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Can Bahrain’s Fintech Bay hub lead the region?

Comments (0) Business, Featured, Middle East

The Fintech (Financial Technologies) market is a huge one and one that continues to grow. It consists of products, such as apps, platforms, and other technologies, catering to the financial sector. It can cover anything from bank to bank transfer technology through to consumer contactless payment apps. In 2018, the global fintech market had a value of around US$127.66 billion and that value is forecast to grow to $309.98 billion by 2022, an impressive annual growth rate of 24.8%. 

More and more companies are looking to cashless payment systems to pay for goods bought online or in the physical world. One of the industry giants, PayPal, had reached 267 million active users by the end of 2018 and there are many other competitors looking to increase their market share. 

It was perhaps inevitable, in a long evolutionary chain from Silicon Valley and other such sites, that small areas dedicated to companies working in Fintech would emerge. They offer ideal locations for Fintech startups – and some already established companies – to work in close proximity and to encourage tech development. In February of 2020, there were 8,775 such startups in America, 7,385 in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and 4,765 in the Asia Pacific region.

Sao Paulo, Bangalore, Mumbai, and New Delhi are challenging the traditional financial fiefdoms 

In recent years, countries in the Middle East have been investing heavily in the future of various sciences and technologies. With Dubai leading the way with the region’s first Fintech hub – now 15 years old – other countries in the region have looked to join a lucrative and booming sector that offers many opportunities and creates new jobs. 

The Findexable Global Fintech Index City Rankings identifies that the growth of these Fintech hubs marks a movement away from the traditional financial centres of the past. While no Fintech companies have yet to make the Fortune 500 or the S&P 500, that could be in part to the very nature of many Fintech companies. They tend to be young and ambitious and often focusing on niche markets such as cashless payments within a small geographical area. And while the traditional centres of the financial industry still feature in any Top 20 list of Fintech hubs, it is the new entries that are most interesting. Cities such as Sao Paulo, Bangalore, Mumbai, and New Delhi are challenging the traditional financial fiefdoms of old and Dubai and Bahrain are not far behind. 

Successful Fintech Hub: Bahrain Is an Attractive Choice

Deloitte believes there are four essential factors needed for a successful Fintech hub: capital, talent, demand, and policy & regulation. Capital is something that is not lacking in the region and the Bahrain hub is aiming to attract talent not only from the Middle East and Africa but from anywhere in the world. By also attracting existing experts in the field, they hope to nurture their own and regional talent. As far as demand is concerned, the demand for new and better Fintech products continues to grow, even in the midst of a global pandemic, and in some ways that crisis has increased need. 

Finally, Bahrain Fintech hub offers many incentives and positive policies that makes choosing Bahrain as a location an attractive choice. With access to international partners and a global network, Bahrain Fintech Hub offers attractive potential to new startups. Its geographical location is also a major advantage as it is ideally situated to not only serve the Middle East and Africa, but also Europe and Asia. Bahrain has also introduced fast track regulatory frameworks that allows it to bring in regulations quickly for newly emerging ideas and products, something other hubs do not always offer. 

Bahrain’s Fintech Hub Can Only Grow 

In January 2020, the Bahrain Fintech Hub announced a major partnership with Standard Chartered, the British multinational financial institution that operates in more than 70 countries. This will not only allow startups access to one of the world’s leading banking group but will also allow Standard Chartered potential access to new ideas as they happen. 

Fintech is an area that will continue to grow, and Bahrain is positioning itself to take advantage of that growth and to challenge the current Top 10 Fintech hubs. Even with a pandemic causing disruption in most business sectors, Fintech experts and entrepreneurs continue to develop new ideas and systems. With the financial backing and strong policies they have in place, Bahrain’s Fintech hub can only grow and grow. 

Photos : bahrainedb.com – bibf.com – unfoldbrics.art – bizbahrain.com

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Agricultural data is becoming big business in Africa

Comments (0) Business, Featured, Non classé

Africa can often be a continent of major contradictions, but perhaps especially when it comes to agriculture. The African Development Bank (ADB) released a recent report which stated that the continent contained an astounding 65% of the world’s uncultivated but arable land. Many areas also have an abundance of fresh water. The soil is extremely fertile, and the continent has around 300 days of sunshine every year. And when you look at the working population, in excess of 60% of people work in the agricultural sector in some capacity. 

Yet despite that potential, the continent as a whole continues to import much of its food ($64.5 billion in 2017) and many regions continue to suffer annual famines with around five million Africans dying every year from hunger and over a quarter of the population classified as “severely food insecure in 2016”.

To increase efficiency and productivity – and thus hopefully reduce hunger and reliance on imports – many African countries are now looking to data collection and analysis for solutions and creating a new demand and market by doing so. 

