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African startups: striving for a world with cleaner energy

African countries are some of the world’s top places to apply technologies related to renewable energy. Hence, the December 2015 announcement that WeChat would invest about $3.4 million USD in African startups didn’t come as a surprise. Here are a few examples of some of the initiatives that may hold the key to the future of clean energy:

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Smart Solar Kiosk

Based in Rwanda, this team claims to have developed a mobile solar Kiosk, aimed at charging small electronic devices, product sales and Wi-Fi internet access for on-the-move customers.

Henri Nyakarundi leads the project, which has implemented 20 kiosks in Rwanda thanks to a partnership with Airtel Rwanda. You can watch a video demo of these kiosks at their official website,


This Nigerian startup thought of a solution to store and preserve vegetables and fresh fruit: modular, solar-powered walk-in cold rooms that are installed in farms and markets that are close to retailers and farmers. The temperature in said rooms (5°C) prolongs the freshness of vegetables and fruits up to 21 days instead of 2 days with no refrigeration. Their business model includes a pay-as-you-store option that allows farmers to pay a flat fee every day for each crate that they store.
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Strauss Energy

With the promise of providing disruptive energy solutions, this company’s goal is to diminish the energy deficiency in the African continent. Led by Tony Nyagah, they introduced a new technology to the Kenyan market: solar cells on roof tiles, which are capable of powering a house while saving roofing costs at the same time.  

They plan to feed the excess power from commercial or residential units into the country’s  grid in order to provide home owners with additional income. A return on investment is estimated to be reached in 18 to 24 months.
Their website:

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GreenChar produces and distributes charcoal briquettes out of agricultural waste. GreenChar’s briquettes are cheaper, produce little smoke, provide higher amounts of energy and last longer than conventional burning materials. They are sold to households in rural settlements that spend an average of $1.50 every day and experience health problems from polluted air caused by cooking with firewood and charcoal.  They also mitigate deforestation and help reduce CO2 emissions.

Biogen Kenya

They are committed to produce environment-friendly, renewable fuel. This bio-diesel is derived from excess vegetable oils. The company is located in Nairobi and it follows a complete production cycle to process waste vegetable oil and turn it into fuel. They list six key points within their strategy: ease of use; power, performance and economy; emissions and greenhouse gas reduction; energy balance and security; toxicity, biodegradability, safety and recycling; and economic development.

PayGo Energy

Their pay-as-you-go model aims to provide users in rural areas with affordable, clean gas. Through micro-payments, potential customers can avoid cost barriers and have access to a reliable supply of gas for cooking purposes. Their slogan: “modern energy for all”.  Their website is


Nadji.Bi develops, manufactures and commercializes solar products through a distribution network in Sub-Saharan Africa. They can be found in Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Senegal. Among the products they offer are solutions for off-grid systems, solar streetlights, solar modules and solar inverters; all with the ideal of lowering costs and keeping their products affordable.


All the way from rural Tanzania comes Juabar, a solar-powered charging kiosk that uses a 50W solar system. It is capable of charging between 10 or 20 phones simultaneously, as well as other electronic devices. Their mission is to create opportunities for small businesses in Tanzania while meeting the connectivity and energy needs of the community. Each kiosk works as a retail and charging platform.

According to their website, their longest running kiosks have been in operation for more than an entire year and their operators charge about 20 phones every day.
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Skynotch Energy Africa

Founded in 2012, this company promotes access to renewable energy and focuses mainly on distribution of solar lanterns, energy generation and real-world application of solar energy. They develop projects involving initiatives such as solar and hydro farms and promote water pumping and purification through solar powered appliances. In alliance with development agencies, civil society organisations, academic and microfinance institutions, they provide energy solutions to meet the needs of their target audiences and potential customers. By doing so, they add value and enable social and economic development. In 2013 they joined forces with the World Bank to become one of Kenya’s innovators in renewable energy, to provide access to clean energy solutions to the off-grid community in said African country.

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How is Hack for Big Choices helping startups in Africa?

Africa is a continent that has suffered a lot despite the fact Africa is the richest continent in the world thanks to all the natural resources and mines found there. A brief list of products there are in Africa includes copper, gold, iron, steel, nickel, zinc, platinum, titanium, lead, phosphate rocks, uranium, oil and diamonds. Fortunately, the last two decades Africa have been experiencing different positive changes led by important countries such as United States and among others who aim to the Africa’s emergence through new startups creation. Nowadays, different entrepreneurs are encouraged to invest in this continent because aspects such as human-rights application at work and young people are attending schools at their villages for then mastering abroad are factors that lead people to think about Africa in a different way. Moreover, statistics show how fast is the growth of the middle class in Africa. Nevertheless, this process has not come alone and it is evident this emergence is something led by people who care for Africa and for that reason, Aurora Chisté and Irina Issakova founded H for Big Choices.

