While some might see the continent’s infrastructure deficits and socio-economic challenges as overwhelming, others see it as an opportunity to produce innovative solutions. One example of this is Safaricom’s successful mobile money platform M-Pesa, which was a response to the lack of formal banking infrastructure in East Africa. The solution has since been adopted by other regions in the world.
And with the considerable uptake of smartphones across Africa, tech entrepreneurs have the opportunity to use the internet to solve problems.
Over the years the Anzisha Prize has provided funding and supporting services to a number of young techies operating on the continent. This includes US$25,000 to 2014 Grand Prize winner Alain Nteff, who is using technology and mobile phones to send expecting moms in rural Cameroon vital prenatal care information to combat high infant and pregnant women death rates.
The previous year Ugandan Titus Mawano was awarded $15,000 to fund his business management software to support African SMEs. And over the years the Anzisha Prize has also endorsed a handful of young entrepreneurs who are using technology to improve access to education.
This year saw a number of fresh and promising young techies apply for Africa’s premier award for its youngest entrepreneurs. The Anzisha Prize has decided to highlight five of these applicants below.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Finalists for the Anzisha Prize have not been announced. The entrepreneurs profiled below have been selected randomly, and are not necessarily winners.
Connecting families in North Africa and Middle East with international travellers
Yasmine El Baggari (22) is a young Moroccan entrepreneur studying at Hampshire College in the US, who believes in connecting and bridging cultures to “encourage a more peaceful, caring world”.
One way she is doing this is through her company Voyaj, an online platform that matches host families with worldwide travellers who are looking for more meaningful travel and cultural experiences.
“When people travel to the Middle East and North Africa for conferences or business, they often find it challenging to develop one-on-one relationships with local people in order to experience the authentic culture of the countries they visit,” she explains.
“Voyaj brings the power of internet software to help build meaningful connections between hosts in the regions and visitors, based on common interests, leading to the fruitful exchanges of ideas.”
Launched just last year, Voyaj has already caught the attention of international media such as The Huffington Post and National Geographic, and employs five people.
Visit Voyaj’s website.
E-learning and skills development platform from Nigeria
Nigerian tech entrepreneur and app developer Chris Kwekowe (22) founded Slatecube last year, an innovative e-learning platform. The tech start-up enables users to study at their convenience via both free and paid-for online courses, build technology products and connect with opportunities to put their new skills to use.
According to Kwekowe, nearly 200 individuals are already using the service to take online courses, read new books, and serve virtual internships. Slatecube was also one of 50 start-ups selected internationally to attend the 2015 MITx Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, recently held in Cambridge, US.
“We are looking to create even more practice-driven and fun-filled courses that will positively shape the future of the African society in various aspects, ranging from culture, education, economy, personal development, innovation, creativity and health,” says Kwekowe.
“Also, we intend to link even more qualified and well-deserving students with top-notch organisations, thus upgrading the work-force and making the pursuit or knowledge and skill a fun and worth-while venture.”
Visit Slatecube’s website.
Online college and career guidance for Zimbabwean school students
Zimbabwean Prince Abudu (20) is studying computer science at Morehouse College in the US and has used the opportunity to help others. In 2012 he co-founded Emergination Africa (EA), a youth-driven initiative that provides e-mentoring programmes for Zimbabwean high school students to assist them with the college application process and career development.
“Many public high schools in Africa lack career and academic counselling services. Therefore, high school students miss out on opportunities to develop themselves both professionally and in identifying tertiary education opportunities,” he explains.
EA connects Zimbabwean youth to US college students via web platforms, such as Google Hangouts, so that they can mentor and assist them on the US college application process, SAT preparation, and career guidance. Students are also given opportunities to talk to admissions offices and counsellors to develop other professional capabilities, including their interview and networking skills.
Visit EA’s website.
Event booking and listing portal in Nigeria
Nigerian computer engineering student Andrew Airelobhegbe (22) is the co-founder of ogaVenue, an online venue booking service for conferences and events in Nigeria.
The portal was launched at the beginning of this year and centralises relevant information such as availability of venues. It provides venue owners and managers a space to list and market their venues, as well as a portal for event organisers to search and find their ideal setting.
According to Airelobhegbe, within the first few months the company was already receiving over 60 requests a week regarding venue bookings and listings.
“Within the first week of launch we got a lot of media coverage from both local and international media companies… and we haven’t spent a dime on advertisements,” he says.
“We have received a lot of commendations – especially from Nigerians in the diaspora who frequently call us to commend our effort as they can easily book for the venue of their choice anytime they want to host an event in Nigeria.”
His goal is to extend the service beyond the Nigerian market to serve other sub-Saharan African countries as well.
Visit ogaVenue’s website.
Online bus transport portal to Morocco
University student Issam Darui (20) is the founder of Lagare.ma, the first online bus transport portal in Morocco. It was launched last year and offers a range of services and content concerning road transportation, including bus schedules and online ticket reservations. It can be accessed by smartphones and computers.
“We won first prize as the best business start-up in Oriental at the Competition Challenge Start-up Oriental 2014, and more than 20 newspapers, magazines, radio and TV media [outlets] have spoken about our project,” highlights Darui.
His plans for the next 12 months are to expand to include information on rail transportation and grow sale volumes ten-fold.
Visit Lagare’s website.