A lot of Challenges to Face

There are a number of challenges that Africa’s agricultural sector faces. As far as development of uncultivated land is concerned, many areas have poor or no transport links. There may be little in the way of communications, little credit to buy the machinery and seed stock needed to cultivate the land, issues with property rights, endemic corruption at local and national levels, a lack of access to technology, and various other issues. 

Many now see the use of data identifying the areas offering the most lucrative prospects as the way to move forward. Coupled with simpler smart phones to be used in situ, data scientists can analyse data from satellite imagery and records of climate and weather patterns to help focus on those initially promising areas. 

Another major problem that faces the sector, and also another that technology may offer a solution to, is that many African agricultural products are subject to the overuse of pesticides (or the use of banned pesticides). This means that they do not pass the stringent standards of target markets such as the European Union. 

Using Technology

Companies such as Acquahmeyer in Ghana are now using drones to monitor the health of crops so as to allow farmers to reduce their reliance on these pesticides. At $5 to 10 per acre, this is a growing data market across the continent. 

The ADB are also investing in data and data collection. As of 2018, they had launched a drone programme partnering with the Tunisian government and the city of Busan in South Korea. The programme will include training 32 young Tunisians on how to pilot drones and collect agricultural data. 

South African startup, Zindi, is another African company looking to harness data to improve agricultural yields. They use their platform to host competitions that brings together over 9,000 African data scientists to crunch numbers and data from satellite imagery and other sources to provide real solutions on – and in – the ground. 

But it is also about different data sets being harnessed to improve agriculture. In Nigeria, the government are undertaking a major registration programme to include its farmers on an electronic wallet system. This will allow the government to make grants and subsidy payments, share information on better farming practices, and help improve the continental supply chain. 

Monsanto Has Established Data Sharing Agreements: Good News for Africa?

Multinational conglomerate, Monsanto, has already established data sharing agreements with the American agricultural machinery producer, Agco. They also launched Climate FieldView in 2018, a tool specifically designed to collect and exploit agricultural data from across Africa. Given Monsanto’s track history, there are justifiable worries that while African NGOs seek to reduce hunger and poverty by increasing crop yields. 

Hopefully, the Pan-African efforts by various parties will continue to yield promising results.

Photos : blogs.worldbank.org / idss.mit.edu / agroinformatics.org

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Gauteng Emerging as South Africa’s App Development Hub

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

South Africa app

Gauteng province in South Africa is fast emerging as a center for app development on the continent.

It wasn’t long ago that finding an Internet connection in Sub-Saharan Africa was next to impossible. Today, the scene couldn’t be more different: millions of young Africans are as connected to the Internet as their European or American counterparts. Through mobile phones and devices, many of the logistical challenges surrounding Internet infrastructure have been avoided. African businesses have been particularly aware of the potential of the Internet. Many small businesses are taking full advantage of the options available to them through app creation, and certain areas are fast emerging as app development hubs. According to Cassie Lessing, the Managing Director of the Strato IT Group, Gauteng Province, where both Pretoria and Johannesburg lie, is leading the way in app development.

In the Middle of it All

It comes as no surprise, then, that the province that is home to South Africa’s de facto and legal capitals should be a hub for innovation. As new businesses make their way into the market, app developers are highly sought after: the app economy is expected to create trillions of dollars of direct and indirect opportunities around the world, and Africa is no exception. The African Internet population is so mobile that they are poised to leapfrog directly into the era of apps, bypassing the cumbersome online experience. There are numerous websites where businesses can look for app development companies and individual developers, a fascinating look at the truly online nature of the future.

Already the country’s economic powerhouse, Gauteng provides app developers with more resources than they would have elsewhere. With a plethora of cool hang-outs and co-working spaces, young thinkers are able to learn from one another in informal environments, thus enriching each individual’s skill set. The apps that are being developed are varied and seem to span across nearly every field: news, government information, entertainment, healthcare services, mining, logistics, shopping and banking are just a few of the numerous industries in which apps have recently emerged.  “Economies rely on information to function effectively and the app economy represents a leap forward towards the goal of an informed and efficient knowledge-based society. Organizations that do not adopt and utilize the emerging technologies like mobility, digitization and cloud will be disadvantaged and lose out to the early adopters,” Lessing says.

Piloting the Future

Lessing’s company, the Strato IT Group, has been quick to capitalize upon the growing app market. Strato boasts an impressive “satisfied clients” portfolio, with big names such as Toyota, Deloitte and Babcock, to name a few. Unlike other companies in their field, Strato claims it prioritizes face-to-face relationships rather than the faceless services provided by mainstream IT companies. Ironic, given that a common side effect of mobile apps is to reduce the time users spend making face-to-face interactions with the world around them.

