Pivot 25: East Africa’s Mobile Competition & Conference

I’m excited to announce Pivot 25, which will happen on June 14-15 in Nairobi.

If you’re an app developer or entrepreneur, submit your idea here!
Applications are due midnight (East Africa Time) March 15th, 2011

What is it?

Pivot 25 is an event bringing together East Africa’s top mobile entrepreneurs and startups to pitch their ideas to an audience of 400-500 people, with a chance of winning monetary prizes and increasing awareness of their work to local and global investors and businesses. In East Africa’s hot mobile market, this is a way to find out “what’s next?“.

The competition is for 25 entrepreneurs/startups to pitch their best mobile apps or services, in 5 different verticals, to the audience and a panel of judges. Anyone who has a new app or service can apply, if they’re from Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda or Kenya.

Pivot 25 is mostly about the entrepreneurs and their pitches, but we’re also sprinkling it with fireside chats with the top mobile industry leaders in the region.

Get Involved

There are a couple of ways to get involved with Pivot 25.

  • Sponsor the event – we’re already getting some great sponsors on board, but there are still a couple areas available.
  • Enter your startup – this is the BIG one, if you make it to the event, the awareness will be huge and the prizes bigger!
  • Register to attend – we expect tickets to sell quickly, so get yours now before they’re all gone.

Help us get the word out by tweeting (our handle is @pivot25), blog it, and definitely tell your friends around East Africa to get their startup application in right away.

Some Background on Pivot 25

The mLab (mobile lab) is a new incubation, training and testing space for mobile apps in Kenya. It’s situated directly underneath the iHub, and was created from an infoDev grant to a consortium of the iHub, Emobilis, the Web Foundation and the University of Nairobi.

As the team behind the mLab got together and talked we realized that we needed to solve two problems. First, a good way to create awareness of and access between the mobile entrepreneur community and investors and businesses. Second, that an event could help raise funds for the mLab, making it sustainable.

The Event will not only showcase developer talent in the region but also bring much needed focus to the mLab and the role that it play’s in the mobile application development ecosystem in East Africa. Our goal is to make this truly inclusive, bringing together startups, manufacturers, businesses and operators from every country in East Africa. The mLab is accessible to anyone in any of these countries, and Pivot 25 is as well.

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).

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.

Making Ushahidi

[Below is my Tech4Africa talk, given today in Johannesburg, South Africa, titled “How we built Ushahidi, w]

I’m used to talking about Ushahidi, and as all of you guys who frequently talk about your product or company know: it gets old spouting off the same old stuff over and over again. That’s why I’m excited about today and for being invited to this excellent conference, since I’ll be telling the backstory, the quirks and funny bits that got us to this point and made our Ushahidi culture what it is today.

This is my story of Ushahidi – Of a small organization that dislikes hierarchy and being told what we can’t do. One that questions everything, embraces innovative thinking, takes risks boldly, and sometimes learns the hard way that we’re human after all.

In January 2008 I spent a week watching news reports roll in from Kenya, frustrated. Frustrated because I had said for years that “technology helps us overcome inefficiencies”. Wasn’t the madness of Kenya, in it’s post-election violence throws, it’s lack of media coverage, and lack of real information just this? Why was I unable to do anything?

It turned out that I needed an idea, and for once I couldn’t come up with one on my own. That seed of an idea that grew into what you see today came from a simple bullet point by my friend and fellow blogger Ory Okolloh, asking if we could map reports of violence around the country. Thus Ushahidi was born.

I’m going to walk you through three defining moments for our organization, and our platform, not all of them pretty, but which make us who we are.

1. Let’s look at the ad hoc cast that got it started:

The Ushahidi Team - circa Jan 2008

Ory Okolloh – lawyer, blogger and Kenyan political pundit
Juliana Rotich – renewable tech geek, blogger and database admin
David Kobia – developer and top Kenya forum webmaster
Daudi Were – blogger and web guy
Erik Hersman – Africa tech blogger, web guy
Others – a various cast of tech and non-tech people swarmed around the first Ushahidi deployment in Kenya, helping with small tasks and then disappearing.

