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Africa's tech revolution: 40 innovators make a case for it

posted 26 Oct 2012, 07:51 by Mpelembe   [ updated 26 Oct 2012, 07:52 ]

Africa's top innovations start ups pitch for investment at a conference dubbed Demo Africa. The meet is a chance for some of the continent's unique minds to exhibit their innovations and partner with financiers.

 NAIROBIKENYA (OCTOBER 25, 2012) (REUTERS) -  Forty entrepreneurs from across Africa pitched their innovations to investors, venture capitalists and tech experts at a three day conference in Nairobi Kenya, which ended on Friday (October 26).

The DEMO Africa conference is a follow up from DEMO U.S. - a meeting of companies from around the world that helps launch innovation startups and where entrepreneurs have received 3.5 billion US dollars of capital in the last five years.

The first of its kind, Demo Africa aims to promote African tech-startups.

Among the participants was Kenyan innovator Nivi Murkherjee, whose mobile technology eLimu can help students enjoy a more interactive education experience by infusing fun, games and animation into school based learning.

Kenya has about 10 million primary school students and 2 million in high school.

Murkherjee made her pitch to a room of tech experts and spenders in the hopes of attracting 200,000 US dollars in investment to be able to reach that market.

"Six minutes goes by really fast, it is by no way in any product, no matter how simple your product is, there's no way in six minutes you will be able to cover every aspect, every feature, every advantage, every drawback of it. so I thought the judges were fair, I thought what they had to say was interesting, most of it was positive but yes, it would have been nice to make some clarifications about how the system works and how it is deployed in schools and how students are actually benefiting from it," she said.

"DEMO Africa for us is a platform, its a platform where we bring in start-ups which have a high potential of actually becoming successful businesses to launch. So they come to launch their products, they could be mobile applications, enterprise systems but they come to launch them at the DEMO stage," said DEMO producer Harry Hare.

Statistics show that Africa is hosting a revolution in innovation and technology mostly driven by increased mobile usage and access to the internet.

Africa is the world's fastest-growing mobile phone market and will be home to 738 million handsets, or nearly three mobiles for every four of its people, by the end of this year, according to an industry survey done in 2011.

South Africa and Kenya made up the majority of the 40 entrepreneurs at DEMO with Ghana and Nigeriacoming in a close second. Other countries represented included CameroonSenegalEgyptTanzaniaand Zimbabwe.

From Ghana, mPawa, an application that brings job notifications to blue collar workers and creates a pool for employers to source from, was well received.

Inspired by applications like LinkedIn, mPawa creators Maxwell Donkor and Shadrack Obe say the blue collar labour force has been left out of technology recruitment platforms, which are more tailored for white collar professionals.

They say their application goes the extra mile to match the employer to the job seeker.

"For the first time we are documenting their work history and that's why we call it the Linkedin for blue collar workers because over time, we just started yes, but over time, five years, ten years from now we have one blue collar worker that has over five years of experience being put on MPAWA. This is a huge database that, that particular blue collar worker can carry around and be easily accessible by employers. It lowers the risk again on employers side because they have something to reference to, Donkor said

The mPawa hopes to service Ghana's new oil and gas sector but also plans to reach an untapped market across Africa. To do that, they hope to secure a 100,000 US dollar investment.

"I would say money is not the main focus for us for coming to DEMO presently but the exposure, the media reach, the investor connection, the stage where we can tell our story to the whole of Africa. So, we are here to seek partners, we are here to seek some mentors we are here to seek coaching and advisory, we are here to make connections so that our scaling into different African countries would be smooth, would be easy and would be ready," said Donkor.

Organisers say the venue of the conference - Kenya was the ideal location for the event because of its reputation as the developing "Sillicon Savannah", modelled on the United State's Sillicon Valley.

"In technology there is always hype, there is hype in Silicon Valley, there is hype in any Silicon places you know fill the blank, Silicon whatever so hype is there and its not a bad thing to have in a sense and as long as it is routed on hard concrete reality, as long as you are not just creating stuff out of thin air, the technologies that are coming out are what consumers want, are what the market needs, then I think that in itself will sustain itself," said Thomas Debass from the US State Department.

The conference was made possible through international partnerships forged within the [email protected] (Liberating Innovation in Opportunity Nations in Africa) which include DEMO, Microsoft, InfoDev, Nokia and the US State Department.