With a reputation built upon excellence, Strato has long been the go-to company for businesses looking to enhance their online presence. They now provide clients with app management, app development and consulting, as well as the newer “Application Management Outsourcing” (AMO) whereby Strato finds developers with the required “scarce skills” to handle a client’s needs.

The Strato IT Group has begun a pilot project whereby consumers (companies in need of apps) are able to connect with developers and be a part of the app creation process. This allows consumers to access experts while maintaining their company’s identity. “This approach not only serves to test and enhance product, but also provides valuable raw material for proof of concept and proof of value exercises,” says Lessing of the project.

The Future is Now

Strato exemplifies the opportunities available for businesses from any sector: connecting businesses with app developers not only increases the visibility of both parties, but provides users with services that increase ease of access. Apps developed through the Strato IT Group and elsewhere have already increased the efficiency with which South Africans can go about their daily lives: the recent launch of an app-accessible stock market, the creation of cheap fuel finding apps and app-based coupons have all made life a little easier and a little cheaper for South Africans.

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Tech Titans: The Battle for Africa

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

Microsoft 4afrika initiative

The tech giants are busy building in Africa as the continent represents a golden opportunity to reach new customers while transforming African society.

We all know the names Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and IBM. These are the tech titans who have forged the modern world we inhabit and hardly entities that the general public associates with Africa. However, foresight and innovation enabled these behemoths to propel the developed world to a new future. Now, the tech giants have foreseen that Africa’s future is one of abundant potential.

The reasons behind this trend are actually rather simple. Africa possesses 7 of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies. As a whole, Africa is the fastest growing region on earth. For tech companies this has created two general fronts on which to engage the continent. Firstly, this growth has led to the emergence of the African middle class. Tech companies suddenly have a new market in which consumers are hungry for their products. Secondly, this new market has enormous potential to grow. With limited tech infrastructure, such as internet access and mobile networks, the adoption of new technologies is still very much in its infancy across huge parts of the region. If top companies generate the conditions for mass tech usage, they stand to gain an enormous new customer base while improving the lives of millions; a veritable win-win situation.

Africa, a new frontier for Google, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM

Microsoft was arguably the first global tech company to take a major active interest in Africa. Three years ago, the company started its 4Afrika initiative. The $75m program was designed to train thousands of Africans either for their own businesses or for the company’s 22 African offices. Simultaneously the program focused on getting affordable smart devices into the hands of millions of new customers. Amrote Abdella, the regional director of the 4Afrika project said, “In order to drive the knowledge economy, we need to drive connectivity so Africans can create and access content.”

As a result the company is experiencing strong growth in the region. However, rather than resting on their laurels, Abdella went on to explain why Microsoft intends to build on its successes: “Three years down the road one of the things that we have learnt is that the need and the demand on Africa is about doubling down on investments we are making around connectivity and smart services.”

Digify, Project Loon, Link… Ambitious plans for Africa

Project Loon

Project Loon

The connectivity race is on in earnest. Google first tested the African waters back in 2012, with an SMS based version of its Gmail service. Today, their efforts have intensified while becoming more imaginative. Google intends to utilize its cheekily named “Project Loon” in the region. Loon is a network of communications balloons positioned high in the stratosphere that can be strategically maneuvered to provide connectivity in remote areas where coverage is lacking. Data is then passed through the balloon network before being transferred down to the global internet.

Google has two other notable initiatives in the region, Link and Digify. Link has seen the installation of metro fiber optic Wi-Fi networks across Uganda and Kampala, with a further roll-out underway in Ghana. Digify is a major commitment to train 1 million Africans in digital skills. Google spokeswoman Michelle Atagana explained the strategy behind the project: “The idea is to improve people’s skills so that they can increase their chances of becoming employed or start their own businesses.”

Not to be bested, Facebook is focused on waging ambitious campaigns in the booming new market. In 2015, the social media giant opened its first African office in Johannesburg. Additionally, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg highlighted plans to provide satellite internet to rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa. He explained why he felt the move was key by saying, “To connect people living in remote regions, traditional connectivity infrastructure is often difficult and inefficient, so we need to invent new technologies.”

Investing to impact

IBM has also been incredibly busy in Africa in recent years. The company has opened new research centers, invested in local businesses, funded a $60m computer skills program, and created new initiatives designed to drive the usage of big data, analytics and cloud computing. Dr. Kamal Bhattacharya, the director of IBM Research explained why the company is taking such a significant interest: “As scientists we believe that science and technology is an enabler to express your needs, it is an enabler to shape your own future. And this is why IBM is making this very significant investment into Africa.”

Where the tech giants go, immense progress and social transformation follows. Economically, Africa will benefit immeasurably as the continent gains skills and business is increasingly done in today’s tech space. Socially, Africans will be able to access a global treasure trove of information, use life changing services and communicate in a way never before possible.