Key points:

  • You’ll notice that there was not a single one of us who had any humanitarian experience
  • None of us had taken part in any open source project. (v1 was built in .NET)
  • Most of us were self-employed, running our own businesses or consulting, and didn’t like working for big companies.
  • The only common denominators that we shared was our love of our home; Kenya, and the ability to blog.

Thus, we felt we were the best placed to create an African open source platform for crowdsourcing information, our tech gift to the rest of the world.

We didn’t think of that at all actually. Instead we were madly Skyping, emailing, wireframing and coding over a 3 day period to get something up as quickly as possible.

We were brutal about every decision:

  • If it wasn’t absolutely necessary, throw it out.
  • Pick a name, any name, we don’t care if non-Kenyans can’t say it, just get a domain up asap
  • Launch this app, it’s functional, we’ll fix bugs and features on the fly
  • No one has a short code for us yet? Screw it, it’s not worth waiting, we’ll get one eventually.
  • Money, what’s that for? Media budgets are overrated, we’ll blog it.
  • We don’t have a logo. Oh well… Launch already!

How our team came together, the way we made those initial decisions and how we interacted and leaned on what would become our community was defining. It still colors how we operate, our organizational communications and our community focus.

Lessons learned:

  • This taught us to keep a shallow and wide decision-making structure so that everyone had access to all the information about ops or platform that they desired. Anyone was empowered to make decisions, since thy understood the macro-game.
  • Release code early, it’s better to have it out and being tested and worked on in the real world, than hidden away in a sandbox somewhere.
  • If you want it done, build it yourself, don’t put it off onto another team member.
  • Community = success
  • No money, no worries. Build good stuff and good stuff happens, money follows.

2. Technology is only a tool

allocation

No background in open source projects meant that we had little experience in how to engage programmers, designers and the help needed to get things moved from that initial .NET build into an open source language. David and I were trying to decide what language to write this in, and we ended up picking PHP over Python since we thought more African programmers would be proficient in it.

David wasn’t a PHP guy (yet), so the early helpers, the volunteers like Jason Mule, Henry Addo and Chris Blow were a huge help in making the decision to go with the Kohana framework and a myriad of other decisions.

3 months later we announced v0.1 of “THE NEW AND REBUILT USHAHIDI PLATFORM!”

We were very excited, after all, wasn’t this the platform that would save the world? And we were ready to show the world just how it could be done. Gamely mounting our white steeds we charged into a deployment of Ushahidi in the troubled North Kivu region of the DR Congo.

Echoes of that failure splatting against the ground remind us still, today, of the complexities of the space we build software in. We learned from those lessons though, and Ory wrote a good blog post making sure that it was shared within and without.

Lessons learned:

  • Technology is only 10% of the solution needed. The rest is administration and messaging.
  • Stick to what you do well. Our team is built to build software, not be a deploying organization
  • (caveat! We do help in deploying rarely, like Haiti and Kenya, but we now pass those off, or partner)
  • Own your failures publicly, learn from them.

3. Enter the failephant!

The Ushahidi Failephant

Only a few months later, after the DRC debacle, we were rested and ready to fail again.

Al Jazeera had used the alpha version of the Ushahidi platform in Gaza, a group of organizations and individuals were deploying it to monitor the worlds biggest elections in Indian, and we had a number of groups in East Africa testing it out.

Our model was that we had a small team at Ushahidi whose job was to come up with and guide the core architecture of the platform. Volunteers also worked on core, but were also encouraged to extend the platform in their own ways. It was working very well, and still does.

We were ready to release the code publicly.

Before I say anything, let’s revisit that point earlier about none of us having eroded on an open source project before…

Preperations were made, blog posts were written, tweets were tweeted – and we got lambasted by one of the guys we respect a great deal in the open source community. Rabble called us out on all the things we did wong.

– The code repository was behind a user/password wall
– We weren’t available in the normal programmer channels like IRC
– Hard to plug into the rest of the dev community

Our team went to work, madly working over the next 12 hours to get our stuff straightened out. Finally I wrote another blog post, introducing our failephant mascot and apologizing for our ignorance and missteps.

Lessons Learned:

  • Listen and apply that listening to real changes
  • Again, own your failures. Fix things that are wrong.
  • It’s okay to think different in how you execute on a project as long as you don’t stray from the spirit of your community and self
  • .

