they cannot afford,” said Mr Gituma.
He added: “The platform is popular with low-income earners as it helps them use the little income they get to acquire goods. So far we have 3,000 agents registered in Kenya. Our three-year goal is to move beyond Kenya by taking advantage of East Africa’s regional integration.”
FlexPay is also developing a credit score mechanism for its customers as it seeks to offer a lending services platform as part of its growth plans.
- Tango TV – Tanzania
Tango-TV is a video-on-demand service for African content that enables users to stream their favourite films, shows and TV episode