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From Tragedy to Tech Triumph: Mubarak Muyika

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Leaders

Mubarak Muyika

The remarkable story of Mubarak Muyika and his burgeoning tech empire.

The tech scene is exploding across Africa as ambitious young entrepreneurs are changing the face of the continent. Kenyans have been at the vanguard of the action in recent years. One individual currently making big waves is Mubarak Muyika, a dynamic 22 year old with a colorful past.

Muyika was born in Western Province, Kenya. His father was a prominent civil servant and his mother was a high school teacher. Unfortunately, his young life was marked by tragedy: his father passed away when he was two years old. Then, when he was ten, his mother died and the young orphan was taken in by his mother’s sister and her husband.

Great Beginnings

It has long been observed that tragedy seemingly makes, or breaks an individual. In Muyika’s case, it was most certainly the former. He was known as a sharp and gifted student and it was in the early days of high school that his tech-entrepreneurial promise first blossomed.

Aged 16, Muyika developed the “enhanced petrol tracker.” The tracking database was designed to mitigate government mismanagement of oil resources by more efficiently cataloguing oil tanker movements, oil flow and demand. The project was incredibly well received. He was recognized as the best student in the computer exhibit category at the annual Kenya Students Congress on Science and Technology.

His adoptive parents were the owners of a book publishing and distribution company, Acrodile Publishers. Mubarak realized that the web presence provided by their current website manager was substandard and expensive, bottlenecking the company’s productivity. He taught himself PhP, Java and HTML and built a highly functional website for the business.

Business Blossoms

On the back of his newly earned skills, Mubarak launched his first business, Hype Century Technologies and Investments LTD. The company offered website designation, management, domain reselling and hosting services. He enlisted the help of two friends and the business quickly began to take off.

In a 2012 interview, Mubarak spoke about Hype Century’s remarkable success in the startup period: “By May after our first financial year we had about 1,800 domains which represented clients in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and some in the RC (Republic of the Congo). That was something that I can say is the biggest achievement, in terms of where the company is today.”

It was during this early period that Kenyan multi-millionaire Chris Kirudi realized Mubarak’s great potential. Through his contacts he recommended Mubarak for a scholarship to one of the world’s most prestigious universities, Harvard. Incredibly, Mubarak turned down the scholarship in order to focus on his business ventures, demonstrating extreme belief in his own talents and entrepreneurial ability. He is a man who knows his own mind. He gave insight into his tenacious business philosophy, saying, “If you are in a society with intelligent people who have a plan and a strategy, you need a plan, a strategy, speed and aggression. That is the only way to succeed in Africa.”

Soon, Mubarak’s business attracted heavyweight attention. International tech investor Jignesh Patel teamed up with the rising star, buying a 25% stake in the company. This proved to be a shrewd move, as Patel’s connections and experience propelled the firm to even higher heights.

A Bright Future

Zagace platform

Zagace platform

However, Mubarak soon felt the itch to challenge himself further; he clarified his decision to move on from Hype Century saying, “I had the feeling that I was not maximizing my potential. I opted to sell my shares and develop a new venture.”

In 2013, he settled a deal netting himself a cool six figure settlement for his 60% stake. Astonishingly, Mubarak was still only 19 years old.

His newest venture, ZAGACE is both ambitious and innovative. His firm offers a unique service providing a completely integrated, online business management toolkit for small and medium sized companies. ZAGACE allows users to manage human resources, inventory, accounting and communications all through a series of well designed, instanced apps. The concept has been lauded as ingenious and effective.

Eager to feed his business with the best talent available, Mubarak has recently moved his operations to Silicon Valley, USA. The young Kenyan means serious business, and the world has noticed. In 2015, he was named one of Africa’s most promising entrepreneurs in Forbes 30 under 30, while Yahoo named him one of nine “Mark Zuckerbergs” of other countries. With his talent, resilience and determination, Mubarak Muyika is setting the tech scene ablaze. We will no doubt be hearing more about him, very soon.

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Smartphone opens up new possibilities for Morocco

Comments (0) Business, Featured, Middle East

morocco smartphone

Mobile and internet penetration in Morocco continues to grow and crossover, as the country embraces technology.

Technology, and in particular smartphone technology, is changing the way Moroccans live their daily lives. More significantly, the nation’s nascent love affair with smartphones and web apps offers great opportunities for economic growth.

The National Authority of Morocco’s telecoms regulator (ANRT) released a report, earlier this year, that assessed the growth of the telecoms market from 2010-2015. The report found huge growth in mobile phone use, both in terms of penetration and the average time spent using a phone per customer. At the forefront of this expansion, the report highlighted falling costs, especially in areas such as 4G, which has helped bring the use of mobile phones and the Internet more inline. This expansion has seen a 146% increase in the average monthly usage of mobile owners in the past 5 years.

