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Facebook to open Nigerian hub next year in African tech drive

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Technology

LAGOS (Reuters) – Facebook will open a “community hub space” in Nigeria next year to encourage software developers and technology entrepreneurs and become the latest technology giant to pursue a training programme in fast-growing Africa.

The U.S. social media company said the centre would host an “incubator programme” to help develop technology start-ups, while it will also train 50,000 Nigerians in digital skills.

Africa’s rapid population growth, falling data costs and heavy adoption of mobile phones rather than PCs is attracting technology companies looking to attract more users.

Facebook did not provide details of the period over which its planned training would take place in Nigeria, which is Africa’s most populous country with 180 million inhabitants.

“We understand the important role Facebook plays here in Nigeria with developers and start-ups and are invested in helping these communities,” Emeka Afigbo, its regional head of platform partnership, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Facebook said the training – aimed at software developers, entrepreneurs and students – would be offered in cities including the capital, Abuja, Port Harcourt in the south, Calabar in the southeast and Kaduna in the north.

Last year Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg visited technology companies in Lagos and his charitable foundation provided $24 million to Andela, which trains developers.

Google’s chief executive in a July visit to Lagos said the company aimed to train 10 million people across the continent in online skills over the next five years. He also said it hoped to train 100,000 software developers in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. [L5N1KH9WQ]

Although Africa may not offer as much opportunity to add consumers as China or India, because large wealth gaps mean that many people in places like Nigeria have little disposable income, Facebook said more than 22 million people already use its social media website every month in Nigeria.

Widespread poverty means mobile adoption tends to favour basic phone models. That, combined with poor telecommunications infrastructure, can mean slow internet speeds and less internet surfing, which tech firms rely on to make money.

 

(Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; editing by Alexander Smith)

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StartUps Flourish Across the Middle East

Comments (0) Economy, Technology

middle-east-startup

The Middle East is overcoming cultural barriers, and political and financial challenges, to become a paradise for potential investors. Emerging local technology companies are flourishing and giants from the US, Europe and Asia are taking notice. From the arrival of business angels, to the sale of Souq.com to Amazon, the region is showing greater creditability for investment projects and successful business ventures.

Growing Markets

Although there are huge obstacles facing the business markets of some countries across the region, the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries (UAE, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait) plus Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan are emerging as an economic hub. According to venture capital site Beco Capital, there are over 160 million people in the region, 85 million who are online, and 50 million who are adult digital consumers with disposable income. These countries have the highest value consumers, enterprises and entrepreneurs, as well as, the youngest populations and high smartphone and broadband usage. This largely untapped market, is becoming the breeding ground for local technology startups, and big players from abroad, who wish to tap into it.

So far, only 8% of businesses in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have digital presence (as opposed to 80% in the United States) and only 1.5% of the region’s retail sales are digitally transacted, meaning there is still plenty of growth to come. According to Beco Capital, each digital job is estimated to create two to three more jobs in the economy, meaning the digital market could add up to $95 billion in annual gross domestic product by 2020. The business landscape of the region therefore, shows a lot of promise to foreign investment.

Emerging Startups

According to research house MAGNiTT, there are now over 3,000 startups across the region, with $870 million spent in startup investment last year. The top 100 startups raised over $1.42 billion in funding and each startup has raised over $500,000 individually. Some 68% of startup founders come from the Middle East, although many hold dual citizenship, 12% of successful startup founders are female, and the UAE hosts 50% of the most funded startups in the region. These figures have attracted foreign investment from abroad.  

According to Bloomberg, Amazon’s recent acquisition of Dubai based, online market retailer Souq.com, shows that e-commerce in the Middle East is set to take off. Out-bidding Emaar Malls PJSC, which owns the world’s largest shopping center, at $800 million, Amazon is actively looking for new areas of growth, and seems to have found it in the Middle East. According to Bloomberg, Souq.com has 23 million online visits a month, employs over 3,000 people and sells more than 400,000 products, from electronic goods to household products and clothes.    

