A Pivot 25 Retrospective

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Pivot 25 was a blast! Over 100 teams from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda applied to pitch their startup over a 2-day period. We named it “pivot” because we wanted to play off of the word, often used in the startup scene to denote a need for a startup to nimbly move in a different direction (plus it had a good sound). We did the event for 2 reasons:

  1. To bring attention to “what’s next” coming from the vibrant mobile startup scene in East Africa.
  2. To support the new m:lab, a mobile incubator that launched yesterday, where all profits from the event went to sustain.

This wasn’t your ordinary conference, it was a pitching competition mixed with lively fireside chats with the regions top business and government leaders in the tech space. Larry Madowo, a TV news personality in Nairobi, did one of the most amazing jobs I’ve seen with the fireside chats, keeping them lively and (best of all) disagreeing with each other. The event with 300+ attendees was smoothly MC’d by AlKags, keeping the pace fresh and upbeat.

Each category of finalists consisted of 5 companies, with an independent panel of judges (in other words, the organizers had no say in this). The finalist pitched for 7 minutes, followed by some very pointed and tough questions by the judges. Each judge scored the presenters on their pitch, business viability and model, an average of all these scores was tallied to find that session’s winner.

The Winners

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Prizes of $5,000 were awarded to the winners of each of the 5 categories, and the overall winner was picked from these and will go to pitch at the DEMO conference in California:

A massive congratulations to all the winners, and we expect to hear great things from the MedKenya team of Mbugua Njihia and Steve Mutinda when they head to Silicon Valley in September to pitch on an even bigger stage.

Big Thanks!

The real reason this event worked was due to the team behind it. Countless hours spent getting sponsors, working with the finalists and designing the space. I want to thank the guys who really put the work in behind it, making it such a huge hit: Jay Bhalla (producer), Tosh, Joshua, Ryan and Jessica, the Sprint Interactive team, the Ark for the video, plus a good dozen volunteers from the iHub community.

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I’d also be remiss if I didn’t thank the guys at Afrinnovator for live blogging the event, and for CapitalFM for live streaming it to the 3000+ people who tuned in from all over the world. Zuku provided us with 100Mbs for this to happen, though we will make sure we have more, and more robust, access points next time.

Finally, thanks to Nokia, Equity Bank, Samsung, Google, Tigo and Elma for sponsoring the event and helping us pay for what was a very costly exercise.

For those who want to know, the full revenue from the event was $145k, with a cost of $110k. Leaving $35,000 to put into the m:lab.

Stay tuned for where Pivot will be next year. Thanks everyone!

Ushahidi Strategy Meeting 2011

[Reposted from the Ushahidi Blog]

Yesterday Ushahidi won the Kenya ICT Award for “Social Equity and Poverty Reduction“, which we’re extremely grateful for. None of us were able to attend the conference in Kenya due to the whole team being at our big annual meeting.

The Ushahidi core team works from 7 different timezones ranging from Kampala to Louisville, soon expanding to places like Brazil and Korea. One weekend a year we’re able to get together, in-person, to solidify our connections with each other and talk through the big strategic topics that are best done face-to-face. It could be argued that it’s the most important 3 days of the year for us.

The First XV

2010 was a big growth year for Ushahidi, where we got up to 12 core team members – doubling in size from 2009. We’re adding 3 more people this year, which brings us to 15, a fortuitous number for the team as many of us are big rugby fans. :)

(Caleb decided to have a little fun, putting us all in our positions based on the date that we joined the team.)

12 Months Later

Last year we met in Miami, as we are this year, and a lot has happened since then. To name the big ones:

  • Plugins – extensible way to add new functionality without bloating the core
  • Crowdmap – maps for non-developers, also a means to quickly collect reports giving deployers time to install their own server
  • SMSSync – simple and robust alternative to Frontline and Clickatell
  • iOS – rich smart phone experience
  • Checkins – opens platform to entirely new uses
  • Stand-By Task Force – game changer in disaster response
  • J2ME – extending reaching onto older devices
  • Community Site – fantastic documentation
  • Map Geometry

Looking at the historical record, it’s been a good year. However, there’s a lot more to do. At this meeting, besides drinking a Mojito on South Beach, we’ll get into some of the big future-looking issues, such as:

Visual Reporting: What’s the perfect Ushahidi dashboard? How do we surface “power stats” for Ushahidi deployments and metrics. Swift-Ushahidi integration visuals on the front and back end.