Embracing new ways of living

It would be foolish to dismiss the impact that smartphone technology can have within a country. The Arab Spring movement was, in part, driven forward by the use of social media platforms such as Twitter, which allowed on the spot reports and information from everyday people. While Morocco is a stable country, without much of the political unrest found elsewhere in North Africa, the impact of smartphones and online activity has the potential to bring about an economic revolution.

Online shopping has exploded in Morocco, and the use of mobile phones for web purchases has grown at an astonishing rate. This not only benefits online giants, but encourages local companies and outlets to take advantage of the new trend. Research carried out by MasterCard illustrates just how rapidly the use of smartphones for shopping has increased. In 2013, MasterCard reported that only 9% of users had made an online purchase via their phone in the previous few months. When this survey of 4,000 people was repeated in 2014, the figure had soared to 66%!

Aaron Oliver, head of emerging payments for MasterCard Middle East & Africa, said, “With rapidly increasing internet penetration rates and availability of secure online payment options, the country’s e-commerce industry is well placed to achieve significant growth.”

E-commerce could provide Morocco with a source of revenue that shows no sign of diminishing on a global level, never mind in an emerging market – where the scope for increasing penetration is even larger.

Are social media and apps the second wave of growth?

The ANRT report on mobile expansion showed that in 2012, only 16% of mobile phone owners in Morocco owned a smart phone. By 2014, this figure had risen to 38.2%, which indicates just how quickly the mobile landscape has changed. However, social media has not yet reached anything like the ubiquitous nature of its standing in Europe and North America. This is, like most areas involving the Internet, changing and it is changing at pace.

The Arab Social Media Report found that by 2014, Facebook penetration in Morocco was at 16% of the population, and had a growth rate of 13%, which was the second highest in North Africa.

With social media come apps, social media games and the proliferation of advertising. All of these things open up doors for startup companies, and a wider customer base for existing businesses.

It is therefore no surprise that Moroccan game designers and entrepreneurs have already begun to drive the second wave of Moroccan internet and mobile growth. The private telecom group Inwi now hosts an event called Inwi Days, in which game designers have 24 hours to create a new web game, and pitch it to a panel of judges in order to win a $12,000 prize.

Méditel Telecoms have launched a similar competition for app designers, and while this development of technology is fairly new, the majority of winners have maintained clear roots to Moroccan culture and traditions.

Inwi Days gave two games, Trombia and Runner Roul, the shared first prize, and both games were inspired by Moroccan culture.

Méditel’s app challenge was won by the app Maroc Culture, which is a trivia game that tests the player’s knowledge of Moroccan culture and traditions.

As mobile phones become even more popular, and the Internet plays a greater role in the lives of people across Morocco, such markets will continue to grow. A young generation of innovators is now taking advantage of these openings to create new businesses and trends, but ones that remain quintessentially Moroccan.

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Nairobi establishes itself as one of Africa’s leading tech hubs

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

nairobi

Nairobi leads the way as Africa’s most recognized tech hub and it is set to get bigger.

Nairobi has been establishing itself as a tech hub for several years now. The high numbers of STEM graduates that come through the doors of the several colleges around the city have helped sustain this reputation. However, it is only in the past few years that the entrepreneurial ethos which fuels startups has really begun to flourish.

As things stand, Nairobi still has an unemployment rate of 40%, but the government is hopeful that by investing in the technological talent pool of the city, startup companies will help address this problem.

Quite simply, startups create jobs but only in recent years has the proliferation of mobile phones and the internet in Nairobi allowed tech startups to prosper.

Investing in the infrastructure of growth

Nairobi has had the potential to explode as a thriving tech hub for some time, but without the average person having access to the technology to provide a large customer base, the progress of the city was stifled.

However, Internet penetration has rocketed, with 43% of the Kenyan population having access in 2014, compared with only 14% in 2010. In addition to this, by 2014 82% of Kenyans had a mobile phone. These factors are instrumental in opening up markets for tech-based startups.

A prime example of this is the 2010 startup M-Farm that allows farmers to get instant access to market prices and where they can buy and sell goods at the click of a mobile phone button. The business was set up by three women who wanted to help farmers cut out middle men and make a greater profit. Co-founder, Linda Kwamboka sums up the importance of technological access by saying, “Mobile phones are the best way to go (for business).”

The enterprising nature of local people, together with the government, has ensured that the city and nation do not miss out on the opportunities that a tech centered industry could provide. In 2010, Nairobi’s iHub opened, a large complex for investors, entrepreneurs and tech graduates to converge and develop new ideas. In only 6 years, the hub has spawned 170 startup companies and created over 1,300 new jobs.

iHub in Nairobi

iHub in Nairobi

The iHub complex now seeks to be entirely self-funded and one of its creators, Erik Hersman told Forbes magazine that, “A group of people are investing in the iHub in order to help us grow…The iHub’s mission is to catalyze the growth of the Kenyan tech ecosystem.”