Business Angels

An angel investor is usually an affluent individual or professional investor who provides startup capital for a new venture in return for shares in the business. In a report drafted by Harvard Business School experts, angels increase creditability to projects and increase possibilities for success. The report found possibilities for success increased by 10 to 17% when initial investment was done outside the US. According to the National back in 2012, enthusiasm for angel investment was growing across the Middle East. High speed internet connections enable the regions businesses to reach a global audience, meaning companies can grow without need for crippling overheads previously associated with foreign investment.

Executive chairman of Oasis500, a Jordan based investment program, Usama Fayyad said the Middle East was a unique opportunity for investors to participate in companies who could easily grow in value two to ten times over in a matter of months. Business angels may also have valuable knowledge and experience to help struggling startups. Serial entrepreneurs, who have started their own business can mentor local companies to ensure successful management strategies.

Startup Ecosystem

Despite the war and poverty stories emanating from across the region on the nightly news, the Middle East is well on its way to becoming a global hub for investment. Even with numerous challenges, this has not stopped the region, as a whole, from overcoming the first phases of business development to build a promising startup ecosystem.  

Sources: (1), (2), (3), (4).

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Africa’s first online shopping mall looks to make its mark

Comments (0) Business, Featured, Technology

Online shopping is big business across much of the world, but in Africa e-commerce has yet to make the sort of impact that other technologies, such as cell phones, have done. However, the online retailer, Odjala, is Africa’s first online shopping mall, and it hopes to capitalize on the ever increasing access the continent has to smartphones and the internet.

The spread of e-commerce

While most African consumers still visit bricks & mortar stores or markets to make a purchase, the market for online retail in Europe and North America is huge. The man behind Odjala, Afiss Bileoma, mentioned that 60% of people in Europe and North America use online shopping to make purchases. The company E-marketer, states that Africa only accounts for 2% of online purchases worldwide, but this is a situation that is already changing and likely to change even more as time goes on.

Internet penetration is around 20% in Africa now, and smartphones are rapidly spreading along the path that cellphones already trod.

This embracing of technology has already led to large online retailers such as Nigeria’s Jumia, which has sites in 23 different African countries. However, the Benin based Odjala will be the first to offer a virtual mall online, and it will be offering consumers the chance to buy a wide range of products.

Bileoma states, “We turn around 10,000 Internet users a day, 20% of which will go through with a purchase. They buy a lot of gifts, clothes, toys. We succeeded a big blow by signing a partnership with Naomi Dolls; dolls that were only available in Côte d’Ivoire or France.”

In addition to offering exclusive products such as Naomi Dolls, Odjala’s main role is in providing an online presence to Benin’s largest outdoor market. The market is called Dantokpa, and is situated in the Cotonou area of the nation. Dantokpa hosts numerous independent shops and stands, yet most of its stock is now available on Odjala’s online mall which allows Benin’s consumers to peruse the extensive range of goods from their own homes.

Outdoor meets online

It would initially seem that an outdoor market is the antithesis of online shopping, but Odjala has sought to connect the traditional way that most Beninese shop, with the growing demand for online services. Odjala means “Big Market” in the local language of Yoruba, and the Odjala app is free to download on both Android and Apple products. Bileoma set up Odjala in 2016, and secured agreements with the majority of Dantokpa’s stores, and additionally made deals with other retailers in the area.

A consumer can use either the app or visit the online mall directly on their computer; any order that is placed is then delivered to their door by a courier. Bileoma accepts that this relatively new concept will take time to grow, as many potential customers have to get used to shopping in such a different way. Bileoma has promoted the concept on social media sites, such as Facebook, but still encountered a lot of customers who he said would “call and who actually wish to see the stalls.”

Nevertheless, such problems can often be overcome by providing customers with a sense of security that lessens concerns they may have over a new service. Bileoma explained that, “If a customer is not satisfied by a product, he can return it.”

This policy is fairly standard for online retailers around the world, but one of Odjala’s other features is a lot less common. Around 90% of purchases made on Odjala are paid for by the customer upon delivery. This model would be highly unusual for most online retailers, and is more akin to the method used by auction sites like Ebay.