Knowledge Management: How do we come up with a plan to capture information that we know internally, so that it is shared with deployers and developers better?
The inverse, how do we handle and capture information that our *users* know regularly?

Crowdmap Scalability & Migration: Making sure that even the biggest deployments work on Crowdmap. Adding in new a la carte features, etc.

Of course, this is a chance to discuss some of the more mundane items as well, around operations, funds and how we work towards organizational financial sustainability as well. It also means that we’ll be offline from today until about Tuesday of next week. We’ll be a little slower on email and other communications mediums, but bear with us as it’s for a good cause.

Virtual City’s Mobile Distributor Solution Wins Nokia’s $1m

John Waibochi of Virtual City, from Kenya, won the Nokia $1,000,000 Growth Economy Venture Challenge here at Nokia World today. This is an investment of $1m in John’s business, so it comes with support and connections that only an organization of Nokia’s size can provide. The award was given out by Stephen Elop, Nokia’s new CEO, as the first action of his at Nokia – this sends a certain signal to all devs around the world.

I asked John to give a quick soundbite on what this solution is:

John Waibochi wins the Nokia $1m Challenge from WhiteAfrican on Vimeo.

Here’s more:

Virtual City Ltd, a home-grown Kenyan company, has developed a solution that aims at addressing systemic issues along the Supply Chain for distributors and retailers of Fast Moving Consumer Goods in emerging markets. The Mobile Distributor Solution is designed to contribute to improved efficiencies and value to all the stakeholders in the value chain and result in increased number of transactions, accurate records, improved Inventory management & reporting from the field and effective management decision making. The solution will also bring value to a large number of beneficiaries comprising of thousands of small and micro enterprises in the FMCG Market.

It’s a product that can be monetized due to high demand by both retailers and distributors in Kenya. This is a very solid company, with a solid proposal. Seeing the video (not available yet) of this working with one of Africa’s leading beverage company’s was impressive.

From a Nokia Challenge perspective, this provides a solution that will bring value to a large number of beneficiaries comprising thousands of small and micro enterprises in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) Market through the smart application of mobile business and cashless payment technologies.

The project will generate revenue for the partners Virtual City and Nokia, while increasing the income levels of the stakeholders in the supply chain by opening up increased product sales coupled with additional benefits of mobile payment capabilities, transaction fees revenue, loyalty programs benefits, etc all facilitated by inexpensive and affordable mobile phones.

The new found ability to transact via mobile phones and use cashless means to make payments for goods or services, has the potential of availing solutions that the over 6 million users of mobile payment solutions from the telecommunication players can access and utilize in their business dealings, the aim is to fully utilize the potential that a mobile phone has in adding value to the user.

Background on Nokia’s Growth Economy Venture Challenge

Launched at CES 2010 by Nokia CEO, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, Nokia’s Growth Economy Venture Challenge called on innovators from around the world to create a mobile product or service to improve the lives of people in developing nations and compete for the chance to win venture capital investment of $1 million.

Why is Nokia holding the Growth Economy Venture Challenge?

Nokia is a leader in enabling mobile technology to transform people’s lives for the better (through projects like Nokia Life Tools, etc.). Efforts like The Progress Project and the Nokia Growth Economy Venture Challenge endeavor to show the mobile community what is possible in order to focus the entrepreneurial spirit of innovators on accelerating transformation in these areas of the world. We see this Challenge as a win for Nokia, a win for the developer that is selected, and a win for their customers.

What are the criteria for selection of the finalists and eventual winner of the challenge?

  • The mobile product, application or service must undeniably enhance the standard of living or lifestyle of the target customer.
  • The target customer must be from a region of the world where the general daily per capita income is $5 USD or less.
  • The organization that receives the $1 million USD investment must have shown that it has the potential to be a vibrant and successful business that will be profitable for itself and its investors (as judged through normal venture investment vetting procedures).