To help sustain such growth, the Kenyan government partnered with the firm Nailab to create a technology program worth $1.6 million that would provide funding and educational support to entrepreneurs. The support has worked.

By 2014, technology accounted for 8.4% of Kenya’s GDP, but this is a proportion that is continually rising. In fact in the summer of last year, Bloomberg reported that Kenya’s tech industry could be worth $1 billion over the next 3 years.

A city evolving

Despite the development in Nairobi, it is obviously a long way off catching up with the hugely prosperous cities of the developed world. But this is something that could well change. The range of startups is already hugely diverse, from laptop manufacturers like Taifa to the likes of Rehau HomeGas, which creates micro-biogas equipment that runs off cow manure.

New hubs for innovation are opening, with both the aforementioned startups coming from the newly established Nairobi Industrial and Technology Park. Moreover, the Economist Intelligence Unit has predicted that by the end of this year, Nairobi will be one of the 40 fastest growing urban economies on the planet.

What seems likely to maintain this meteoric rise is that the government continues to commit itself to investing further in the city’s development as opposed to treating its new success as a finished task. The country’s grandest plans center on a Techno City, which they hope to have opened by 2025. This complex would provide housing and work spaces for 200,000 professionals. Bloomberg reported that major corporations such as Samsung and Blackberry are already expressing interest.

When the US President Barack Obama visited Kenya last year, he spoke of an emerging economy and entrepreneurial spirit within the country.

The attitude of Kenya’s government, graduates and the people working within its tech industries can perhaps be summed up by a line from Obama’s speech that drew warm applause:

“Because of Kenya’s progress, because of your potential, you can build your future right here, right now.”

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Drawing On the Diaspora: Africa’s First Tech Diaspora

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

haweya-mohamed-afrobytes

Afrobytes, the first diaspora for African tech innovators, held a biannual conference on March 21-22 to discuss the future of development and role of technology for Africans.

Diasporas are common the world over but as the rigidity of nations and states disintegrates with the expansion of technological inclusion, the shape of diasporas is shifting. No longer are diasporas defined as concentrated groups of immigrants/non-native individuals in another country. Afrobytes, the self-described “first African tech diaspora in Europe,” aims to connect leaders in African innovation across the European and African continents to create a better flow of ideas. This sort of boundary-less platform is an intriguing look at the future of diasporas and the future of development.

Paris-based Afrobytes held its first conference on March 21-22, organized by CEO Ammin Youssef, and Head of Communications Haweya Mohammad. The goal of the conference was to bring the brightest minds from France (and greater Europe) and Africa together to discuss the future of Africa’s development. The conference was broken into four categories: mobile education; women as Africa’s future innovators; sustainable infrastructure development and sustainable agricultural development.

Featured speakers hailed from all corners of the globe with all varieties of expertise, from the founder of Libraries without Borders to the PR Manager of WeFarm, from the founder of an open source drone company, Flylab, to the creator of Nairobi’s premier co-working space, iHub. This enormously diverse group of speakers came together to discuss the best way to promote inclusive, sustainable, bottom-up development for the African people.

Inspiring Change: The Themes of the Day

The idea of “re-branding” Africa was a driving force behind the selected themes: after all, without investment, how can Africa develop outside of the traditional and increasingly obsolete top-down model? Re-branding Africa as a well-educated, innovative, inclusive (55% of speakers and attendees identified as women) and multi-faceted sustainable market is important for the future of the continent.

As all conferences on development must, Afrobytes kicked off with a half-day dedicated to the discussion around the role of technology in education. Experts in information-sharing were featured speakers, and topics ranged from traditional, school-based education to the borderless open-source sharing of the WeFarm platform. WeFarm, for example, connects more than 43,000 farmers from Sub-Saharan Africa and South America to share tips on sustainable agriculture near and far.

The next theme was women as the emerging innovators of Africa. While hardly new, the idea that women should be encouraged to think critically, listened to and seen as mentors is new to many, African and otherwise. The primarily female speakers gave lectures on connecting with commercial investors, utilizing co-working spaces, both physical and on-line, and more.

On March 22nd, discussions surrounding Africa’s next “raw material” focused on the necessity of providing African’s with 21st-century-standards of living, including universal access to reliable (and ideally renewable) sources of electricity. The challenges facing the start-up culture and overall clean energy sector were discussed, including a talk by leaders in existing sustainable agriculture initiatives like founder and CEO Abdoulaye Niang of Transconcept Food, Senegal, a company that specializes in the re-appropriation of traditional farming techniques for the modern world. GreenTec Capital spoke to the diverse group, saying “a lot of work is still to be done to support the African start-up environment, and we are thankful for initiatives like Afrobytes.”

