By Russell Southwood

PIVOT East 2014 is becoming one of the key start-up competitions for Sub-Saharan Africa. Its selection of semi-finalists provide an opportunity to look at what entrepreneurs in the sub-region see as the African niche opportunities.

To reach the best startups in the region, PIVOT East partnered with the tech hubs across the region to take part in the 2014 edition of the competition. The hubs include: Outbox (Uganda), Hive Colab (Uganda), Kinu (Tanzania), Buni (Tanzania), kLab (Rwanda), iceaddis (Ethiopia), iBiz Africa (Kenya) and C4DLab (Kenya).

10 semi-finalists were selected in five categories – Finance, Enterprise, Entertainment, Utilities and Society – giving 50 semi-finalists. Start-ups from Kenya dominate across all three categories with almost no showing from countries beyond Uganda: Kenya (37); Uganda (8); Tanzania (3); Rwanda (1); and Ethiopia (1).

The first question is therefore: is Kenya more entrepreneurial than its East African neighbours?  With some qualification, the answer is probably yes and it has also had a head-start in setting up the start-up infrastructure that can turn out slightly better developed ideas.

Nevertheless, the geographic skew is interesting and needs to change as time goes by otherwise the idea that ICT innovation can do something for all Africa countries will begin to look a little thin. There are clear cultural differences between the five countries involved and Kenyans seem to have a much better developed sense of seizing opportunities as they come along. But this may not necessarily translate into businesses launched and sustained into profitability.

The next question that might be asked has nothing to do with where the ideas come from but is whether the ideas are both innovative and meet a need? In the African context, innovative is often seen by some entrepreneurs as meaning an idea that is simply taken from somewhere else: who was it said all the best ideas are stolen? Tevat from Kenya “steals” the crowdsourcing idea but seems to add a local element that might make it more successful than simply opening the direct equivalent of Kickstarter.

There is then the much higher bar of achievement for those ideas that meet a need that are actually globally innovative. There is perhaps a spectrum from “stolen” innovation to global innovation and ideas can fall closer to either end. The majority of these start-up pitches fall closer to the adapted end of the spectrum than the highly original. The Social category has many ICT4D products aimed at farmers that already sound like they exist in one form or another in many places. Duplication should not stop someone else from trying but there does have to be some fairly compelling reason for another one. Ensibuuko from Uganda seems to have understood this by looking at finance for farmers. The same point about duplication might be said for mobile payment pitches. In this space, it’s not so much that it’s crowded but that any new business genuinely has to add something to what’s already out there.

One exception is Chura from Kenya that says it will use a single SIM to connect a user to all networks and their services. Deliver that proposition and you will have something of global interest.

Another exception is Mavazi from Kenya that is an application that provides an easy way for users to digitally organize their closet and plan what to wear by cataloging and selecting from their items. This sounds absolutely the craziest idea out of the bunch but if there are that many male and female Kenyans that are that anally retentive then maybe it will be a success.

The next question along is how much the idea actually represents something that can genuinely become a business. App based pitches are often great but the entrepreneurs often fail to ask: what comes next? Some of the entertainment pitches sound as if they might have issues of this kind beyond their start-up point.

The realities of bandwidth and devices seem to have affected some pitches but not others. Games developer Muva Studios says it will tackle both the low and high end of the market, something that may be easier to say than to do. Safari Tales will be an Android entertainment app, which might work in Kenya as smartphones begin to take greater market share but will have a much harder time outside of Kenya in the short to medium term. Ethiopia’s sole semi finalist is Online Hisab, a cloud accounting package which is a great idea but may struggle in terms of the country’s variable bandwidth.

The long shadow of donor funding means that often people pitching will address categories of need rather than categories of “I want”. So it is good to see two sports/football sites, one from Uganda and the other from Kenya and a couple of games developers.

So good luck to all the semi-finalists and doubtless you will convince the judges that I’m wrong ☺

The selection criteria was made public prior to the submission deadline. The criteria was applied by a panel of 15 thought leaders on startups drawn from across the region to review the submissions. This culminated in the top 10 startups in five categories being determined. The semifinalists totaling 50 will be competing to be in the list of 25 exceptional mobile startups set to fight it out for market recognition and investor interest during the finals conference on 24th – 25th June. The panel for selection of the final top 25 consists of over 15 active investors among them venture capital firms, angel investors and impact investors.