However, these types of reassurances could help ensure that people new to online retail, feel more confident about trying a new method of shopping. It is online shopping with an understanding of how the majority of consumers in Benin are used to spending their money, and Bileoma will be hoping that such things build confidence in his brand.

As online shopping saves customers’ time, and the money that would be spent on traveling to a store, Odjala looks set to make the most of the ongoing spread in Africa’s online presence.

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Israeli start-ups raise a record $4.8 billion in 2016

Comments (0) Business, Featured, Technology

Overall, last year was a successful one for Israeli start-ups, raising a record breaking $4.8 billion in funding, according to a recent survey by the Israel Venture Capital (IVC) Research Center and law firm Zysman Aharoni, Gayer & Co. (ZAG). The increase is of 11% from the year before, when Israeli high-tech companies raised $4.3 billion. The report also stated that the average financing round, which has been steadily growing over the past five years, reached $7.2 million last year, 19% above the $5.1 million five year average. However, the last quarter of 2016 saw a drop of 8% compared to the last quarter of 2015.

IVC CEO, Koby Simana explained in a statement, that 2016 was a record breaking year for Israeli start-ups, but despite the higher total amount, it was characterized by a smaller number of financing rounds, with higher average capital raised each round. “This is a troubling trend for the Israeli VC funnel, since the majority of capital goes into later rounds.” Simana said. “If there are no companies lined up for later investments, there could be a more serious issue later on.”

Fewer financing rounds

While capital-raising reached new heights, the survey found the number of financing rounds were much fewer than expected. There were 659 deals closed in 2016, which is only marginally above the average of 657 deals closed per year. It was also 7% lower than 2015’s record high of 706 deals closed throughout the year.

The IVC – ZAG report also found an upsurge in large deals (above $20 million) in 2016. Both in terms of deal numbers and capital raised. There were 76 large deals during the year and $2.68 billion of capital raised. An increase of 22% from 2015 where 76 deals closed and $2.19 billion was raised. The increase in large deals is due to the enhanced activity of foreign investors, primarily corporate investors and venture capital funds, explained Simana.

Software companies raise most capital

 Software companies led the capital raising again last year, with $1.7 billion in funding, up from $1.4 billion in 2015, which also placed them first. Internet capital decreased, attracting a mere 16% of total capital, or $744 million, compared to 2015’s $1.12 billion, when it placed second with a 26% share. Life science capital raising also decreased in 2016, by 14%. However, the outlook for life science capital is still positive, according to Shmulik Zysman from ZAG. The industry still has potential in Israel, he explained, due to three reasons: the interest shown by Chinese investors, good chances of European and US investors returning to Israel and Donald Trump’s campaign to ease price control on medical services and drugs.

An optimistic outlook for 2017

 According to Forbes, Israel continues to attract the attention of top global funds looking for great deals outside of Silicon Valley, Boston and New York City. As well as large corporates interested in the innovation coming out of Israel, Chinese investors will continue to be a major influence. Forbes also put the decline of exits (initial public offerings and merger and acquisition deals) down to a growing maturity of the tech ecosystem in Israel. Regarding the findings in the report, Zysman remained cautious for the year ahead. “We expect the uptrend in capital raising activity to continue in 2017,” he said in a statement. “Though possibly at slower rates.”

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Africa looks set to for a revolution in technological innovation

Comments (0) Africa, Economy, Featured, Technology

Africa is changing, and technology is the catalyst for the unprecedented changes that are occurring continent wide. Although there are still large areas of the continent that lag behind, the levels of tech access found in, Europe and the USA, change is happening at an incredible rate. These changes are fueled by Africa’s innovators, who are helping alter how the rest of the world sees the globe’s second largest continent.

The rapid growth of technology

The growth of cellphones and the internet in Africa has happened so rapidly that access to personally owned technology has often happened before nations have built more routine infrastructure. Before many nations have even constructed reliable, national electricity supplies, individuals have access to cellphones that are fueling innovation, and changing people’s outlooks.

