Pivot East: East Africa’s Startup Pitching Competition

Mark your calendars, buy your tickets, submit your applications!

We’re ramping up to the Pivot East pitching competition, where the best startups in East Africa come to show what they have, pitch their startup to investors, media and the judges for a chance to win the prize money.

Pivot East will be held at Ole Sereni Hotel in Nairobi, June 5th and 6th. Last year we had over 100 applications for the 25 slots, and we’re expecting even more after seeing how well Pivot25 did last year (writeups by TIME Magazine and CNN). Last year we saw startups from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, and this year we’re hoping to see some from South Sudan and Somalia as well.

WERE2011_PIVOT25-1610

Categories

As last year there are five categories, each of which will have five startups that will pitching in them. If you think you have a prototype, a deck and a business plan to wow everyone with, let’s see it. Applications are open.

  1. Financial Services
  2. Business and Resource Management
  3. Entertainment
  4. Mobile Society
  5. Utilities

Getting more information

Pivot East is put on by the m:lab East Africa, an incubator for startups in the mobile apps and services space. All profits go to support the facility. This year support comes from Samsung, and we’ll be announcing a few more big names in the coming weeks. If you’d like to be one of them, contact us.

If you have any questions, we’re having a meeting a Baraza at the iHub on Monday the 6th of February from 2.30pm to 3.30pm. If you’re a startup wanting to know more, or are media or an investor, come by and talk to the organizing team.

[Note: for more on last year’s here is my blog post retrospective.]

UPDATE:
The Pivot East Team will be coming to Uganda on the 20th February 2011 at Makerere. You can book your tickets for the event on the link below:

http://pivotuganda.eventbrite.com/

The Kenyan Mobile Money Ecosystem

[This is a guest post by Ben Lyon of Kopo Kopo, and recently of FrontlineSMS:Credit, who I consider to be one of the leading experts on mobile money, banking and payments in Africa. Kopo Kopo aims to make the integration of microfinance and mobile money as affordable as possible by offering a software-as-a-service that connects m-money transaction data to customer accounts in a range of common loan management systems. You can follow Kopo Kopo on Facebook and Twitter.]

Mobile Phone with Money in Kenya

Kenya is by far the most exciting, innovative mobile money market on earth. Below is an overview of some of the major and upcoming players.

MAJOR PLAYERS

Safaricom M-Pesa
Launched in March 2007, Safaricom M-Pesa was the first mobile money system in Kenya. It is now the most successful mobile money deployment on earth, boasting use by 51% of the adult population. In addition to person-to-person transfers, you can use M-Pesa to remit funds from the UK to Kenya, pay bills, purchase goods, buy airtime, and, with the launch of M-Kesho, move funds to and from an interest-bearing account with Equity Bank. Fun fact: Safaricom M-Pesa has more agents in Kenya than Wells Fargo and Wachovia have ATMs in the United States.

Airtel Money
Formerly Zain Zap, Airtel Money is the second largest mobile money system in Kenya. Prior to its acquisition, Zain was focused on creating a “cashless society” whereby any number of needs could be met via mobile money. Zain was also committed to its notion of One World, the idea that a Zain customer in Country X should be able to call a Zain customer in Country Y a at local rate. One World was the source of much speculation with regard to international person-to-person mobile money transfer. It will be interesting to see if / how Airtel changes course, especially with regard to pricing.

Orange Money
Orange Money launched in late 2010 in association with Equity Bank. Instead of offering the same features as M-Pesa, Zap, or yuCash, Orange opted to create a de facto front-end for Equity Bank accounts, allowing it to exceed regular transaction and m-wallet balance thresholds.

Essar yuCash
Essar yuCash launched in December 2009 and is powered by Obopay. yuCash offers some standard features such as person-to-person transfer and balance inquiry as well as some unique features like requesting money, adding a short message to a payment, and inviting friends to join. yuCash is also unique insofar as it offers five different front-ends: WAP, SMS, Voice, USSD, and STK.