The semifinalists of PIVOT East 2014 listed by category in alphabetical order are as follows:

Finance Category

Beyonic (Uganda): Aims to eliminate cash by creating the best solutions that enable business to make payments using mobile money.

Bill-On (Kenya): Bill-on is a mobile application that enables users to pay multiple monthly bills all at the touch of a button.
ChamaSoft (Kenya): Is an investment group management platform which manages administration of chamas, allowing them to concentrate on investment rather than administration.

Chura (Kenya): Chura connects mobile users to all networks and their services from a single SIM card.

Ensibuuko (Uganda): Leveraging mobile and web technologies to improve access to finance for small holder rural farmers.

FarmDrive (Kenya): FarmDrive connects smallholder farmers to people with disposable income that want to invest in agribusiness ventures.

Kadi (Kenya): Kadi is a mobile application that enables school going students to carry their pocket money and make purchases with the use of NFC technology.

Mchama (Kenya): Mchama is a mobile App that helps self-help groups (chamas) that do table banking capture and keep their records timely and accurately.

Tevat ltd (Kenya): Tevat aims to give entrepreneurs a platform to leverage family, friends, chamas & existing base of fans/supporters to collectively raise capital in exchange for equity.

Valuraha ( Kenya): The Valuraha Trader is a platform that simulates the Nairobi Securities Exchange & the conventional investment instruments in Kenya

Enterprise Category

ASiM Mobile (Kenya): ASim Mobile is a supply chain mobile solution integrated seamlessly with most popular accounting, ERP apps in the world

Buymore (Kenya): Buymore offers student discounts that enhance user retail experience and push foot fall to merchants.

KejaHunt (Kenya): KejaHunt is an online property listing platform that helps you find a house and a roommate, and gives visibility to local businesses.

OffersAfrica.com (Kenya): Is a digital and dynamic marketing platform for businesses, which benefit from a dedicated platform to manage their marketing activities.

Online Hisab (Ethiopia): Online Hisab is a cloud-based accounting package for Ethiopian SMEs, who are looking for an affordable and easy to use accounting solution.

RTSOP (Kenya): RTSOP is an online and mobile-phone based platform that enables logistic companies which suffer empty return trips to commercialize return trips.

Sapama.com (Kenya): Sapama.com enables property agents to list and manage properties details such as tenants, landlords, tenancy, rent and utilities details.

Sootano (Kenya): Sootano provides a platform for Businesses and Freelancers to connect. It facilitates

Sages Asset King (Kenya): Sages Asset King is a mobile app letting you do an efficient and paperless asset audit of tagged business assets via smartphone.

ThinVoid (Uganda): ThinVoid implements solutions & strategy that accelerate data collection.

Entertainment

Endiba (Uganda): Endiba provides the best in all local sport for every soccer lover. They provide you with league information such as league table, results, news and player profile

Epic (Kenya): Epic provides a three prong approach to moving the Media houses from in-effective shoot-and-miss online content delivery, to a structured measurable, cost-effective way of creating profitable digital content.

FunKe Science (Kenya): FunKe Science is a learning platform that seeks to teach science in a way that is both exciting and easy.

Jifunza (Rwanda): Jifunza builds digital experiences and games to expose the beauty, diversity and culture of Africa to the world to change negative stereotypes about the continent.

MapJam (Kenya): MapJam helps internet users find things & events with a dedicated search platform.

Muva Studios (Kenya): Muva Studios develops small engaging games for low-end devices and high end devices to cover the larger market.

Momentum Core (Kenya): Momentum Core develops simulation and entertainment games for the growing need by the environment around the globe.

Safari Tales (Kenya): Safari Tales is an edutainment android mobile application for children to access Digital African Narratives & learn African Languages.

Throughpass (Kenya): Throughpass is a soccer networking platform that empowers aspiring professional footballers to connect with coaches, agents/scouts and fans from around the world.