The cellphone company Ericsson, says that by 2019 there will be 930 million cellphones in Africa. The majority of Africa’s population is under 30, and the lack of infrastructure in many countries has proved to be a spur for creative solutions to everyday problems. Cellphone money transfer systems are one of Africa’s most popular technological services, in part fueled by the lack of access to banks that many people experience. This technology has now moved to the west, showing an intriguing reversal of the flow of new inventions. The developed world is now importing some of the developing world’s ideas and creations.

As broadband penetration expands, the opportunity for further innovation will become even greater. Access to regular cellphones is gradually moving towards access to smartphones. Around 20% of the continent currently has access to the internet, but this is expected to treble over the next 5 years. According to The Guardian, cellphone technology will account for 8% of Africa’s GDP by 2020, a figure that is more than double what it is anywhere else in the world.

African created apps now cover a broad range of areas, from providing question and answer services with registered doctors, to allowing farmers market figures to ensure they maximize their profits. A young generation of Africans across the continent have bypassed traditional technologies, such as landline phones and branch banking, and simply moved straight into a world of conducting everything via their cellphone.

Confronting the obstacles

Despite the swift growth in personal technology in Africa, there are still clearly issues around more routine forms of modernity that need to be overcome. For instance, in sub-Saharan Africa only around a third of people have access to grid electricity.

Cellphones are one thing, but for technology to become a genuine driving force – against poverty – there does need to be a minimum level of infrastructure.

Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, said, “If you can’t have electricity you can’t drive any industrial development… electricity drives everything, so until we fix that problem Africa faces huge challenges.”

This is an issue that organizations like the African Development Bank are addressing, with the ADB investing $150 billion over the next 10 years in order to try and provide connectivity to a further 130 million people.

Several nations have invested heavily in technology, in order to draw investment from major, foreign corporations, and also to provide openings for domestic talent to shine. Kenya in particular has looked to announce itself as a global leader in nurturing tech innovation, including the construction of an entire tech city (Konza) to create jobs, support start-ups and attract foreign investment.

Continuing to adapt

There are areas in which Africa has incorporated new technology very quickly, with e-commerce being one of the most notable success stories. Nigeria’s Jumia Group is Africa’s first tech “unicorn”, meaning that the company is valued at $1 billion.

For other companies to have such success, and for Africa’s tech entrepreneurs to feel empowered, there needs to be cross continental support from governments. There are signs that several governments intend to help support tech innovation, and the hope has to be that as this brings increased prosperity to individual nations, so their neighbors will follow suit.

Mteto Nyati, chief executive of MTN (South Africa’s second largest telecommunications company), says that the continent needs “partnerships between governments and mobile operators” in order to ensure that future technology, such as 5G, is widely available.

Aside from the money that Kenya’s government has invested in technological infrastructure; there are other governments showing determined efforts to embrace the opportunities that technology offers. Rwanda aims to become Africa’s first “cashless society” in terms of the public sector, and it has spent 15 years working to digitize much of society.

What is most exciting in such a fast changing continent is that this leap forward in tech innovation can help solve long term difficulties faced by normal people. Technology commentator, Ory Okolloh, states that many African startups now are “thinking about innovative ways to solve real problems in the market.” The next generation of African entrepreneurs looks set to benefit from a continent that has truly embraced technology.

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The African school girls who are coding their way to new opportunities

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Technology

In the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), women are widely underrepresented in both further education and professional roles. This issue is even more pronounced in developing nations, where an increase in female representation, within these areas, could help break cycles of poverty, and offer the next generation role models that help foster long-term change.

However, there are projects that are already addressing this, and in several African countries high-school girls are learning coding skills that could help change both their futures and those of women across developing nations.

Coding for a new tomorrow

In a world in which social media and smartphone apps are ubiquitous aspects of the developed world, coding has become a huge area of employment and invention. In the developing world, cellphone technology is widespread, and the proliferation of smartphone technology is spreading.

However, for girls and women in countries like Kenya, long standing ideas around gender combine with widespread poverty to make the internet age inaccessible for many of them. In the slums of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, only 20% of women have internet access, compared with 57% of men.

