In the last two years, I’ve looked dead-serious in the eyes of a more than a few founders, saying “you have a billion-dollar business in your lap!”
It’s not much of leap to see the potential: already on a high-growth curve, obvious social impact, fun people with business acumen and a sense of real purpose in their lives.
Source Institute has worked with The Royal Academy Of Engineering to help Africa’s most promising engineers get their tech to market. The Africa Prize For Engineering Innovation has taken us all over Africa and on the week of September 12th, we’re all coming to London. This is your chance to meet and help! (Scroll to the bottom for the schedule.)
Let me tell you about some of them to see if you’re just as excited as I am.
The first thing that surprised me about Kahit was that he had 400 employees. He seemed far too stylish and far too quiet to pull that off.
Caterpillars are a traditional delicacy in Burkina Faso. They’re seasonal though. Kahit Hein developed technology to harvest and store caterpillars, so they can be eaten year-round.
Soon, his company, Faso Pro, had 400 harvesters employed and a distribution deal with Total, the country’s biggest petrol station chain. They’re operating in tonnes, their quality and packaging rivals Total’s line of foreign products. Kahit’s big on job creation in one of Africa’s poorest countries, and since the day I met him, his goal has been to hit 10,000 employees.
Burkina’s geography and lack of roads makes distribution of nutritious food — like fruit — relatively difficult. Faso Pro’s systems rely on Shea Caterpillars, which are particularly nutritious — so they set their minds to an obvious opportunity: making nutritious snacks that kids will eat. Kahit came up with their most successful product to date: crunchy chilli caterpillar snacks, similar to the puffed corn snacks we have in Europe and North America.
Faso Pro is even more promising when look you at the demographic trends. Burkina Faso’s population is set to double in the next 20 years. When you expand to neighbouring countries with similar tastes, there’s even more growth. The Shea tree already produces exports for beauty and health products, now the caterpillar can hitch a ride, addressing the growing insect protein markets around the world.
Faso Pro have strong product development, branding, distribution and packaging skills. Their biggest barrier to growth is working capital because the harvest season only comes once per year, putting them on a yearly working capital cycle. While Burkina Faso’s currency, the West African Franc, is pegged to the Euro and managed in France, banks in Burkina still don’t offer great interest rates. Faso Pro relies on reinvested profits and crowdfunding debt, but are now pushing those limits.
Let’s jump over to Uganda to meet two other Africa Prize alumni.
Sanitation for Africa
Samuel Malinga, who I visited last year, has created a new type of septic technology that makes sanitary toilets affordable to everyone in the world. He founded Sanitation Africa with a set of sanitary technologies he’d developed, and teamed up with a distribution mastermind, Joseph Kajerero, who previously introduced condoms to rural Uganda, and later created farmer exchange programmes for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to introduce high-tech breeding methods. In a year, Sanitation Africa has scaled up to 3 locations and will soon be pushing outside of Uganda’s borders. I, for one, want to be Sanitation Africa’s first European customer. These are better outdoor toilets than I’ve ever seen, and my first choice for a country house here in Europe. There’s global potential here when you look eco and off-grid homes.
A solution to brownouts
Eddie Sharita’s tackling Uganda’s chronic electricity brownouts with a system that detects electricity theft, which is the most direct cause. He has a 1,000-unit pilot deal funded by Uganda’s biggest power company. Enough said.
More than phones and lights with solar
Out of South Africa, Matt Wainright has setup Standard Microgrid, which has proven a new commercial model that can bring high-amperage, industry-enabling power to rural villages. So far, every attempt to bring power to these hard-to-reach places has been with small solar systems, the kind that can power a reading light and a USB charger. This means no refrigeration, no vaccines, no TV, no power tools, no light industry. Standard Microgrid’s built an entire technology stack for power, and proven a SaaS-like subscription business model for villagers to buy power, enabling him to deploy high-amperage systems a village at a time.
Both Matt and Eddie are unassuming and constantly rise to the next challenge with quiet, intelligent tenacity. They share a barrier though — strong introductions to top-level management in Africa’s power companies. As you might expect, those introductions come easier from abroad than working bottom-up.