UbongoKids (Tanzania): Ubongo Kids is a multiplatform, interactive edu-cartoon with SMS interaction broadcasting on TV to kids in Tanzania & online for kids around the world.

Utilities Category

Askari (Uganda): ASKARI is a mobile/web/SMS platform that crowd-sources for crime data and provides users with information on security, updates on crime reports, dangerous crime zones and location of police stations.

CladLight (Kenya): CladLight presents a solution to motorcycle accidents using the Smart Jacket – a reflective jacket fitted with bright indicator lights.

Gari Sms (Kenya): GARI SMS links car buyer and seller using SMS. The seller registers the car details (including price) via SMS then puts a ‘GARI SMS sticker’ on the car. When the buyer spots the sticker, he knows the car is on sale. The prospective buyer then queries the car details by sending the car’s registration number to an SMS shortcode which then sends the details as per the seller’s description.

Maramoja Transport (Kenya): Maramoja is Kenyan social enterprise dedicated to providing easy access to safe, reliable transport services through your mobile device.

Mafundi (Kenya): Mafundi is a web and mobile startup that connects home and office owners with broken items to the best technicians around to repair their items by selecting the best rated in their area then contacting them to fix their items.

Matserve Msafiri (Kenya): Matserve Msafiri is a road safety android app integrated with a web app to solve the challenges faced by stakeholders in the transport industry. The app facilitates reports on road menaces to mitigate against accidents caused by avoidable human errors & impunity.

Mavazi (Kenya): Mavazi is an application that provides an easy way for users to digitally organize their closet and plan what to wear by cataloging and selecting from their items. They also get to share the styles they’ve put together with their friends and hear from them.

ParcelSolution (Kenya): is a mobile based parcel notification solution that helps courier companies alert customers about the status of their parcels, when the parcels are on the way and when the parcels are available for collection.
Sendy (Kenya): Sendy is a platform for on-demand errands. With the tap of a button, you instantly connect senders and riders and pay via your mobile phone.

Shulewiki (Tanzania): Is a one stop school directory that helps education scholars to find the best school, view performance trends and get in touch with all schools. ShuleWiki gives you all the information on schools in Tanzania.

Society Category

Andrush Systems (Uganda): Findit is a communication tool that lets organizations reach their target community with pertinent, actionable and relevant information. In every case,Findit puts local-language SMS, voice messaging and other telecoms technology in the hands of project managers and field leaders to efficiently send community members information that interests them.

AgrInfo (Tanzania): AgrInfo is mobile and web portal addressing the challenge of land ownership verification, solves land conflicts between villagers and investors using GIS by mapping the plots and using mobile GPS for surveying locations.

Benchcare (Kenya): Benchcare is a cloud based application modeled towards easing physician’s workflow. The software focuses on efficient administration and operation of small practices predominantly With the aim of maximizing productivity.

Moquestions (Uganda): Moquestion is an online question bank with a purpose of connecting learning institutions with people around the world.

mWakili (Kenya): mWakili is aimed at solving the problems which many Kenyans experience concerning Legal affairs. It helps the user to locate a law firm of his/herchoice and enables him/her to enquire about a particular case directly to the law firm. It also gives the users basic legal steps to follow when carrying out an activity e.g registering a company.

SokoText (Kenya): SokoText uses SMS based pre-ordering service to make it easier for small fruit and vegetable sellers in slums to get their daily stock. SokoText is a social enterprise based in Mathare slum in Nairobi.

Somo (Kenya): SOMO is an SMS service that delivers daily bible readings to members of the Catholic faith upon subscription.

SokoNect (Kenya): SokoNect uses mobile technology and the Kenyan County govt to reduce farmers post harvest losses and maximize profits by eliminating Brokers.
SokoNect enables farmers to upload information about availability of their produce for sale enabling buyers to prepare enough package materials.
TotoHealth (Kenya): TotoHealth enables hospitals and organizations to communicate and provide targeted information on antenatal & postnatal care using low-cost phones.

Zapmedic by Bitways Limited (Uganda): Zapmedia is an online medical appointment scheduling service with a primary goal of improving access to health care by helping patients find healthcare practitioners online in an easy and convenient way.

First published by BalancingAct-Africa.com