This situation not only holds back women, but the country at large, as STEM employment opportunities spread best when there is a large base of potential talent. The current imbalance may well begin to change, as several organizations are now helping to provide tech education to girls in Kenya, Uganda and Senegal.

The charity, Theirworld, is running “Code clubs” across these three nations, in which schoolgirls can learn a variety of skills within STEM fields, something that can help alter ideas about education, while providing the girls in question with new skillsets.

Theirworld launched the first code club in conjunction with Kano Code Academy and Africa Gathering, and they had funding from Facebook. Theirworld President, Sarah Brown, explained, “With a safe space to learn and play, a mentor to inspire, and access to technology…we can increase learning opportunities, and empower girls to fulfill their potential.”

Before International Women’s Day, Theirworld launched a social media campaign with the title #RewritingTheCode, which aimed to raise awareness about the problems facing girls around the world within STEM fields and education at large.

Even more promisingly, this is not the only organization that has looked to provide females with educational support within Africa, and there are already success stories that show how beneficial such provisions could become.

From Kenya to beyond

In Kenya, one group of schoolgirls took advantage of another program supporting girls in STEM fields, and found themselves as finalists in a global competition for schoolgirls in technology. Kenyan cellphone company, Safaricom, operates a scheme that provides technology education to girls, along with access to mentors who help them build upon their new skills.

Harriet Karanja is only 16 years old, but with support from Safaricom’s scheme, she created an app with friends called M-Safiri, which means “traveler” in Swahili. The app allows users to buy bus tickets remotely, and then get GPS guidance to the bus-stop of your choice, without having to wait on the street.

Karanja and her friends made the finals of a global competition, held in San-Francisco, a huge achievement for them, but also a glowing endorsement of the project.

While it is admirable that charities such as Theirworld are helping females access the STEM world in Africa, it is even more encouraging that domestic tech giants like Safaricom are recognizing the need for change, and the wealth of talent that they can help foster. The American company, Intel, has also funded mentor schemes in Kenya, and Kenya’s already blossoming tech scene looks set to finally make use of all of its young talents, rather than losing 50% of its potential due to gender discrimination.

If Kenya can lead the way, then the projects in Uganda and Senegal can surely follow in their success, and bodies like Theirworld already plan on expanding into another 3 African nations by the end of the year. Marieme Jamme, Co-Founder of Africa Gathering, said “Africa is crying out for young women with STEM skills and knowledge.” Hopefully the changes occurring will ensure that what Africa is crying out for, will soon be something that Africa gets.

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Kenya’s ride hail market shows African businesses adapting to global trends

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured, Technology

When Uber took its taxi app to Kenya in 2015, the response was mixed as it has been in most markets. While many people embraced the service, others felt it undermined local taxi cab operators, and there were protests against the US Company.

However, over the course of its time in Africa, Uber has actually led to African businesses adapting to what it offers, and in Kenya a domestic rival app is already proving highly successful.

A Kenyan response to globalization

When globalization brings a new product to an emerging market, the response from locals is always likely to be mixed. Just as some will be delighted to share in a popular aspect from a developed nation, others will be concerned about the impact upon local culture and businesses. With a service like Uber there is clearly no concern over an erosion of local culture, but there are serious issues around how it affects local businesses. The same worries around exploitation of drivers that have captured headlines in the US and Europe have been replicated in Kenya, along with a worry that local taxi firms will be driven out of business.

In fact, earlier this year, the United Kenya Taxi Organization demanded that Kenya’s government banned Uber from the East African nation. While this did not happen Kenyan business has spawned a domestic rival. The upshot of this rivalry is that Uber has had to diversify what it offers to customers in an attempt to stay ahead of the game.

The local rival is called Little Cab, and it was launched in July this year by the Kenyan telecommunications giant Safaricom in conjunction with software firm, Craft Silicon. Evidently this is not a story of a small startup fighting a global brand, but nevertheless it is an African company ensuring market competition. Little Cab immediately set out to quell concerns over driver wages by announcing that it would only take 15% of drivers’ earnings, compared with Uber’s standard rate of 25%.