Why an Online Diaspora?

The population of Africa is expected to double by 2050 to 2.5 billion, or one-quarter of the world’s projected population. Unless living conditions rapidly improve for millions of Africans, this level of population growth could prove disastrous. According to the African Economic Outlook, “despite progress, the level of human development in Africa remains low….gender inequality and exclusion exist in many countries,” which is exactly why the sorts of dialogue inspired at Afrobytes is so critical. Not only is Afrobytes an inclusive platform that provides women and men equal space to voice their ideas, but it is an important step away from traditional forms of top-down (or government-led) development.

More than three-fifths of Africa’s population is under 25 years old. These individuals have grown up with greater access to knowledge than any generation before, and are therefore more driven to change their surroundings because they are aware, to a painfully precise degree, of what they are missing out on in comparison to their foreign counterparts. The way in which Africa is developing demonstrates the importance of the free-flow of ideas between continents.

By inviting speakers from different physical diasporas, such as the Kenyan ambassador to France, Afrobytes has given its online diaspora a real sense of physical community. Eric Yoon of GreenTec Capital expects “Afrobytes to become an important platform for digital stockholders on the African data scene.”

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Adeeb Al Balushi: a Young Innovator

Comments (0) Featured, Leaders, Middle East

adeeb al balushi

One of the youngest inventors in the world, an Emirati schoolboy is being prepared for a future providing technological solutions to the problems of people around the world.

Adeeb Al Balushi is an eleven year old Emirati boy like any other, yet in some ways he is quite unlike most other children his age. Al Balushi is a young boy who from early childhood has been driven by a desire to help people. This started with his family when he realized that his father was limited by the performance of his prosthetic foot. In an attempt to lessen his father’s discomfort he designed a light-weight, waterproof version of the prosthetic. With this success under his belt he invented a cleaning robot for his mother having noticed that her work around the house could be made much easier. Never one to be content to rest on his laurels, his ambitions are much wider ranging: he went on to create such things as a fire proof helmet whose camera system allows the wearer to see better in a fire, a smart wheelchair and a seat belt system with a built in heart monitor which wirelessly sends what could be lifesaving information to the emergency services.

“I want to change the world. There are too many people in need of assistance and all I think of is how I can be of help,” says Adeeb Al Balushi.

World Technology Tour

Shaikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai has been proactive in supporting the growth and development of young Emirati innovators in general, and Al Balushi in particular. In 2014, a world tour was organized to seven of the most technologically advanced countries in the world: the United States of America, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Italy and Belgium. The purpose of the tour was to prepare Al Balushi for a future within the field of scientific research and in so doing help raise the profile of Dubai in the field. Conferences, workshops and meetings with leading innovators within the field were carefully planned, all the time ensuring that Al Balushi’s schooling would not be significantly affected by the tour.

The young inventor was recently invited to visit the headquarters of Thuraya, one of the world leaders in satellite telecommunication technology where he was shown the way the company also works tirelessly to bring solutions to problems; Al Balushi was provided a background to Thuraya’s efforts to bring satellite technology closer to the mainstream. Such products included the Satsleeve, a device enabling an ordinary smartphone to be used as a satellite phone, as well as the company’s IP+, which is extending broadband capabilities to areas which would normally not be able to connect to a network.

Adeeb Al Balushi

Awards and recognition

His tireless thirst for invention has led to a great deal of recognition for Al Balushi. He has been awarded the Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Distinguished Academic Performance and has addressed thousands of delegates at the ITU conference in Korea. Adeeb Al Balushi is the youngest and most recognized inventor in the United Arab Emirates. He is also a member of the Arab Robotics Association, with over sixty certificates of achievement to his name; he is considered the youngest Arab inventor in this field. The year 2013 saw Al Balushi gain the UN Information Centre’s Award of Excellence, while the The Arab Youth Council for Integrated Development (Aycid) have awarded him honorary membership and named him the head of their committee for young inventors and innovators.

Persistence is key

Al Balushi is obviously a very gifted young man with the support and mentorship of a state behind him. It is also clear that he is driven in his mission to help people the world over. The passion and the associated hard work are factors, the necessity of which is not lost on him, which he takes in stride.

“There are lots of paths to take through life, but the one that will ruin everything is to decide that it’s too hard and you give up. Then all is lost and everything you have accomplished is gone. Sometimes it’s the simple changes that can lead to the biggest discoveries,” says Adeeb Al Balushi.

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Kenya’s Tech Renaissance: Nairobi Set to Become Africa’s Key Technology Hub

Comments (2) Africa, Business, Featured

nairobi

Mobile and internet penetration, a mobile economy, developing tech ecosystems, and government support are set to make Nairobi Africa’s key technology hub.

