Business

15 African start-ups to watch this year

Updated 8:10 AM ET, Thu January 16, 2014
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Toby Shapshak has selected Africa's most interesting startups: "From the founders of real-time info site Ushahidi comes a brick-like device that they call 'the internet's backup generator.'
And that it is. The sturdy plastic-shelled device has everything you'd need to survive the wilds of the unreliably African internet, like Nairobi or Johannesburg. The BRCK has a big battery, so it can keep 20 devices connected for eight hours and is robust enough to handle power failures, poor line speeds and just general grumpiness."
Courtesy Jonathan Shuler / BRCK
"If they gave Nobel Prizes for Bloody Fine Ideas, it would be to Arthur Attwell, whose thoroughly clever Paperight idea turns education into a win-win for everyone, from publishers to students to small print shops. Everybody wins." Courtesy Paperight
"Aiming to be the 'African Amazon,' Jumia.com offers cash-on-delivery in the populous Nigerian cities of Lagos and Abuja. Ordered online or via mobile phone, the products are driven by motorcyclist couriers to the buyers' home or business, when cash can be paid." Courtesy Jumia
"To become Nigeria's largest deal site is no mean feat. Just ask Sim Shagaya -- this is one of the three digital giants he has created in the country. Skepticism runs high, even in Nigeria, but DealDey, which could be just another Groupon ripoff, appears to be bucking the odds." Courtesy DealDey
"mPawa matches employers with potential employees via skills and experience. It's also SMS-based, which is ideal given that much of Africa is mobile-only." Courtesy mPawa
"Facebook-like education for the high school masses is the idea behind the Obami education site. The brain child of Barbara Mallinson uses the familiar Facebook paradigm as its interface, making it familiar to students, teachers and parents -- enabling group discussions and problem solving." Obami
"Kind of like an AirBnb for Africa, but using SMS as much as the internet as its main interface, Kenya's SleepOut was a highlight at Pivot East in Nairobi last year. It has a touch of Lastminute.com to the bookings it offers in over 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East." Courtesy Sleepout
"Financial-planning site -- and now app -- 22seven.com offers a different, behavorial economics-approach to managing your finances. Snapped up by London-based Old Mutual, one of the largest insurers, 22seven is expected to deliver great things." courtesy 2seven
"With the Kenyan economy riding the M-Pesa wave, the key beneficiaries have been consumers using their phones to make payments. Kopo Kopo aims to make merchants the next mobile payment-enabled segment of society." Courtesy Kopo Kopo
"Winner of the App of the Year Award in South Africa, SnapScan is a smart way of handling digital payments. Big things are expected of it." Courtesy Snapscan
"One of the finalists at Demo Africa, Kenyan start-up Able Wireless wants to stream paid-for content for $6 per month using a household set-top box. It is an edge-of-network service that 'delivers content over a wireless network through a secure device, reducing 83% of capital and operational costs for current network providers, creating a legitimate distribution system.'" Courtesy Moses Kemibaro / Able Wireless
"The Karibu solar system is a small standing lamp, that is split into three components: the lamp, the battery and the small solar panel. The merchant 'rents' out the lamp and battery for a few weeks, before the renter owns the whole device, including the charger. Using the same small amounts that are typically used to buy kerosene, Karibu provides light but also power to charge cellphones."
Courtesy Karibu
"Mxit, which was the largest social network in Africa before Facebook took that title earlier this year, has a new focus under new CEO Francois Swart and chairman Michael Jordaan, easily South Africa's most charismatic business figure. It also has 7.5-million users, with 6.5 million of them in South Africa -- all emerging middle-class consumers who want to buy your brand." Mxit
"Everyone knows Nigeria's film industry, Nollywood, is the Bollywood of Africa -- especially Nigerians abroad, who want to keep watching their favorite cinema. They do this through, iROKOtv, which calls itself "the world's largest online distributor of African content.'" Courtesy iRokotv
"Promising 'Free Wi-Fi For Africa' is a bold statement, but not when you're Alan Knott-Craig, the erstwhile CEO of Mxit and you're passionate about something like this," says Shapshak. Rather than a business, Project Isizwe is a non-profit organization aiming to bring online connectivity to people across the continent, by facilitating the roll-out of free Wi-Fi for public spaces in low income communities. Courtesy Project Isizwe