Little Cab did not end its points of differentiation there though; it also ensured that it provided free Wi-Fi in its cars, cheaper prices, and the option for female customers to request a female driver. Not only has Little Cab proved popular with consumers, it has forced Uber to alter its standard model and try to offer more to the Kenyan public. Within months of Little Cab’s launch, Uber slashed its Kenyan prices by 35%, a move that obviously benefits the taxi using people of the country.

Little Cab also allows users to pay in cash, and due to the scope of Safaricom’s telecommunications network, the service can also be used by people without a smartphone. A simple SMS can order a taxi with Little Cab, opening up the market – to an even wider number of potential users – as around 50% of Kenyan cellphone owners do not have a smartphone yet.

Moving Forward

As Little Cab continues to grow, it is likely to fuel even greater innovation from its rival, which should mean a better service for the customers. The former national minister of technology and information, and a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Nairobi, Bitange Ndemo, highlighted the appeal of Wi-Fi in Little Cab’s cars and spoke of the rivalry with Uber saying,

“Both of them will have to look at what they are offering with bundled services in their vehicle.”

Uber claims that since its launch in Kenya, over 1 million trips have been taken by Kenyans, and that in Nairobi the service gets more than 100,000 hits a month. This is a figure that Little Cab strongly believes it will match, as Craft Silicon CEO, Kamal Budhabhatti, said that, “Little Cab aims to achieve one million rides in the next six months by entrenching and differentiating ourselves as a homegrown taxi app.”

In August of this year, drivers formed the Kenyan Digitial Taxi Association to lobby for worker rights and better pay deals. Drivers now have more leverage as they are able to simply move to a rival company if they feel the benefits are greater.

As competition for ride hailing services in Kenya steps up, if Uber want to avoid being overtaken by African innovation, they will have to work to the famous idea of “Think globally, act locally”.

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Top four South African banks boost IT spending

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Technology

As customers shift to electronic banking, South Africa’s four largest banks spent a total of more than $2 billion on information technology and personnel to run it during the year ending in June. At the same time, two of the four banks, Barclays Africa’s Absa bank and Standard Bank, have closed dozens of branch offices, a further reflection of the growing preference for virtual banking, especially among young consumers. The $2.1 billion IT spend represented about 15 percent of the banks’ total operating costs for the same period, according to Hilton Tarrant, an analyst based in Johannesburg with the tech firm immedia. In addition to Barclays Africa’s Absa and Standard Bank, Tarrant’s analysis includes First National Bank and Nedbank. Tarrant also said IT spending is increasing, led by Standard and Barclays. For example, Standard Bank’s IT spending, including salaries, totaled $900 million in 2015, up 11 percent from the year before. Barclays Africa spent $480 million, a seven percent increase over the prior year.

Trend expected to continue

“The trend is only going to accelerate as transactions continue to be offloaded to Internet and mobile banking,” Tarrant said, noting that native mobile banking apps with better security would also drive the appeal of electronic banking. In total, the four banks have reduced the number of branches in South Africa from 3,005 in 2011 to 2,862 at the end of 2015, a reduction of 143 branch offices or five percent, according to Tarrant. Barclay’s Absa closed more than 100 branches in the last five years, and Standard Bank over 50. First National Bank has about the same number of branches as it had in 2011 and Nedbank has added 13 branch offices. In 2015, Barclay’s Absa had the largest footprint of the four with 784 branches. First National Bank had 723, Nedbank 708 and Standard Bank 647.

Branch offices incur high costs

While there have been complaints about bank branch closings, Tarrant said that is a good idea, given high costs to operate them and reduced consumer interest in banking in person, especially among mobile-focused young people. “Traditional banks’ branches have high costs, which is one of the reasons why the companies have pushed hard to shift transactions to electronic channels,” Tarrant said. South Africa is part of a global and continental trend toward electronic banking. In 2014, mobile money transactions generated more than $650 million in revenue in sub-Saharan Africa and the amount is expected to double to $1.3 billion by 2019, according to research by Frost and Sullivan ICT. According to the World Bank, fewer than 25 percent of the 1.4 billion  population of the continent have a bank account while 40 percent have a mobile phone.