Equity Bank
Equity Bank is the largest microfinance institution in Kenya and is nothing short of a powerhouse. It has an extensive ATM network throughout Kenya and has integrated with M-Pesa (M-Kesho), Orange Money, and yuCash.

Musoni
Musoni is at the cutting edge of microfinance, enabling loan disbursal and repayment via Safaricom M-Pesa and Airtel Money. Musoni plans to conduct country studies in Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda in the coming years.

Paynet Group
Paynet is responsible for all Visa transactions in Kenya, interchange for 2,000+ ATMs, and PesaPoint. Due to their interaction with Visa, they are PCI DSS compliant, meaning that their system is both redundant and incredibly secure. Paynet aggregates and formats transaction data for several mobile money providers in East Africa.

UPCOMING PLAYERS

iPay
A product of Intrepid Data Systems, iPay enables merchants to accept online payment via Safaricom M-Pesa, Zain Zap, and Essar yuCash. Prominent users include PewaHewa, Fenesi, and Zetu.

PesaPal
PesaPal is a product of Verviant Consulting that, according to CEO Agosta Liko, aims to “make sense of the Kenyan payment landscape”. PesaPal lets online merchants collect payments via M-Pesa, Zap, Google Checkout, and a range of common credit cards. Their latest product, e-Ticketing, allows event organizers to accept online payments for registration via mobile money.

M-Payer
A recent product of Zege Technolgies, M-Payer enables real-time mobile money transaction processing. The CEO of Zege Technologies, Kariuki, played an instrumental role in the M-Pesa / Equity Bank integration that resulted in M-Kesho.

Lipuka
Powered by Cellulant, a company that serves 60M+ subscribers throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, Lipuka integrates bank and payment channels to enable music downloads, bill payments, and information services via WAP.

Moca
Formerly called ZungukaPay, Moca is a product of Symbiotic Media Corsortium. ZungukaPay enabled online merchants to accept payments via M-Pesa, Zap, yuCash, PayPal, Google Checkout, and a range of common credit / debit cards. ZungukaPay also had an open API for integration purposes. The new product, Moca, takes a different turn by enabling customers to buy ‘Moca credits’ via mobile money, which they then use to pay for goods and services on partner websites (e.g. KeleleMobile). Fun fact: selling non-refundable credits precludes Moca from being seen as an e-money issuer by the Central Bank of Kenya.

JamboPay
A product of Web Tribe Limited, JamboPay is an “Online Checkout & Micro-Payment Service” that enables merchants to accept online payments via M-Pesa, Zap, yuCash, and Visa credit/debit cards. JamboPay has a tariff structure similar to PayPal in the US: a commission per transaction + a flat fee for any transactions initiated over the JamboPay web platform.

MobiKash
MobiKash, a third party mobile money provider, is operated by MobiCom Africa Limited in partnership with Sybase 365 and Seal Systems. MobiKash leverages USSD to give Kenyans on any mobile network real-time access to accounts at participating banks, including Post Bank, National Bank of Kenya, and Trans National Bank. MobiKash uses the Sybase 365 Mobiliser Platform.

KrossPAY
Formerly PesaPot Holdings Limited, KrossPAY worked with PAYG Solutions to develop a hosted core banking and financial management platform for microfinance institutions, credit unions, and community benefit organizations. Some PAYG Solutions programmers were involved with the creation of M-Pesa, so there may be a mobile money integration in the works. KrossPAY also offers a “universal mobile money transfer and payment” service called CaribPay.

Jipange KuSave
Jipange KuSave is an initiative of Mobile Ventures Kenya Ltd., a subsidiary of Signal Point Partners. Launched as a pilot in 2010 in partnership with FSD Kenya and CGAP, Jipange KuSave aims to extend affordable micro-savings and micro-credit to the ‘mwanachi’ (Kiswahili for ‘common man’) via mobile phones.

Tangaza Limited
Managed by Mobile Pay Limited and a network of independent trustees, Tangaza enables both local and international money transfer as well as services like utility bill payment and remote airtime purchase. Tangaza is accessible via USSD and the internet and works across multiple mobile networks.