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What is Hack for Big Choices?

Hack for big Choices is non-profit and global community created for change makers all around the world who are connected within the community in order to empowered big ideas to solve problems. They strongly believe big changes come from little changes and it is inside these communities’ little changes emerge. Collaborators are spared around the world, main cities are New York, San Francisco, Guadalajara, Bogotá, Sao Pablo, London, Venice, Accra, Bangalore, Moscow, Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
What are the issue areas Hack for Big Choices is working on?

Hack for Big choices has three main lines and within these areas, they establish challenges they consider are vital to work on. Issue areas and some challenges are:

Design & Technology:
This issue area helps and guides people who are interested in working on these subjects. Experts around the world on this area give advices and recommendations about how people can find solutions to the challenges. Companies also invest their money in order to develop new technologies that are helpful not only for African countries but for all countries around the world too because these problems affect population in general.

Car driving safety, Simulation of crisis management activities, Human identification     on-the-fly, Automatic people counting, Food safety, Intelligent parental control, B2B platform for international businesses.

Challenges inside this area affect various host cities, that is way participants are supposed to think about solutions as unique ones because they must be focused on an unique community. Challenges are taken from global health crisis that affect societies, these challenges are: Confronting Depression, Health Data In Action, Geo-Localized Health Solutions (in this topic there are 3 micro-challenges that are Sanitation, Pregnancy Complications, Metabolic Syndrome) Sexual Health.

It is not a secret poverty has its roots on illiteracy and in the past, it was really difficult to deal with this problem in Africa. Now, as wars are diminishing, interest can be guide towards education. The following challenges are being taken into account: International Accreditation of Academic Programs, Education in Remote Areas, Education for Special Needs Students, Nutrition Education at School, Bridging the gap between research and markets, Telematics for education.  

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What are the steps Hack for Big Choices follows in order to create successfully projects?

As there is a platform that linked collaborators, steps are quite simple as follows:

  1. The Call for Action: This is a calling for people around the world to change the world with small actions. They make people be aware about importance of little changes.
  2. Integrate Software Solution: They link problems solvers and experts who guide in them in the process.
  3. Options for Change:  Start a focused challenge-tree area from which problems can be selected and solved

Who is Aurora Chisté?

Aurora Chisté (Guadalajara) is a social entrepreneur travelling the world to develop new business opportunities for communities around the world.  She encourages people to make little changes that have a meaningful impact in people’s lives.

Does Hack for Big Choices have partners?

Yes, it does. Fortunately, the organization has more than 70 partners who are engaged with Africa’s development. Some of them are FACEBOOK, HONDA, TECNOLÓGICO DE MONTERREY, WORDPRESS, ACM, GOOGLE DEVELOPERS, among others.  

According to the founder Aurora Chisté, it is time, efforts and right people what make a change but building a new community is something that requires more than that. It requires commitment and dedication but it is essential to engage young generations earlier to this change makers’ programs because future belongs to them and when starting a new company, they are in charge of apply their passion and talent towards improving people’s lives.

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The top 6 most growing African countries in the past 2 years.

It seems it is Africa’s turn to impress the world in terms of the growth of their economies. One or two decades ago it was China who was shocking the entire world by being on every single economic report and headline because of the growth it was having in so many industries. Right now, Africa is taking the lead, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, as one of the fastest-growing regions in the world. The development shown in this part of the continent has been showing better numbers and facts than the regional average of the Asian continent. This is only good news for Africa and its people because of what is represents. Poverty rates reduction, increased employment rates, progress in education, in healthcare and even in the cultural environment. Africa is going from being the continent with the highest hunger rates in the world to becoming the continent with the most increasing amounts of business and entrepreneurial ideas, funding and international investments, globally speaking, for the past few years. The economy growth rates in Africa are even higher than the ones in developed countries and one of the reasons is that African countries have become the biggest sources of raw material for many other regions in the world. Giant companies of all the sectors and countries you can imagine have chosen Africa as the new business target. Some countries in Africa are starting to appear on the list of the top African economies. Maybe not as much as the most recognized ones, but still, they are attracting some attention. These countries with a lot of potential are Liberia, Benin, The Gambia, Chad, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and Democratic Republic of Congo. The top African countries that have become the most important ones due to their current economic progress and future promising growth are the ones in this list of the 6 most differentiated ones.

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Mozambique has grown mainly because of its offshore natural gas reserves that have attracted large investments projects and infrastructure. The Banking sector is also responsible for this growth, since middle class people are opening more bank accounts every time and using more card payments instead of cash.