Finally, I’ll end with this.

We’ve learned that technology does overcome inefficiencies, but that it still takes people to make it happen.

We’ve learned that more people need to buck the status quo, that questioning everything makes us better.

We’ve learned that Africans can build world-class software, and to expect nothing less.

Maker Faire Africa 2010: Nairobi

We’re just a month away from one of my favorite events of the year: Maker Faire Africa! It’s where we bring inventors, innovators and ingenious designers and artists into one place. Last year we did it in Ghana, this year it’s in Kenya on August the 27th to 28th. Submit your project here!

“The aim of a Maker Faire-like event is to create a space on the continent where Afrigadget-type innovations, inventions and initiatives can be sought, identified, brought to life, supported, amplified and propagated.”

The aim is to identify, spur and support local innovation. At the same time, Maker Faire Africa would seek to imbue creative types in science and technology with an appreciation of fabrication and by default manufacturing. The long-term interest here is to cultivate an endogenous manufacturing base that supplies innovative products in response to market needs.

Projects, Sponsors and Links

‘Match a Maker’ was started last year, and it was such a big success that we’re doing it again this year. It’s done in order to link people up who could help each other with technical advice, contacts and business advice.

There will be a business corner for entrepreneurs to get help from local experts, a time devoted to kids experimenting with technology, and talks by local and international experts on everything from manufacturing to scaling your business.

Workshops

  • ‘Think Solar’ : Solar technology for young people
  • ‘Crafting peace’ : Hand crafts for children
  • ‘Hack your mobile’ all ages

A BIG thanks to Freedom to Create, Butterflyworks and ASME for sponsoring this year’s event!

Keep up to date on the Maker Faire Africa:
Blog
Twitter: @makerfairafrica
Flickr Group

SwiftRiver 101 at the iHub

Jon Gosier 3

Jon Gosier is the founder of Appfrica Labs in Kampala, Uganda, he’s also a Senior TED Fellow, a great African tech blogger and a good friend. I’m fortunate enough to work with him at Ushahidi too, where Jon heads up the SwiftRiver initiative with his team in Uganda.

Screen shot 2010-06-15 at 1.32.30 AM

“SwiftRiver is a free and open source software platform that uses algorithms and crowdsourcing to validate and filter news.”

SwiftRiver v0.2.0 (Batuque) is out. There’s a new plugin structure called “turbines” already sporting 3 new ones for natural language processing, Google’s Language Services and TagTheNet. (see video below for more)

Jon is in Nairobi, he’s here to lead two SwiftRiver 101 classes at the iHub tomorrow. The morning session is for non-techies, or anyone who just wants a primer on the platform. The afternoon session is for programmers who want to see how they can get involved.

Join us!

Getting Started with SwiftRiver – Batuque from Ushahidi on Vimeo.

Barcamp Nairobi 2010: Day 2

Today is only a half day at Barcamp Nairobi 2010. We’re getting underway, and there are 5 talks so far:

  • 9 colloquial Kenyan languages in Whive.com by John Karanja
  • Live mapping using OpenStreetMap and GPS units by @mikel
  • “Build a Drupal site in 20-minutes” by @batje
  • “Geek girls in Nairobi” by the Akirachix
  • Explaining the Kenya ICT Board $3m grant by @Kaburo
  • Google Geo API

The $4 Million Kenya ICT Board Grant

“US$ 4 Million of the proceeds for Grant Applications for the development of digital content and software applications.”

It was announced 10 days ago, and there are already 500+ applications. Final applications are due by July 19, 2010.

$10k for individuals and $50k for organizations. That is a Kenyan citizen and above 18 years old, for companies, you have to be registered in Kenya. You have to show your resume/CV for the leadership team.

The application can be done online.

Two main areas of the grant:

  1. Government services and applications (5 ministries)
  2. Any innovative ideas around digital content and software

The first 46 grants will be handed out to both private and public sector ideas and applications. More grants will be given out to companies (30) than private individuals (16), but there will be an equal split between the two groupings.

Grants announced on August 15th, 2010, at which point they will be working on contracts. The grant will be given out in 3-4 tranches, starting in October 2010. The funds have to be spent within 12 months. There will only be 46 grants given out this year (2010).