NOTABLE M-MONEY INTEGRATIONS

PewaHewa
PewaHewa is similar to the iTunes Store insofar as you can browse for musical artists, albums, genres, etc. and purchase songs via mobile money. PewaHewa is powered by iPay.

Kalahari
Often referred to as “the Amazon.com of Africa”, Kalahari offers a wide range of online goods and services, which customers can pay for via Safaricom M-Pesa.

Kilimo Salama
Kilimo Salama, Kiswahili for “safe farming”, is a crop insurance product offered by the Sygenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture. Kilimo Salama enables farmers to pay crop insurance premiums and receive payouts via Safaricom M-Pesa.

Russell Southwood at the iHub

I consider Russell Southwood to be the most well-connected person in the African tech scene, he also happens to have one of the best macro view of what’s going on across the continent in the established tech and media worlds. For a taste of his work, read his article, “Africa’s mobile market will go open access – it’s not if but when and how it all work out“.

On Friday he came to the iHub in Nairobi where he took 2 hours to have a fireside chat with local web and mobile technologist on “The Future of Kenya: what needs to happen for local services and apps to succeed.”

“Russell Southwood looks at the kinds of changes that will happen in Kenya over the next ten years, how the barriers to change might be broken down and the relationship between the ICT business and the broader economy and society. He sets out to try and understand what will produce the success factors for the growth of ICT services and apps businesses across Africa and why Kenya has a key role to play. From these broad arguments, he then focuses down on the needs and type of customers services and apps companies can potentially serve.”

Russells relaxed and intimate chat with the community is going to serve as the first of many new fireside chats at the iHub with Africa’s “big thinkers” and top tech CEOs.

Ushahidi Comes Full Circle in Kenya

It’s been hectic lately… In the course of one week I’m going from the madness that is running any situation room for a major Ushahidi deployment (Uchaguzi), to what is looking to be one of Africa’s best tech conferences (Tech4Africa).


(video by Jon Shuler)

Uchaguzi: Monitoring Kenya’s Referendum Vote

Uchaguzi is a deployment of the Ushahidi platform that marries up traditional election monitoring groups and practices with voices from the crowd. It was an experiment in a more holistic approach to monitoring an election.

Our goal is to make this an election monitoring platform that can be used by anyone (at least in E. Africa), as a mixture of the core Ushahidi platform, with a package of customized plugins that do things such as:

  • Map known election monitor phone numbers to specific locations
  • Content-map the election monitoring number codes into an automated full report
  • Use shape files to get make reports not just point-based, but heatmapped
  • Ticketing system for escalated items
  • Ability to mark items as “actionable” and/or “action taken”

We started Ushahidi 2.5 years ago here in Kenya to crowdsource and visualize some of the stories coming from ordinary people in the midst of Kenya’s post election violence. Last Wednesday the whole country went to the polls again, this time to vote “yes” or “no” on a referendum for a new constitution for the country – arguably something even more important than a politician who will only be in office for 5 years.

Being Ushahidi, and this being Kenya, we were ready to do our part. This came in the form of Uchaguzi, a deployment where we partnered with local groups like SODNET, Twaweza, CRECO and HIVOS. Ordinary Kenyans and election monitors alike could send in text messages to a local shortcode, which was widely advertised before the date. (read more here)

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Over 50% of all incoming reports were verified in real-time, and an overwhelming 60+% were reports that things were going well. A win for both the deployment and the country!

A Thank You

Through a combination of great partners and a huge volunteer outpouring of time at the iHub, we were able to manage the inflow of information, mapping and verification.

The Uchaguzi project brought more than 70 volunteers to the iHub August 3rd and 4th (with at least 12 others joining remotely). Volunteers helped map and process over 1400 messages as well as assisted our team of Ushahidi developers fix bugs that popped up during the Uchaguzi deployment. The volunteers met the challenge with incredible enthusiasm, focus, patience, and a spirit of fun! We couldn’t be prouder to have such a wonderful Ushahidi community!

