StartupBus Africa 2014 getting ready to kick off!

 

The StartupBus programme was founded in 2010 in the US by  Elias Bizannes on the premise that “Entrepreneurship cannot be taught but we believe it can be learned”. The idea is to put around 40 multi disciplinary entrepreneurs on a bus in a given locale and have them build a company in three to five days after which they pitch their business models/ ideas to a panel of judges and one company gets chosen for funding/acceleration. The big payoff is the networks created by participants who go on to utilize their skills and new found connections back at their respective places of residence and/or business.

Startup Companies
Companies started by StartupBus alumni.

Alumni of the StartupBus competition have spawned some notable startups amongst them Instacart which just recently secured 8.5 million USD in funding from famed Silicon Valley tech VC, Sequoia Capital, Branch which was recently purchased by Facebook for 15 million USD and Sterio.Me which has already partnered with schools across Africa to roll out its pilot programme to help students access educational content over mobile.

Fast forward to 2014 and StartupBus competition is now present on three continents with over 200 participants, but we would like to home in on the StartupBus Africa programme. The first StartupBus Africa competition kicked off in 2013 with a southern African leg touching down in Harare in Zimbabwe  and Joburg, Bloemfontein, Cape Town in South Africa. This year the competition is aggressively expanding, enlisting a whopping 160 entrepreneurs and will include the following countries on the bus routes:

  • West Africa:
  1. Lagos
  2. Benin
  3. Togo
  4. Ghana
  5. Ivory Coast
  • East Africa:
  1. Kenya,
  2. Uganda
  3. Rwanda
  4. Tanzania.
  •  North Africa:
  1. Morocco
  2. Tunisia
  3. Algeria
  • Southern Africa:
  1. Zimbabwe
  2. South Africa
  3. Botswana
  4. Namibia
Startupbus Africa
The Buspreneurs on last year’s trip.

Last years StartupBus Africa competition spawned Workforce a mobile construction labor hiring platform, funeral.ly a funeral management app and Sterio.Me a free educational platform to help teachers engage more with their students through an SMS activated audible quiz. With this years expanded bus routes and many more entrepreneurs there should be many new exciting startups coming from African soil.

On top of their outstanding entrepreneurial skills, the participants bring sound knowledge in IT, web design, new media and business development. They will form interdisciplinary teams and work on different projects during the journey, with focus in 3 key areas: energy, healthcare and education.

StartupBus Africa
The StartupBus process.

 

At least half of the buspreneurs come from Africa and because we believe in the entrepreneurial energy of young women, we strive to have 50% of female buspreneurs on each bus.

Namibia!

To make sure that the bus reaches Namibian roads we need YOUR help. There are several sponsorship options for your organisation or company to become partners in StartupBus Namibia. Please click here get into contact with us or send an email to [email protected]

 

Google takes mobile customisation into overdrive.

 

One thing is clear, there is no shortage of innovation at Google. The data giant isn’t satisfied with  global domination of the smartphone market with it’s Android operating system, now they want to standardise and modularize the hardware aspect of smartphones too.

Enter a fully modular and endlessly customisable smartphone, the Ara. The Ara is basically just an exoskeleton frame which allows you to plug in different ‘modules’ which provide different functionality such as the screen, sound, the antenna, battery etc. These modules can be designed and built by ANYONE using the open source platform Google is providing for hardware and software developers. Google is planning to implement a Play Store type regiment to bring the modules to consumers and to enforce some kind of quality control I would assume. Even the modules themselves will be highly customisable, allowing the user to remove and swap the casing for further personalisation.

Project Ara
An Ara mobile disassembled

 

A modular mobile phone scheme allows for longer device lifespan as you won’t throw away your whole device if just the screen or battery are malfunctioning, you’ll simply replace the modules and go on with your life. The modular phone concept is not new. You might remember Phonebloks, a modular phone Kickstarter project from las year. This project is now being developed in collaboration with Project Ara.

Google says Project Ara is in line with its aims to reach 6 billion smartphone users. That number probably has you thinking “Google, you’re reaching.” but then again when have they ever not been? This is one of their ‘moonshot’ initiatives which include their self driving car and the global internet coverage balloon network project, Loon. Speaking at the recent LAUNCH conference in San Francisco, project head Paul Eremenko stated that they are aiming for a 50 USD entry level unit when the phone finally comes to market early 2015. That is quite simply mind-blowing. It is also highly disruptive if it actually takes off and gains traction.

If that does happen, we will see a whole new ecosystem for exciting new startups to emerge. One could easily imagine medical and scientific modules that could be developed which would totally redefine what a mobile smartphone device is.