A single company can apply in multiple rounds for a grant, but will only be given one grant per round.

What protection will your idea be given? The team looking at and reviewing/judging the applications will be signing NDAs. There are 9 judges who will decide the winning proposals, and they do plan on sharing the names of those individuals.

Some people are worried that if they have a new idea, and they’re working for a company, that that company will own it and not them. Kaburo Kobia is suggesting that if they believe that is really the case, then the individuals should break away before then.

If you have any questions, make use of their website, send them an email at grants@ict.co.ke, call them at +254-020-2211960 or visit them on the 12th floor of Teleposta towers.

Google Maps API

IMG_0978

Mano is one of the top engineers from the Google Maps team and he was flown out to Kenya specifically for Barcamp Nairobi. He’s giving an overview of what can be done using their API, well beyond the normal pointal use that we see all the time.

I asked him what they’re doing about offline mapping, especially for those of us in Africa who don’t have the same access to connectivity. Mano says that they’re concerned about offline maps as well, which they don’t offer, but not for the reason I suggested. Instead, they see most of the people in the world accessing maps via mobiles, so they need to be able to let that happen when data capability is not within range.

Barcamp Nairobi this Weekend

It’s that time of year again, so I hope all of you Nairobian techies, bloggers and programmers are ready for Barcamp Nairobi. [Twitter: @BarcampNairobi]

Barcamp Nairobi will take place at the iHub and NaiLab, starting at 9am on Saturday June 12th and going late into the night. It keeps going on Sunday with WhereCamp Africa, so all you geo/mapping geeks get ready.

As usual, those who get in early will get a Barcamp t-shirt, until they’re all gone.

Register here. There are already about 300 planning to attend.

A Barcamp Primer

Barcamp is an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos and interaction from participants who are the main actors of the event.”

Those who haven’t been to a Barcamp need to understand something: You make the event. It’s a very democratic event, it doesn’t matter if you’re the Permanent Secretary of a university student, if you have something people want to hear, you’ll have a chance to sign up for a time and room to talk in, and people will vote with their feet on whether or not they like your topic.

We start the morning off with a session where everyone gets a chance to put forward their topic and then sign up for a time and room. The day then begins, and it’s a madhouse of great talks and even better people and connections. Food and snacks are provided, and the new iHub coffee shop is open for you to buy your caffeinated drinks all day long. :)

Potential Topcis

  • Using my (GPS Enabled) cell phone to avoid traffic
  • Cloud Computing Applications in Kenya
  • Business Skills for Techies
  • Rural ICT
  • ICT initiatives for youth
  • Mobile Application Development
  • Using Google Fusion Tables
  • Web design, and why it’s not as good as it should be in Kenya
  • Hardware hacking
  • Tips and tricks for internet connectivity around Nairobi
  • Merging mobile and electronic commerce concepts
  • Walking-papers.org: openstreetmapping without a GPS
  • Drupal, WordPress, Joomla and other CMS hacks

Get your talk ready!

Map & Directions

The iHub is on the 4th floor of the Bishop Magua Centre, directly opposite Uchumi Hyper on Ngong Road.


View iHub – Nairobi’s Innovation Hub in a larger map

It’s hard to believe it’s been 2 years since we last did this, letting 2009 slip by us… I’m really glad we’re doing this in 2010 and happy that Ushahidi is sponsoring it, as well as the iHub providing the space!

Nairobi Hackers Descend Upon the iHub

I’m sitting at the iHub this morning, after just having given my welcome to the 40+ Nairobian hackers who have descended upon the place. They’re here to take part in the global Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) hackathon to develop tech solutions to pressing needs in crisis and disaster response.

It should come as no surprise that Nairobi’s technorati are well-versed in mobile solutions, that’s quickly becoming a competitive advantage in this city. So far we have groups coming up with solutions for amputee registration via SMS and USSD, An SMS solution to create distress texts, improvements to people finder apps and tracking of mobile payments.

Keep up to speed

This event goes through Sunday afternoon, it’s a full 36 hour hackathon. Watch as the devs in Kenya work with their counterparts in Australia, Indonesia, Brazil, the US and UK. Keep an eye out on the above resources to see what comes out of Africa!

RHoK Nairobi, Kenya