“We” isn’t just the Ushahidi team. Yes, deployments like this do take some time to customize and we did build some new functionality in (than everyone now has access to use), but it’s largely not the technology, it’s the people. The 80+ volunteers, tech and non-tech alike, were amazing and came through in a big way. Not enough can be said about Jessica Heinzelman, Ushahidi intern for this summer, who wrangled all of the volunteers and operations for the situation room.

Media Hits

Fast Company
Christian Science Monitor
Business Daily Africa
UN Dispatch
CNN iReport
All Africa
Reuters
Internews

Low-Cost Solar Invades Kenya

Meredith watching the Brunton 52 Solar panels - a boring jobReliable electricity in Kenya is an oxymoron. Last year’s rationing was up to 4 days per week in some parts of Nairobi, and with the low levels of water in the dam, it’s looking like 2010 won’t be such a bright year (pun intended…).

This is why I’m writing a post about solar power, which incidentally isn’t something I’m overly-well versed in, I usually leave this up to people like Afromusing. I did take the FLAP bags around Ghana, Kenya and Uganda earlier, but hadn’t started to truly delve into this arena until now. Before moving back, I picked up a Brunton Solaris 52solar power kit for my laptop needs. It has already proved indispensable.

Solantern

Joseph Nganga, a Kenyan businessman who I’ve known for a couple of years, has come back to Kenya and is taking the clean energy position firmly. He’s working with the World Bank on a plan for a “Cleantech Innovation Centre” in East Africa, and knows his way around both small- and large-scale renewable energy systems.

Right now he’s marketing and finding distributors for his Solantern product. It’s a Green Planet Lantern that is sold locally for 2000 Ksh ($25). His goal is to replace the unclean, and sometimes hazardous, kerosene lanterns that everyone uses in Kenya.

[Note: the electricity is off right now, and my wife is using one of Joseph’s Solanterns below]

My wife with a Solantern tonight

An average Kenyan family spends 20 Ksh ($.25) on Kerosene every night, a total of $91 per year. There’s a real value buying a Solantern, and the light lasts for much longer than that 20 Ksh of Kerosene would (and it’s cleaner).

ToughStuff

Chance would have it, that on this power-challenged day, I would also meet up with Nick Sowden from ToughStuff. He’s here in Kenya to do for East Africa what they’ve already done for Madagascar: create an industry for entrepreneurs out of 1 watt solar panels.

ToughStuff ProductsToughStuff offers a large selection of accessories for their panel, with extensions like an LED lamp (530 Ksh/$7), phone connectors (75 Ksh/$1), a rechargeable powerpack (550 Ksh/$7.25) and fake D-cell batteries that take direct input from the panel – used to power radios. It’s a compelling mix, and you can tell why they’ve done so well in Madagascar, and which bodes well for them in East Africa as well.

They’ve already started selling them through Chloride Exide in Kenya, at two shops in the industrial area you can pick up the kits for yourself. One shop is on Dunga Road, the other is on Kampala Road.

ToughStuff has a focus on entrepreneurs, which is why they have the “Buy One: Fund One” program. To entrepreneurs they offer financing through local MFIs.

Final Thoughts

Besides Solantern and ToughStuff, there are other projects like Portable Light (and others) working on low-cost solar for East Africa. It’s like the stars have aligned and all the cleantech companies are starting to really look at Africa as a place to make money – which it is.

The AfriGadget-side of me is waiting for local fundis to get their hands on these and to start customizing them for local needs. I want to see 8 ToughStuff solar panels daisy-chained together and used to power something larger. I want to see the wall-of-panels that light up 10 lights across a large room for night classes. The sort of thing that takes local needs, local technical talent and local businessmen to make happen.

Another thought… People think that these low-cost solar light kits are only for the poor. They’re wrong. I use them, as do many middle-class Kenyans if they can get their hands on them. The market is bigger than just the “bottom of the pyramid”.

Finally, I’m greatly pleased to see legitimate businesses, not NGOs, leading this charge. The quickest way to ruin this fledgling industry is by false ceilings imposed by development/aid subsidies around these products.