 

E-waste is a serious problem in Africa. A growing portion of the e-waste pie are mobile devices. Countries such as Nigeria, Benin and Ghana are being used as dumping grounds for obsolete electronic devices from all around the world. These gadgets which are so instrumental to our daily lives are comprised of components such as the processor, display, antenna etc.. which when put together, make a mobile device.

ewaste

When there is a defect in the device, it is usually just a certain piece of hardware that needs replacing but the cost of repair or the ability to repair that certain chip, LCD screen or other malfunctioning feature is prohibitive for most people so they end up throwing their devices away. These end up in huge toxic landfills and the materials these devices are made of take thousands of years to decay. E-waste is a complex problem with many of the stakeholders in the global electronics markets needing to take steps towards more sustainable methods of manufacturing. Google’s Project Ara which is a definite step into that direction.

 

 

A chat with founder of MXit, Herman Heunis.

Recently we caught up with Herman Heunis founder of Africa’s biggest social network MXit which now has over 7 million active users. Having made his successful exit from active duties at MXit in 2011, we asked him some questions regarding what it takes to succeed as a tech entrepreneur in Africa today.

TG: You left Namibia for Stellenbosch in the late 70s, how was it being a programmer during that time?

HH: Some background, I was born in Namibia (Rehoboth), my parents had a sheep farm near Kalkrand (My grandparents and great-grandparents were all from Southern Namibia). I matriculated at Jan Mohr in 1976 and in 1977 I started a B.Comm degree at Stellenbosch University. In those years computers filled entire buildings. The 1st time I worked on a computer was in 1977 at Stellenbosch University – Computer Science 101. My career as a programmer started in 1980 whilst I was doing my compulsory 2 year National Service in the SA Navy.

TG: How did you come upon the original idea for MXit? Was it a flash in the pan moment or an iterative process?

HH: It was an iterative process. In a nutshell, the very original idea (root) of MXit was an Astral SMS-based game – I believe it was one of the very first Massive Multiplayer Mobile Game (MMMG) in the world. It did not work due to a number of reasons but the main one, lack to find a sponsor for SMSs. An integral part of the game was communication between players. After several metamorphoses we dropped the game idea and focused only on the communication part – that worked extremely well. Years later we introduced several gaming platforms on top of the communications platform.

TG: What were your biggest challenges as a tech startup in Africa?

HH: Many. Lack of human resources (software developers) was the biggest challenge. Funding, affordable and stable internet bandwidth, unstable platforms (and lack of expertise), the press, mobile operators, etc.

mxitwallpaper4

TG: What in your opinion are the main characteristics a tech startup founder should have?

HH: Perseverance, Passion (for tech), Visionary, Disruptive(Rebellious ?)

TG: There aren’t a lot of tech startups in Africa that have reached the kind of success MXit has, do you think there is a specific reason for this?

HH: Timing was perfect and I had a fantastic team. The word “failure” was never an option.

TG: Is there a particular technology that excites you which you would like to see more innovation by Africans in?

HH: Most technology excites me but currently Energy (solar, batteries, fuel cells, etc) is on the brink of major paradigm shift. I think personal wearable devices, monitoring and recording all sorts of data, will be huge. In Africa we might not have the leading (sometimes called bleeding) edge R&D capabilities, but we surely have the in ingenuity to utilize these inventions and take it to another level.

TG: Do you believe that there is an emerging identity of the African tech user or do you think there is a general global homogenisation due to the critical mass movement of technology adoption around the world?

HH: Strangely I think we have a combination of both right now but that will (should) eventually disappear as the tech space (internet access, devices, user savvy etc.) in Africa gets on par with the rest of the world. Then there are more practical issues such as legislation, e-commerce, language, etc. that tech startups need to consider.

TG: Location is always touted as a major component for tech startup founders to think about when deciding to set up, should African tech startup founders be more wary of where they set themselves up in your opinion?

HH: Tricky question – I think starting up is one thing, building/growing the business is another. Access to infrastructure, HR, users, funding, etc. are important – if your location does not have these, you might have a problem. Having said that, some tech startups will depend more on the ideal location than others. Building a large social network on mobile is different to patenting a new type of battery. Coming back to MXit, I think the fact that MXit started in Stellenbosch was a good choice – access to University graduates, access to funding, access to bandwidth, very large potential userbase (with featured phones) and we knew the mobile Operators landscape pretty well.

I think the mistake we made was to stay in Stellenbosch only, too long. My opinion is that we should have moved our head office in 2007 (2 years after we started) to San Francisco. Maybe we could have been the biggest social network in the world today (bigger than Facebook)? Why do I think it was a mistake? 100 times better access to funding, 1000 times better access to software developers and great NETWORKING opportunities with other similar companies.

heunisMobileHeunis-4871863

TG: MXit is Africa’s largest social network with over 40 million users worldwide and as a firm employs more than 150 people now, when you made your exit in 2011 did you have misgivings about leaving?

HH: When I started MXit – there was no exit plan. I started MXit as I was passionate about technology. The ride from 2004 to 2011 was very tough and selling a company that you have started is traumatic. Fact of the matter was, I was extremely tired and burned out and staying on as CEO was not in the interest of the company. MXit needed new blood and new energy.

TG: Do you think more African tech founders should be building their startups with exit strategies in mind?