Banks dominate mobile market in South Africa

On the continent, South Africa is unusual. With 75 percent of the adult population using banking services, the country’s banks have established themselves the major players in online and mobile transactions. In many other sub-Saharan African countries, where a much smaller share of the population uses any banking services, mobile service providers dominate the marketplace. Earlier this year, a top East African bank announced plans to challenge a major telecommunications operator to gain a larger share of Kenya’s electronic banking market. Banks in Cameroon, Mali and Nigeria also are trying to tap into the growing market of electronic payments.

In contrast, efforts by telecommunications companies to crack the South African electronic money market have foundered. The African telecom giant MTN in September announced it would halt its mobile money service, saying it was not commercially viable. It was the second telecom to drop service in South Africa this year. In May, Vodacom, a Vodafone subsidiary and the nation’s largest mobile network, announced it was throwing in the towel after its M-Pesa service – popular in other countries including Kenya – failed to catch on. The company had hoped to sign up 10 million South African users when it launched M-Pesa in 2010. However, by 2015, only one million people had signed up and only 76,000 were active on the platform.

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Jamila Abass: Changing the face of farming in Africa

Comments (0) Agriculture, Featured, Technology

Jamila Abass is a shining example of the young, innovative, tech-focused generation emerging throughout Africa. Her business, M-Farm – a tech solution that provides valuable services to Kenya’s farmers – is a fantastic model of how technology is breaking down long-standing barriers. Early in her life, Abass worked tending crops in her family’s small kitchen garden. She grew and sold kale and coriander, giving her perspective on the agricultural industry, and playing a key part in her later interest in rural development. Abass proved to be a gifted student. She went on to study Computer Software Engineering at the Université Abdelmalek Essaâdi Tétouan in Morocco. After graduating in 2009, Abass teamed up with fellow tech entrepreneur Susan Oguya. They were both perturbed by the state of Kenya’s farming industry. Abass said, “The newspapers always had sad stories of farmers getting exploited by middlemen.” She explained that unscrupulous intermediaries were leveraging farmers into selling their produce for a fraction of their true market value; a situation which had been ongoing for decades.

Tackling the exploitation of farmers

Abass and Oguya wanted to develop a solution to tackle this issue. They conceptualized a digital platform that farmers could access through their mobile phones. They theorized that this marketplace would arm farmers with the information they needed to protect themselves and make smarter decisions. Looking back, Abass explained “They (farmers) had no information and no alternative market. We wanted to close that information gap between the farmers and the market”.

Soon after coming up with the idea, the pair took their concept to the IPO48 challenge, a kick-starter designed to support promising online solutions. Abass and Oguya won a US$10,000 dollar prize and subsequently began building M-Farm. M-Farm began as an SMS service by which farmers could check the daily prices for over 40 popular crops, and identify buyers throughout the country. Through partnering with renowned tech startup M-Pesa, M-farm allowed farmers to make and receive mobile payments. With mobile phone technology widely available across Kenya, M-Farm is an affordable option for even the poorest rural farmers. By 2012, Abass had over 5,400 users on the platform. These farmers had managed to more than double their profits, thanks to the direct links M-Farm offered with legitimate buyers and exporters.

Progress, but some still struggling

In late 2012, M-Farm made the finals of the highly prestigious Unreasonable Institute Exhibition. M- Farm’s success was on full display, and Abass’s excellent presentation brought valuable exposure to the firm, ultimately attracting further investment. With financing secured, Abass and the team looked at ways that they could improve their service. They identified that for some farmers, simply providing them with pricing information was not enough to improve their fortunes. Many were still struggling to access the markets and get a fair price for their crops.

Abass identified that rural growers were producing in low volume, and that for major buyers, it was impractical and expensive to acquire the produce they needed from multiple small-scale enterprises. To counter this, M-Farm launched its group selling tool this enabled local farmers to form cooperatives, making their produce more attractive and easier to sell. Abass quickly extended the cooperative model by rolling out a buyer's cooperative feature, whereby farmers can band together and negotiate better purchases of fertilizer, seeds, and equipment.

