This week, Microsoft announced the names of five African startups awarded with its innovation grants in a step towards “empowering the next generation of developers and entrepreneurs in Africa.” The grant is part of the company’s 4Afrika Initiative, which was launched in February 2013 to facilitate the company’s active engagement in Africa’s economic development to improve its global competitiveness, according to a Microsoft news release.
Last year, Microsoft had launched Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative to enable world-class companies emerge from Africa. The initiative helps African tech entrepreneurial ecosystem by empowering local startups with Smart Capital. Smart Capital doesn’t just bring in money but also technical skill development, business mentoring, sharing of best global practices and access to markets with infrastructure provided by local partners.
Fernando de Sousa, general manager of Microsoft 4Afrika, said, “A critical success factor in driving the economic success of entrepreneurs in Africa is access to capital together with a solid incubation foundation. Microsoft 4Afrika is partnering with local organizations in creating opportunities for ‘smart capital’ to be available to our young innovators.”
Microsoft selected five startups based on the uniqueness and scalability of their solutions, their business models and the relevance of the key problems they are addressing. The solutions and apps developed by the startups are relevant to consumers and the African market, ranging from agriculture, education and consumer (gaming). The five startups include:
• access.mobile LLC (Uganda) A solution with a key focus in the agriculture and healthcare industries, giving enterprises the ability to collect, analyze and share clear, real-time information about their operations and supply chain activity.
• Africa 118 (Kenya) A mobile directory services solution that helps bridge the information gap both for enterprises and consumers.
• Gamsole (Nigeria) A mobile game production company creating Windows games with downloads topping more than 4 million.
• Kytabu (Kenya) A textbook leasing application for low-cost tablets. Students can save more than 60 percent of their education cost by renting their textbooks on an hourly, weekly, monthly, school term or annual plan.
• Save & Buy (Nigeria) A web and mobile platform that enables Nigerians to save toward the purchase of items conveniently and securely through e-commerce channels.
"As part of the 4Afrika Initiative, we are excited to be supporting startups that have developed innovative solutions that address key issues in Africa," said Amrote Abdella, director of Startup Engagement and Partnerships for 4Afrika.
Abdella added, "Our support is aimed to showcase the importance of local innovation, but more important, it highlights the great potential that African innovators have in competing with world-class developers and entrepreneurs."
Microsoft also revealed that in addition to the grants, it plans to provide technical support and mentorship to help the startups develop their businesses through the company’s ‘centre of expertise.’
Goals of Microsoft's 4Afrika Initiative is to place tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youth, bring one million African small and medium-sized enterprises online, up skill 100,000 members of Africa’s workforce, and help an additional 100,000 recent graduates develop skills for employability, 75 percent of whom Microsoft will help place in jobs.
Last year, Microsoft 4Afrika extended the Microsoft Ventures partnership program to Africa, with startup accelerator 88mph as its first partner. We’ll see more such initiatives in the days ahead.