HH: I do not. Cannot do harm but the question is, are you doing it for the money or because of passion?

TG: You have said in previous interviews that you saw your strength in founding rather than managing large companies, does that make you a serial entrepreneur? Are there more ventures for you on the horizon?

There are no ventures on the horizon right now. Am I a serial entrepreneur? I don’t know if starting 2 or 3 businesses makes you one?

TG: What advice would you give young Namibian software developers/ tech entrepreneurs?

HH: Do as much research as you can possibly do. Ask yourself the question, how will my product/service be different. Will it be chat worthy – will people talk about it?

Surround yourself with likeminded, honest people. A startup is not for sissies – doing it solo is tough.

TG: Do you still visit Namibia? Do you have any hopes for the tech sector there?

HH: We visit Namibia many times a year. Recently (13 Dec 2013) I did the Desert Dash 24 hour 369km Mountain bike race from Windhoek to Swakopmund, solo. In October I cycled from Noordoewer to Swakopmund. We go to Kaokoland on a regular basis to do photography.

If you ask an optimist if there is any hope – the answer will always be YES!

StartupBus hackcelerates Sterio.Me, a new edu platform for Africa.

Sterio.Me

One of the startup initiatives launched on the StartupBus Africa 2013 is this nifty audio over GSM teacher/student bridge called Sterio.me. The founders Chris Pruijsen, Danielle Reid and Dean Rotherham figured that the issue of teachers engaging their students and tracking their students outside of the classroom in rural Africa without the added benefits of feature gadgets like laptops and smartphones could be addressed through providing a simple audio platform which both teacher and students could access through GSM. Continue reading “StartupBus hackcelerates Sterio.Me, a new edu platform for Africa.”

Is Google’s Moto G THE smartphone for Africa?

Brazil, UK and other parts of Europe got their hands on Motorola’s newest smartphone, the Moto G, today. At an utterly astonishing price of 179USD (1825NAD) with no SIM and NO contract, this true feature phone is set to shake up Samsung’s current vice grip on the African cellular market with it’s worldwide release this coming January. Continue reading “Is Google’s Moto G THE smartphone for Africa?”

Startup Bus Africa! Help us get ready for next year!

StartupBus is an annual entrepreneurial road trip, during which the ‘buspreneurs’ conceive, build, and launch their startup. This November, for the first time, it will run in Southern Africa, bringing together 15 African and 15 International entrepreneurs for a truly unforgettable journey… Continue reading “Startup Bus Africa! Help us get ready for next year!”

TV White Spaces can deliver broadband access without interference

TV White Spaces—the unused spectrum between TV channels—have the potential to bring wireless broadband access to underserved and rural areas. These low frequency signals can travel long distances and fill a need in places where telecommunications infrastructure is lacking.

Google, joined by a group of partners (CSIR Meraka InstituteTENETe-Schools NetworkWAPA, and Carlson Wireless), wanted to help make this potential a reality. In March 2013, the grouplaunched a six-month trial using TV White Spaces (TVWS) to bring broadband Internet access to 10 schools in Cape Town, South Africa. The goal of the trial was to show that TVWS could be used to deliver broadband Internet without interfering with TV broadcast. Continue reading “TV White Spaces can deliver broadband access without interference”

New study finds shocking truth of mobile penetration in Africa

Mobile penetration as measured by the number of active Sims in use in sub-Saharan Africa has reached 61% of the population. But this masks the reality that fewer than one in three people in the region actually owns a mobile phone. According to a new research report from the GSMA, an industry lobby group that counts most of the world’s mobile operators as members, only 31% of sub-Saharan Africans has a cellphone.

Continue reading “New study finds shocking truth of mobile penetration in Africa”

Rwanda rolls out free wireless broadband, when will Namibia follow?

An ICT bus in Rwanda
An ICT bus in Rwanda

An ICT bus in Rwanda

The Rwandan government last month rolled out an ambitious plan to cover 95% of the country’s landscape with free 4g broadband access. Starting with covering the lush rolling hills of Kigali with hotspots in their ‘Smart Kigali’ project, the country aims to transform itself into an ICT hub for East Africa and get rid of the usual connotations associated with its recent history. The country partnered with South Korean KT Corp to roll out the 4g network and access is granted freely in line with a new business model they are testing in the hopes that the Rwandan economy will grow fast and strong enough to justify the resources spent on providing free wireless broadband access. Continue reading “Rwanda rolls out free wireless broadband, when will Namibia follow?”

Meet the Raspberry Pi, a computer the size of your debit card.


Rasperry Pi is a credit card sized computer that runs on Debian developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation in the UK. It It sports

  • a Broadcom SoC (System on a Chip) that provides for CPU, GPU, SDRAM and USB
  • a 700Mhz ARM11 CPU
  • a Broadcom 250Mhz GPU with 1080p HD output capability
  • Audio&Video in/out (HDMI, RCA, 3.5mm and more)

Continue reading “Meet the Raspberry Pi, a computer the size of your debit card.”