Rwanda is also being called the “Sub-Saharan Singapore”. After being one of the most devastated countries because of the amount of genocide and danger in society, the government has turned this country into a place with a lot of business potential and development characteristics that are very interesting to foreign investors. Tourism and mostly agriculture are very strong. Minerals, tea and coffee are a few of their most important products in the economy.


Tanzania is also strong in offshore natural gas reserves. Investments in transport infrastructure and power infrastructure have brought many benefits to the country, along with tourism and the gold production. The penetration of smart-phones in Tanzania has been something huge, which means the mobile and communication sectors are also contributors to the development of Tanzania.

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Ethiopia is one of the largest economies in Africa, because of its agriculture, manufacturing, textiles and construction sectors. Education is becoming more important to families and this will always be something that changes people’s lives. Although it is considered a country with an important growth, the income per capita is still considered as one of the lowest in the world.


Communications and technology are two of the top industries in Kenya. This country is now considered as the world’s third-fastest growing economy in 2015. Kenya has shown amazing technological and scientific development, especially for the past two years, which why companies like Google, IBM, Facebook and many others of different sector have decided to invest in this country.


Manufacturing is one of Uganda’s most growing sectors. Transport and power infrastructure are the sector in which the government has the most faith in. They consider these two to have a great potential for foreign investors. Uganda has seen its poverty rate decreased significantly over the past couple of years. At the same time, as a country, they have experienced a macroeconomic stability that has brought many positive reactions in people and therefore in the rest of the sectors that are still evolving.

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Why is Africa a perfect scenario for innovative startups?

Africa is known for its abundance and opportunity. Being the world’s second largest continent, it is richly endowed with a variety of resources. But it needs to set aside its intra-continental differences in order to maximize the opportunities available from growing foreign interest. Africa is attracting increasing interest from the international financial community. The spotlight is now on our continent and Africa must rise to the occasion.

Africa has a dynamic history shaped by great migrations, wars, slavery, colonialism, and even the Cold War. But now Africa is reclaiming its place on the world stage. Often seen by observers as a single country, Africa has a complicated history and is often misunderstood. It is extensively diverse – in geography and climate; in cultures and traditions; in economic production, distribution, and consumption; and in social and political structures and practices. During the last decades, with much innovation and initiative, Africa is finally grabbing the world’s attention, with more international companies setting up offices here, increased banking interest, and strong stock market performances. All its major regions have recently experienced strong economic growth, driven in part by its wealth of natural resources. 2008 marked the decade that Africa’s energy and mining industry came to life, bringing an unprecedented oil export boom.

Africa has been the second-fastest-growing region in the world over the past 10 years, with average annual growth of 5.1 per cent over the past decade, driven by greater political stability and economic reforms that have unleashed the private sector in many countries. Poverty is also on the retreat. A new consuming class has taken its place: since 2000, 31 million African households have joined the world’s consuming class. At the point when household incomes exceed $5,000, measured at purchasing power parity, consumers begin to direct more than half their income to things other than food and shelter. The continent now has around 90 million people who fit this definition. That figure is projected to reach 128 million by 2020.

By 2035, Africa’s labour force will be bigger than that of any individual country in the world, which offers the continent a chance to reap a demographic dividend, using its young and growing workers to boost economic growth.

Today 40 per cent of Africans have some secondary or tertiary education. By 2020, it will be nearly half. But African countries still need further progress to remain economically competitive. While 33 per cent of Africans in the labour force receive secondary education, 39 per cent of workers in India and 66 per cent in China receive education at this level.

The experience of other emerging economies shows that Africa could accelerate its creation of stable jobs dramatically. When they were at a similar stage of development as Africa today, Thailand, South Korea and Brazil generated jobs at double or triple the rate of Africa’s. This would lift millions more Africans out of poverty and vault millions of others into the consuming class. It would also cut the time needed to reach East Asia’s percentage of stable employment by more than half, from over 50 years to just 20 years.

Africa has about 60 per cent of the world’s unused cropland, providing it with a golden opportunity to simultaneously develop its agricultural sector and reduce unemployment. On current trends, African agriculture is on course to create 8 million wage-paying jobs between now and 2020.

Africa needs a jobs strategy, not just a growth strategy. Countries need explicit programmes to create jobs, targeted at labour-intensive sectors that enjoy comparative advantage. Governments, working with private companies, need to improve access to finance in those sectors, build the necessary infrastructure, cut unnecessary regulation and bureaucracy and create a more business-friendly environment, and develop the skills needed to support the industries of the future.

