Mobile Phones Spawn a Revolution in Entrepreneurship in East Africa
This week the people of Kenya are waiting to find out who they have elected to lead them for the next few years. But real leadership is coming from a new generation of young people with access to cellular phones and the Internet.
Today 26 million of Kenya's 41 million citizens have mobile phones and almost two-thirds of these users conduct business from them including online banking, news searches and seeking of information on health and medical issues. And Kenya's population is young with almost 60% between the ages of 15 and 35, a population eager to use new technology including mobile phones and the Internet.
All this connectivity is inspiring a new generation of entrepreneurs, some who have found a place in which to hatch their ideas. The organization is called iHub, an innovation community located in Nairobi, Kenya's capital, that provides a physical incubator for new inventions and business ideas. But iHub isn't just a physical space. It is also a virtual community reaching out to more than 6,000 members and receiving about 1,000 new applications to join annually.
If you visit the website Rolodex it currently lists 121 new startups of which the following nine caught my eye.
- Afritorial.com - an Africa-focused content aggregator and news hub.
- BTI Millman Company - a software developer who has created an application that uses SMS technology to send and receive data collected by field teams for analysis.
- CORDIO East Africa - a research institute focused on studying sustainable development and marine conservation in the Indian Ocean.
- MFarm Ltd - an agribusiness software developer of a free mobile application that collects wholesale market price information on 42 crops in five markets within Kenya and brokers deals on behalf of small farm sellers connecting them to buyers.
- StartupAfrica - a blog site that offers new African business startups a place to tell their stories and includes postings on investment and other business-related topics.
- Synacor - an application developer focused on improving living standards in Africa with a focus on water and transport. Their latest product is Majisoft, a mobile software-as-a-service application for water utilities.
- The Kuyu Project - focused on digital literacy for African youth. They have developed a prototype product called StorySpaces, a mobile application for online global conversations.
- Ubuni CIC - providing mobile learning or mlearning to create social impact around such issues as poverty, health, occupational training and agriculture.
- Ufahamu - means "awareness" in Swahili. The organization provides a data mapping and visualization platform for health issues such as sanitation and associated diseases, asthma, diabetes, and malaria.
Recently 10 companies in the iHub incubator received seed funding from venture capitalists. iHub's past success stories include two worthy of note.
Ushahidi, meaning "testimony" in Swahili, came into existence because of the disruptive violence that followed the disputed Kenyan presidential election in 2008. Concerned citizens who were also good programmers got together and decided that crowdsourcing incidents of violence and pacification would be useful. They built Ushahidi as an open-source platform allowing anyone with access to the web or a mobile phone the ability to join an online community and submit incidents to the site which would then appear on a map. Since its founding Ushahidi has gone viral (see map below) and is now crowdsourcing crises around the world including the 2010 Haitian earthquake and more recently in 2012, Hurricane Sandy. I checked to see if Ushahidi has anything going in my neck of the woods and found a site focused on the Great Lakes, with news announcements, data reports, and events all accessible by clicking on the map interface.
MedAfrica is a healthcare app that runs on mobile phones. It links people to health content and services with a goal to improve the overall health of Kenya's population. The current app contains a directory of 7,000 doctors and 3,000 hospitals, plus information on diseases and on tracking signs and symptoms. The goal eventually is for MedAfrica to tie in content voluntarily provided by pharmaceutical companies and other players in healthcare, allow app users to connect to doctors by mobile phone to discuss medical problems and setup appointments.
Mobile phones have given a whole new meaning to the words "Out of Africa." And maybe in the near future when I write about the MIT Technology Review 50 New Disruptive Companies, several will have taken their first steps from incubators like iHub.
Essays and comments posted in World Future Society and THE FUTURIST magazine blog portion of this site are the intellectual property of the authors, who retain full responsibility for and rights to their content. For permission to publish, distribute copies, use excerpts, etc., please contact the author. The opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Future Society takes no stand on what the future will or should be like.
Free Email Newsletter
To sign up for Futurist Update, our free monthly email newsletter, enter your email in the box below and click Save.
November 21, 2014 - When I was a young man we lived two blocks from a freshwater-fed pond by the name of Tillplain. Today it is gone, covered and built upon. That's where the high school I graduated from currently stands. But that pond unlocked the mysteries of life for me and so I remember it fondly.
November 21, 2014 - The Google skunk works experiments to develop autonomous vehicles is quickly opening a flood gate of new technological innovation in transportation.
November 19, 2014 - Ever wondered why not just Spiderman but lizards and all kinds of insects can climb up walls? Ever wanted to be just like Spiderman when it comes to wall climbing?
November 19, 2014 - The first natural gas power plant that completely captures carbon is about to be constructed by NET Power, a Durham, North Carolina company. The 50 Megawatt facility is being built in Texas and will go online in 2016 at a cost of $140 million U.S.
November 18, 2014 - Yesterday a friend of mine sent me a news clipping from The Washington Post. But before I talk about the content of what he forwarded I want to take you down memory lane for a minute. What was the world like before the appearance of the cellphone?
November 17, 2014 - Cambridge, England's Solar Cloth Company has announced its first trials of its solar cloth, a lightweight photovoltaic fabric designed to stretch over roofs, carports, parking lots and any other structure that normally could be covered and that cannot handle the weight of silicon-
November 17, 2014 - When I awoke this morning there was a couple of centimeters of snow on the ground here in mid-town Toronto. Typically Toronto gets its first snow in November but the snow tends to go away pretty quickly. But for some reason, this recent cold snap seems to have arrived early this year and along with it the white stuff.