Kenya’s Fintech means cold, digital cash
Kenya is Africa’s beachhead market when it comes to consumer technology. This is the home of M-PESA mobile money, and a suite of follow-on innovations that have only become possible in a country operating on mobile money. One of those is Chura, an airtime/mobile money/data exchange network. Most Kenyans have multiple SIM cards and it’s tough to manage your cash between them. Chura’s exchange system is simple and effective, and it’s a money-making machine.
20 Africa Prize alumni coming to London
Arthur Zang, Cameroon (Winner, 2016)
Cameroon has 50 cardiologists for its 22 million citizens. The Cardio-Pad is a medical tablet that enables heart examinations and diagnosis to be done remotely by doctors and nurses.
Dr Askwar Hilonga, Tanzania (Winner, 2015)
This innovation from Tanzania integrates nanotechnology with sand-based water filtration to provide clean, safe drinking water. It’s cost profile is allowing hundreds of local entrepreneurs to sell clean water.
Felix Kimaru, Kenya
Totohealth is an information system that guides parents through pregnancy and childhood by sending them vital maternal and child health information via text-messages.
Dr Mercy Manyuchi, Zimbabwe
Bio-briquettes are a more cost-effective cooking fuel made from leftover corn stalks and leaves.
Taita Ngetich, Kenya
Illuminum Greenhouse is a greenhouse made with local materials. Its solar panel and sensor technology creates a controlled environment in which to grow crops.
Brian Bosire, Kenya
UjuziKilimo is an analytical system that measures soil characteristics to help farmers understand and quantify soil qualities.
Femi Odeleye, Nigeria
The Tryctor is a three-wheeled mini-tractor for small-scale farmers. It can also be used as a mobile generator. Using low-cost local components, it is affordable, easy to maintain, efficient and simple to operate.
Werner Swart, South Africa
The Drylobag is designed to dry and store grain on small farms. In doing so, the Drylobag prevents loss of food stocks and enables farmers to harvest earlier.
Captain Abubakar Surajo “Captain Imam”, Nigeria
This new innovation from Nigeria consists of a removable burglar-bar system that enables a quick emergency exit from a building, enhancing safety without sacrificing security.
Ayo Adigun, Kenya
DAA Stem Academy teaches engineering in Senior and Prep Schools in Kenya’s capital.
Musenga Silwawa, Zambia
Small-scale farmers in Zambia typically apply commercial fertiliser to their crops by hand, which not only results in inconsistent application but is labour intensive and time consuming. Spot Agro is a fertiliser applicator that eliminates fertiliser wastage and allows farmers to apply fertiliser to targeted spots with one simple action.
Rujeko Masike, Zimbabwe
The small to medium mining sector in Zimbabwe has a need for portable ore crushing machines. This innovation scales down jaw and roller machines and incorporates local materials to make affordable, portable and appropriate crushing machines for local miners.
Ernst Pretorius, South Africa
Mounted to the wiring posts of a fence, the Draadsitter (Afrikaans for ‘fence sitter’) is a low-cost, high-sensitivity detection system for long fences, like Kruger National Park.
Bukhary Kibonajoro, Tanzania
Web-based monitoring software is designed to combat the theft of medical supplies across the Tanzanian hospital network.
Ian Mutamiri, Zimbabwe
An Android application teaches children how to read in their mother tongue by improving their syllable-to-sound association, thus improving their overall ability to learn in schools.
Justin Nwaogwugwu, Nigeria
Macjames is a consumer chemical products brand, including cost effective, safe and innovative water treatment chemicals and biodegradable multisurface/multipurpose Degreaser/cleaner for households and industries.
September 13th: We’ll be attending the Engineering A Better World conference, organised by The Royal Academy Of Engineering.
September 14th: NewGen Angels is organising an investor dinner to connect interested investors to The Africa Prize alumni. Pre-registration is now open.
Meetups all week: Some of us will be heading to the Hacker News meetup, and Product Tank. If you’re heading there too, let us know on Twitter and we’ll meet.
One-on-one meetings: If you’re interested in meeting any of our alumni, check this hort list of their innovations and will happily connect you directly.