With a billion people in Africa, a growing middle class, fast economic growth compared to much of the world, and the rapid expansion of both internet and mobile penetration, White argued there are many new market opportunities for these startups.

What’s more, those opportunities extend beyond Africa’s borders. While this certainly was accelerated by a need on this continent for alternatives to traditional financial statements and credit bureaus, it has applications to individuals regardless of where in the world they reside.

What’s more, those opportunities extend beyond Africa’s borders, argued Aaron Fu, managing partner for Africa at Nest, a Hong Kong-based VC firm. He cited SuperFluid, a Kenyan startup Nest is incubating, which uses non-traditional data sources to assess people’s financial health. “While this certainly was accelerated by a need on this continent for alternatives to traditional financial statements and credit bureaus, it has applications to individuals regardless of where in the world they reside.”

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African governments are also doing more. Rwanda has created a special visa for technology entrepreneurs. Kenya has launched Enterprise Kenya, through which the government plans to back tech startups itself, and has revised its company acts, including one that has been in place since 1948. The Nigerian government, a strong supporter of DEMO Africa, has launched a publicly funded incubator in Lagos and plans to back startups itself.

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Why investing in African startups really pay off?

Africa has real problems that need real solutions. Startups reflect this reality and set out to solve everyday issues with brilliant ideas. In Africa there is a growing movement of young entrepreneurs looking for a way to make life better and are doing just this with some of the solutions they have come up with. It’s no surprise that many investors around the world are looking to Africa as the place to put their money. But, despite all of this let’s explore more in detail why it’s worth investing in Africa and looking to these young entrepreneurs as the next big thing.

Potential to grow

In Africa, the lack of resources, energy and basic essentials in some places around the continent sets the scene for a plethora of opportunities for those willing to find solutions amidst so much adversity. But the up and coming generation has proven to be innovative, creative and full of potential, in such a way that they are solving their own problems in very effective ways.

Since there is room to grow and invest Africa has become a haven for venture capitalists, incubators, accelerators, angel investors, private equities and an array of events and conferences geared towards startups. So, quickly before moving on just to clarify what the difference is between all of the previously mentioned investors:

  • Venture capitalist (VC): Looks to invest in early-stage startups that usually represent as much high potential as it does high risk. Usually, the VCs in Africa are a group of local firms or international non-profit fund.
  • Incubator: Usually keep the majority of the shares, by developing an idea with an outside team that will be in charge of managing it.
  • Accelerator: By supporting the idea or project for about six months they help to accelerate the growth of the business.
  • Angel investor: This is usually a wealthy investor who believes in paying forward and supporting new talent.
  • Private equity: As opposed to VC they take on a business later on when it’s developed. They usually restructure to optimize financial performance.

Through events, conferences and events all of the key players in startups are able to network and create communities, contacts and at the of the day opportunities. Of course, we can’t leave the media, which plays an essential part in creating the narrative of the growth in Africa for the world to see.

Growth in past years

Revisiting what the experience has been for Africa to grow their startup ecosystem exponentially in such a relatively short amount of time. African startups started invading the financial news back in 2011, and it seems that this was just the start. Everyday, more and more Africans are getting an education either locally or abroad, and coming back to Africa to open up their own business. The amount of startups in the last years has surpassed expectations, reason why it has become a referent for the young entrepreneur startup movement. There is still a long way to go in some areas to truly create a sustainable ecosystem, but the different fields are building strong foundations for the future.

Some examples

African startups stand out due to the nature of their ideas. They are not just creating apps that can be stored away on your phone, or generating business ideas for your leisure time. Instead, they are investing in those ideas that help improve Africans lives and deal with everyday issues such as loss of energy, addressing or lack of clean water.

  • BRCK: This startup is attempting to make a backup Internet generator that will allow you to use the Internet even if you are located in a remote location with no electricity.
  • OkHi: In Africa, many houses don’t have a proper address, which makes it quite difficult for people to get correspondence or to be found for that matter. This app is tracking people so that it guides people to where they are with no need of an address.
  • M-Kopa Solar: In search of finding ways to solve Africa’s problem to reach so many isolated villages with electricity, but with the evident lack of power grids and possibility to build them, this startup has designed a pay-as-you-go solar power that can reach those destinations that before had no possibility of having energy in their homes.


What’s next?

In 2016, the number of startups emerging from Africa is only expected to rise. The tech startups are the ones to look out for, which isn’t to say that others like: commerce, education, and health are not doing their part as well. Africa will continue to grow and with international investors willing to support the business ideas from this growing population of entrepreneurs. We are likely to see growth from many countries, but the ones that are expected to lead the pack are South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.