Over the last half-decade, Kenya has rapidly developed into a country of digital innovation, and its capital Nairobi, dubbed Silicon Savannah, looks set to become Africa’s key technology hub. With a fast-growing urban economy and a young and digitally savvy population, it is already easier to pay for a taxi by mobile phone in Nairobi than it is in London or New York. Since 2002 Kenya’s technology services sector has grown to more than £300 million (2013) up from just £11 million. And VC funding for African startups, which hit more than $400 million in 2014, is projected to grow to at least $1 billion by 2018. Google, Intel, Nokia, Vodafone, and Microsoft have already opened sites in Nairobi. And IBM has chosen the city for its first African research lab (a $100 million Innovation Centre).

A mobile economy 

At root, this technology renaissance has been spurred by mobile phone penetration. Back in 1999, Kenya, as with most of the Africa region, had a rudimentary telecommunications infrastructure and counted only 300,000 landline telephones. Over the last decade, it has proved easier and cheaper for the country to bypass the analogue age entirely and instead move directly to installing mobile phone networks. Mobile phones are also easily accessible, cheap, and practical, especially when compared with a computer. And unsurprisingly in just a few years mobile phone penetration in Kenya has grown from less than 20% to 85% (it’s 89% in the US).

At the same time, Kenya lacks a traditional banking infrastructure. Until recently, for example, the high proportion of Kenya’s urban population working to support family members in the countryside relied on hand delivery or sending cash through bus drivers. And the combination of these two elements has created the perfect setting for a mobile payments-based economy.

In 2007, state-owned telecoms company Safaricom launched M-PESA, the SMS-based money-transfer system (pesa is Swahili for “money”). Converting even the most basic phones into roaming banking devices, M-PESA spread at speed. And by 2012, more than 17 million Kenyans (70% of the adult population) were using mobile payments, the highest percentage of any country in the world. Now more than $320 million dollars are transferred via Kenyan mobile phones each month as huge swathes of previously unbanked customers join the digital economy. Safaricom also sells solar-powered charging equipment to expand the market.

mpesaGovernment support

With a 40% unemployment rate to solve, the Kenyan government is also supporting the country’s technology renaissance, determined to leverage the opportunity to create jobs and drive sustainable economic growth for the next generation.

In 2009, the East African Marine system, backed by the Kenyan government, laid a 5,000 km fiber-optic undersea cable linking the coastal town of Mombasa with the UAE. And since this time, internet penetration has grown to just under 67% of the population. This is a significant growth from 2010 when internet penetration was around just 14%.

It has created a fertile marketplace for e-commerce and tech businesses, in which the government continues to invest. In 2013 the government formed an Information Communication Technology (ICT) Authority. It laid out a policy roadmap, Vision 2030, focusing on digital infrastructure (e.g. a new fiber-optic network). And it is currently building a multi-billion dollar “techno city” called Konza with aims to create 200,000 jobs by 2030. Located 60 km south of Nairobi, a 2,000-hectare plot will offer office parks for science and technology firms, a university, retail outlets, and residential facilities. Tax breaks are also being offered to companies willing to move to the new city.

A tech ecosystem

A tech ecosystem is also starting to emerge. Where traditional ecosystems may be lacking, Silicon Savannah is filling the gap with innovation hubs and accelerators. The trend has been led in part by Ushahidi co-founder Erik Hersman who considers the future of tech in Kenya reliant on hubs to bring together technology entrepreneurs, young programmers, creative professionals, and investors, along with their ideas and innovation. “Hubs in major cities with a focus on young entrepreneurs… Part open community workspace (co-working), part investor and VC hub and part idea incubator. The nexus point for technologists, investors, [and] tech companies,” says Hersman. Ushahidi established the iHub innovation Centre in 2010, and since then it has been part of creating 152 startups and counts 15,000 members. iHub has also partnered with the ICT Authority on several initiatives, has hosted speakers including Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, and has driven an upsurge in different types of innovation hubs across the continent.

Accelerators are also part of the emerging ecosystem. A particularly successful example is Nailab, which launched in 2011 to work with early stage globally scalable startups. So far it has incubated 30 companies, and in 2013 it partnered with the government to launch a $1.6 million technology program providing entrepreneurs with access to capital, education, and contacts within the industry. Tech competitions are also emerging. For example, the IPO48 startup competition brings together over 100 Kenyan entrepreneurs, programmers, designers, and project managers at a time, to build a new mobile or web service over the course of two days.

In Kenya, the stars of mobile and internet penetration, a mobile economy, developing infrastructure, and government support have aligned, and there are great opportunities ahead. And as its global reputation for innovation continues to grow, the country has the chance to future-proof itself both as an economic driver and Africa’s key technology hub.

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