Gates Foundation Launches New Grand Challenges Exploration Grant Round

On September 9, 2015, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced the 16th round of the Grand Challenges Explorations grant program, which calls on individuals around the world to develop innovative solutions to major global challenges. Since 2008, the initiative has awarded 1,100 research grants to innovators from 60 countries. The program welcomes the ideas of all thinkers, regardless of discipline or experience level, accepting applications from college students, tenured professors, universities, and other entities, ranging from government laboratories to both nonprofit and for-profit organizations.

Grand Challenges Explorations focuses primarily on problems facing global health and development. For its 16th grant cycle, it will accept applications on four pertinent topics: Novel Approaches to Characterizing and Tracking the Global Burden of Antimicrobial Resistance, Explore New Solutions in Global Health Priority Areas, Addressing Newborn and Infant Gut Health Through Bacteriophage-Mediated Microbiome Engineering, and Explore New Ways to Measure Delivery and Use of Digital Financial Services Data.

Applicants will submit two-page proposals outlining their potentially world-changing ideas. The initial application phase does not require preliminary data, only seeking promising and bold new solutions to global issues. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will accept applications until November 11, 2015, and will announce the $100,000 grant winners approximately six months later. Projects that leverage these resources to achieve considerable success will be eligible to receive up to $1 million in additional funding.

Startup Hotpots – Where Africa’s Tech Entrepreneurs Go to Grow

One of the biggest economic developments of the last decade is the transformation of Africa from a high-risk business environment into a dynamo of business growth and innovation. Faced with rising demand across a broad range of sectors, the continent has seen a huge surge in entrepreneurial activity, along with increased interest from both foreign and domestic investors.

Africa also has a fast-growing tech startup culture, which significantly impacts virtually all other sectors, including medical, transport, consumer goods, finance, and others poised to expand in Africa. Entrepreneurs who recognize the potential in these domains will often identify tech opportunities that can capitalize on those industries’ growth. This happens, for example, when tech startups pursue initiatives in telecom infrastructure, app development, workflow or management software, and so forth. The possibilities are practically endless—especially in a rapidly developing economic climate like Africa’s.

Across the vast continent, a few countries present economic, regulatory, and infrastructural environments that are especially suitable for entrepreneurs or investors. Here are a handful of the African markets in which tech startups are drawing global recognition:

 

1) Nigeria

Recently acknowledged as Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria boasts an enormous and increasingly affluent population—the perfect environment in which to introduce new tech.

One of the highest profile recent African startups is Gamsole, a Microsoft-backed game development company whose apps have been downloaded 10 million times. Another promising company is logistics software creator Delivery Science, which utilizes big-data analytics to help companies more efficiently manage their inventory, transport, and e-commerce needs. To connect Africa’s enormous talent pool to jobs, employment facilitation company, Andela, offers both networking and skills training.

Like other tech-friendly nations, Nigeria offers incubation and training opportunities. The country is also actively growing its education and research network infrastructure through the Nigerian Research and Education Network. Lagos, the capital city, is home to CcHUB, a startup acceleration facility offering mentoring, training, networking events, and other services helpful for launching new tech businesses in Nigeria.

 

2) South Africa

With one of Africa’s strongest economies and most stable governments, South Africa is a clear favorite for those looking for tech startup possibilities. The country, in fact, is well on the way to establishing a vibrant culture of technological innovation and investment, having already drawn both recognition and funds to successful companies like WooThemes, Parcelninja, and Kids Aid.

The central city of Johannesburg is home to a thriving tech startup community. It is the birthplace of global video game creator Luma Arcade, and it also hosts a Google-supported tech hub, Jozihub.

Especially prominent on the African tech start-up scene is the Western Cape. It is from Cape Town that many of the top-performing tech startups have originated, including VoiceMap, SNAPnSAVE, and Tasty Poison Games.

 

3) Ghana

While it may sometimes be outshone by its bigger West African neighbor, Nigeria, Ghana nonetheless has attracted the attention of investors and tech-savvy entrepreneurs. The nation enjoys a strong economy, and actively seeks partnerships with foreign companies. It also provides training and incubation opportunities like Accra’s iSpace tech hub and the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology. As a result of the favorable business atmosphere, Ghana outputs a variety of impressive startups, such as turnkey payroll software company PaySail and location-based, photo album app Suba.

 

4) Kenya

No discussion of the tech movement in Africa is complete without mentioning Kenya, the Silicon Savannah. The nation’s relative stability and infrastructural development make it an especially ripe locale for the establishment of startups. Perhaps most importantly, the nation’s government has provided an information and communications technology (ICT) environment especially conducive to growing tech businesses.

An early tech leader, Kenya was among the first African nations to empower its burgeoning middle class with a mobile money solution when the local telecom provider, Safaricom, introduced M-PESA in 2007. Since then, Kenya has earned a reputation for technical innovation and support. Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, is home to the iHub innovation center and incubator, which has spawned over 150 startups since 2010.

Kenya continues to generate promising startups: The PesaCalc app provides a way to streamline the use of mobile money services. The award-winning, farm commodities and information app M-Farm has been helping the Kenyan agricultural industry since 2012, and it has won the backing of prominent global tech company Samsung. After crowdfunding and seed funding rounds bringing in nearly $1.5 million, the creators of BRCK, a self-powered Wi-Fi unit, plan to transform internet access in rural regions throughout the world.

 

5) Uganda

Given the negative news stories often broadcast from the country, Uganda might be a surprising addition to a list of tech hotspots. Nevertheless, the capital city of Kampala has established itself as a nerve center for tech development and training. Search engine giant Google even supports a tech hub there called Outbox. Moreover, Uganda increasingly attracts venture capital interest with firms like SlimTrader, which makes a shop-by-text app that also serves better-known tech-friendly countries like Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria.

SME Toolkit – A Valuable Resource for Nigerian Entrepreneurs

Micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) represent a huge majority of companies in Nigeria. But though most of Nigeria’s 173 million residents earn their livelihoods from these often entrepreneur-driven businesses, it can be difficult for owners and operators of MSMEs to acquire the basic business skills needed to help their companies thrive.

That’s where SME Toolkit Nigeria comes in. A program of Pan-African University Enterprise Development Services (EDS) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), SME Toolkit Nigeria serves small and medium enterprises by providing free business management information, software, education, and training. On the organization’s website, Nigeria.SMEToolkit.org, business owners can find facts, forms, and templates for all areas related to running a business, including business planning, legal and insurance issues, and new technologies. In addition, SME Toolkit offers a regular informational newsletter to its members and organizes an annual conference.

In addition to the IFC, a World Bank Group member that promotes sustainable private-sector investment in developing economies, SME Toolkit Nigeria is supported by a number of local and international partners. These include IBM, Google, Palo Alto Software, and the OPEN Small Business Network from American Express.