International ambitions

The M-Farm platform has evolved to become a powerful and promising tool. As Abass said, “There are so many things you can do with the technology.” Today the platform offers transport services to farmers through partnerships with local logistics and haulage businesses. M-Farm now also arms its members with valuable industry knowledge. For instance, farmers can access expert agricultural advice, forecasts for future crop demands, or guidance on international regulations such as prohibited chemicals and pesticides.

Abass has also made inroads into the international market, establishing links with major retailers in Europe who are keen to run a socially responsible supply chain. With over 22,000 clients now thriving in Kenya, it’s clear Abass has a seriously effective business. She now intends to scale M-Farm globally, bringing its considerable benefits to farmers in other emerging countries. The story of Abass and M-Farm signifies how entrepreneurship and technology are changing the face of Africa.

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New bank SunTrust focuses on tech to make changes in Nigeria

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Technology

A new player has arrived in Nigeria’s banking sector. SunTrust Bank officially opened for business last month, becoming the first new institution to be granted licensing by the Central Bank of Nigeria since 2001. SunTrust has been making headlines due to its innovative, tech-driven business model that stands in stark contrast to Nigeria’s traditional financial entities. The bank could prove to be a disruptive force within the country’s banking space.

A technology based bank is born

Muhammad Jibrin, the bank’s Chief Executive Officer, has been one of the driving forces behind the bank’s emergence. Jibrin founded SunTrust in 2009, at the time the firm was focused solely on mortgage lending. After enjoying years of steady success, the board decided to pursue a commercial banking license, a notoriously difficult proposition given Nigeria’s stringent financial controls. SunTrust finally obtained the coveted license in late in 2015, becoming the first new bank to do so since the beginning of the 2000s. Jibrin and the SunTrust team have a vision of providing a modern, technology driven service that will change the way banking works within Nigeria. He said “Banking is no longer where you go, it is what people do. Therefore, the only thing that can stand the future is no longer physical branches, but banking services that would be driven by technology.”

New ways of banking can help millions

Nigeria remains woefully underserviced by the traditional banks in the nation. An estimated 40 Million adult Nigerians are currently “unbanked”. SunTrust is looking to bring quality banking services to this demographic. In order to achieve this SunTrust has laid out a daring strategy and ambitious goals. The bank only runs a handful of branches as it is restricted in where it can physically operate by its regional license. However, this suits their strategy just fine. SunTrust intends to attract customers the length and breadth of the country by focusing on purely electronic banking services. Jibrin said: “We will be everywhere because we are not limited by barriers or by physical location; technology is not limited physically and therefore whether you are in the South-East or in the North, we can easily service you.” Less branches on the ground means less overheads; SunTrust says that it will be able to offer the same services, more cheaply and effectively than the traditionally encumbered financial institutions.

SunTrust focused on the future of finance

Jibrin recently made an excellent point about the future of banking in Nigeria. He pointed out that 70% of Nigeria’s population could currently be classified as “young” and that this demographic is growing rapidly. The country has approximately 170 million citizens, yet this number will be as high as 220 million by 2025, making Nigeria one of the youngest countries on the planet. It is this growing, young and tech savvy population who largely don’t have access to, or can’t afford traditional banking services. SunTrust intends to be the bank for the new Nigerian generation. SunTrust has received praise for its courageous decision to launch in the midst of a recession, an unprecedented event for a financial institution. Charles Onyema Ugboko, SunTrust’s Chairman, said that going into business at this time proved that “the board and management are committed to the growth of the Nigerian economy.” Similarly, SunTrust has been lauded for its intent to focus on small and medium scale enterprises. These companies have long struggled to obtain credit from traditional banks, yet SunTrust intends to break the mold by placing them in clusters and cooperatives which will help to mitigate risk. The bank’s board is dedicated to this strategy as they feel that these underserviced businesses hold immense potential to drive growth In Nigeria.

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