Importing African Innovation To Silicon Valley: 5 DEMO Africa Startups Compete On Their Own Terms

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Five winning startups from DEMO Africa 2016 are in California this week to compete with tech startups from Silicon Valley and around the world, and hopefully attract venture capital through a series of curated events and activities.

The five winning startups were chosen from 600 applicants on the continent. They’ll compete as part of the 2017 edition of the Lions@frica Innovation Tour.

Organized by the Silicon Valley-based African Technology Foundation, the fifth Lions@frica Innovation Tour is about sharing knowledge with leading Silicon Valley stakeholders, according to a prepared statement. It provides networking opportunities for African startups and their target partners in Silicon Valley.

Lions@frica is a public-private partnership launched by the U.S. Department of State to tap the startup and innovation ecosystems of targeted fast-growing African economies. DEMO Africa is one of the flagship initiatives of Lions@frica and aims to connect African startups to the global ecosystem.

The five winning 2016 African tech startups are:

ConnectMed, Kenya

This online medical practice allows patients to seek treatment for common ailments via video using a web and mobile application. The key executive is Melissa McCoy.

MediaBox, South Africa

MediaBox is a video-on-demand content aggregation platform that gives viewers an easy way to watch international and local content, both on demand and live over the internet. Key executives are James Muir and Roeland Van Nieuwkerk.

Solstice, Nigeria

Solstice Home Energy Solutions offers a simple multi-energy source management and energy control system for homes and buildings using data from integrated hardware/software system to provide clean, reliable and affordable energy solutions. Key executives are Ugwem Eneyo and Cole Stites-Clayton

Strauss Energy, Kenya

Strauss Energy is a solar energy and manufacturing company that produces solar roofing tiles. The company says they’re a cost-efficient alternative to modern solar roof panels. It distributes and sells energy at a reduced price. Key executives are Tony Nyagah and Charity Wanjiku.

Sortd, South Africa

Sortd is a gmail smartskin that expands the functionality of an email inbox by providing users with the option of organizing emails as a flexible set of lists or tasks. Key executive is Rodney Kuhn.

Over the last five years, DEMO Africa alumni have raised $16 million in funding and continue to advance the cause for African-led innovation on a global scale.

Since the inaugural Silicon Valley tour in 2013, 25 African startups have benefited from this transcontinental program that seeks to bridge knowledge gaps, and enable African technology startups to showcase their innovation on a global scale.

“These five startups have been prepared for the tour through a series of learning activities over a two-month-long virtual bootcamp,” said Aliesha Balde, communications manager for the Lions@frica program. “We want them to engage the Silicon Valley ecosystem on their own terms, but armed with the right tools and equipped with the necessary resources.”

“We are eager to ensure that these five companies successfully assume an ambassadorial role for African innovation,” said Stephen Ozoigbo, managing partner of the Lions@frica Program. “They are re-inventing Africa’s future, and we are supporting their strategic actions to increase their likelihood of success.”

Ozoigbo is CEO of the African Technology Foundation, which is set up as an advisory practice, not a fund.

An ex-investment banker, Ozoigbo worked with Smith Barney, Citi Group, and Morgan Stanley before advising governments internationally on investments, innovation and internationalization.

This work led him to projects involving the White House and U.S. State Department, Ozoigbo said in a Black Enterprise interview. The State Department launched DEMO Africa in 2013 with a focus on getting African entrepreneurs to build global companies.

Successful DEMO Africa alumni include Soko, Flowgear, Spacepointe, Zuvaa, Weza Tele, and Chura.

Soko is a jewelry e-commerce platform that empowers artisans in East Africa. It works with the United Nations and Hollywood celebrities.

Weza Tele, a Kenya-based fintech startup, was bought in 2015 by financial services giant AFB for $1.7 million, according to Disrupt Africa. At the time it was the largest acquisition in Kenya’s history of startup acquisitions.

Spacepointe, a point of sale e-commerce system that allows African SMEs to get online, raised about $1.5 million in the last year, Ozoigbo told Black Enterprise:

“A lot of these folks are self-taught and do not have the formal training in certain aspects of venture creation and digital entrepreneurship,” Ozoigbo said. “They have built companies on binary codes and learned new skills through the mobile internet.

“If a Silicon Valley technology event is live streamed across the world, there are African entrepreneurs huddled somewhere, watching it and consuming every panel, consuming every fireside chat, taking notes, and then applying those notes to their local context.

“We’re synthesizing the diaspora … When we bring these companies here, we take them around and allow people to know them and what they’re doing, to know the problems they’re solving, see how much they’re raising, then look for creative ways to raise funds for them—whether it’s equity or debt or crowdfunding. We usually like to have a hybrid of sorts.

Our operations also have a distinct gender lens through which we see entrepreneurship on the continent. We are big fans of Women In Tech, and we believe that female entrepreneurs are the backbone of a lot of things happening on the continent.”