The 7 most popular startups incubators in Africa

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Image courtesy of Manuel Schmalstieg on Flickr.com

Being a business incubator has a lot of meanings and descriptions, but in short, the most accurate one would be that it is and organization, facility or company that helps nurture, accelerate and develop new, startup companies, by providing business support services and resources such as shared and affordable office spaces with common benefits, management training, coaching, marketing support, networking connections and sometimes even access to a possibility of financing. Most business incubators are frequently sponsored by private companies or government entities that become the biggest support for smaller companies. It is very common that startups spend around two years or even more in a business incubator, while they have enough tools to operate on their own. Business incubators are different from technology parks due to the amazing dedication they have for young companies in their early stages. When it comes to business incubators in Africa, the idea and conception of an entity like this is no different than the ones that exist in the rest of the world. In the past couple of years, the growth of the startup ecosystem in Africa has been very significant and positive. Every year more and more startups are receiving benefits, training and business support by new or existing incubators that are also working hard to improve the entrepreneurial possibilities for African startups and its founders.  According to information given by the World Bank, and contrary to what any person from other continents would imagine, Africa has over 90 tech hubs which are currently responsible for the growth and development of new startups in this continent. Incubators are considered to be the right ingredient to increase the number not only entrepreneurial projects but also the growth of employment possibilities in Africa. Among these 90 incubators there are 3 types of hubs that can be classified as Technology Labs, For-profit incubator and Non-profit incubators.

The first category are the Technology Labs. These are commonly known as co-working or shared open spaces for companies that are looking for business assistance and proper technology infrastructure for early stage development.

The second ones are For-profit incubators which are focused on high potential entrepreneurs that are willing to be accelerated in a three month program. Instead of working on their own terms, startups will have to do their very best if they want to receive the seed funding, the advisory and the access to a very promising network for additional funding. There is only space for about 12 startups per year in these type of incubators

And last but not least, Non-profit incubators are those who offer something like a two year training program while offering jobs at their offices somewhere else, in order to give these non-tech people a chance to be closer and learn from a more advanced tech world. They are also called non-profit-corporate incubators.  The training they offer will take place before startups can even be incubated. It is a long program but it is worth it.

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Image courtesy of Nicola Holtkamp on Flickr.com

Here is a list of the most attractive startups incubators in Africa.

ActivSpaces

Previously named Limbe Labs Ventures, ActivSpaces was founded in 2010. It offers open collaboration spaces and technological facilities for techies in Africa. It attracts business coaches and mentors through a fellowship program built especially for startups to take advantage of what is has to offer them.

AfriLabs

Also founded in 2010. Afrilabs works based on a network that helps increase the visibility of other fellow techlabs. It promotes the development and growth for emerging tech labs.

Botswana Innovation Hub

It was founded in 2006 in Gaborone, Botswana. It offers interesting facilities for companies that are tech oriented and knowledge based programs for startups to be able to be part of the Global market.

CTIC Dakar

CTIC Dakar is one of the most important incubators in Senegal due to the fact that it is one of the first financially sustainable incubator. One of its priorities is to increase the presence of the IT and mobile companies that it supports all around West Africa.

Wennovation Hub

Founded in Cameroon in 2010, this incubator has a pre-business creation training to be offered to new startups, plus a center where collaborative business innovation is offered along with venture idea formation.

iHub Kenya

It is an open space located in the industrial area of Nairobi, where investors and startups can get together in a collaborative environment, supporting each other by sharing innovative journeys and connecting the opportunities that can be identified between them, while they are working together.

Ice Ethiopia

It is a facility where startups and entrepreneurs can get professional advice and consultancy in order to improve their business. They share amenities such as kitchen supplies, coffee, lockers, internet connection and social spaces like a lounge and a patio where creative projects are being developed and shared among the community.

Increasing Opportunities for Female Entrepreneurs in Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Africa is home to a number of cities with the potential to become major global hubs for entrepreneurship. The continent remains one of the most promising markets for innovation in the world. According to forecasts published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Africa will have the fastest-growing economy of any continent in the coming years.

One of the most important and growing segments of entrepreneurship in Africa — which is sometimes overlooked — is women. Some of the biggest entrepreneurial success stories to come out of Africa in the past few years involve women. For example, a young female developed SoleRebels, a shoe manufacturer based in Ethiopia, into a multimillion-dollar company. Today, the company sells sandals abroad for $60 or more per pair and employs about 100 workers. Women have emerged as a major driver of economic growth and opportunity for other Africans through job creation.

SoleRebels is not an isolated success story. Many African women have developed incredibly successful companies in traditional fields, such as artisan crafts and fashion design. However, many more are leading the charge for technological innovation. One of the founders of Ushahidi, a Web 2.0 crowdsourcing platform, is a 23-year-old female from Kenya. Women are also present in several other fields, such as aviation. In South Africa, the leading provider of aircraft charters is a company founded and developed by a woman.

According to the World Bank, the rate of female entrepreneurship is higher in Africa than in any other region in the world. Many countries in Africa with economies that are growing quickly, such as Rwanda and Ethiopia, focus on foreign direct investment and private enterprise rather than charitable aid. These countries remain some of the most progressive in terms of offering and supporting entrepreneurship opportunities among women. Rwanda, for example, changed its land title laws to allow women to register alongside their husbands, which has resulted in a significant increase in women-run farms.

The African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program

AWEP logo

Understanding the role that women have played in economic growth in Africa, several programs have emerged to give females the tools they need to start successful enterprises. One of the most prominent programs is the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP), which provides education and engagement for female entrepreneurs around the continent. A part of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), AWEP aims to promote the growth of businesses and foster better startup environments to nurture increased trade in Africa and between African nations and the United States. Companies such as SoleRebels have demonstrated the market that exists abroad for African goods, and AWEP aims to capitalize on the potential to generate greater income for women and make them a powerful voice for change in their local communities.

AWEP recognizes that reducing the gender gap depends on more than just entrepreneurial opportunity. The program has identified key needs in education, health care, and political participation that can foster greater economic inclusion and ultimately result in increased economic competitiveness for the entire continent.

Since its inception in 2010, AWEP has created a network of more than 1,600 female entrepreneurs who have generated more than 17,000 jobs across Africa. Participants, who come from 48 countries, remain in contact through participation in nearly two dozen business associations across the continent. A key component of AWEP is operated through the United States Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), which brings about 30 African female entrepreneurs to the United States each year. Over the course of the program, participants attend professional development workshops and network with key policymakers and industry leaders. Participants have an opportunity to discuss common challenges and formulate effective approaches to overcoming them.

Local Opportunity Through She Leads Africa

While international organization like AWEP can help to increase entrepreneurial opportunity among women in Africa, local solutions have also emerged. Recognizing that males continue to dominate many of the accelerators and incubators located throughout Africa, two young women recently founded She Leads Africa, a platform that holds a pitch competition for women on the continent and in the diaspora. Last year marked the inaugural edition of the competition, in which six finalists had the opportunity to pitch their ideas before some of Africa’s leading business executives.

She Leads Africa recognizes that Sub-Saharan Africa has an impressive rate of female entrepreneurship compared with other parts of the world and that these companies have greater difficulty in growing. Typically, they never expand past an employee or two. With help from accelerators or startup competitions, these businesses could transform into major enterprises, yet few women have the opportunity to participate in such opportunities.

The need for She Leads Africa is strong, with more than 380 entries received for the inaugural competition. The vast majority of the entries came from people who had never before entered a startup program or pitch competition. The excitement about such an opportunity speaks to the amazing potential held by these women and the demand for even more programs in support of female entrepreneurs in the future.

 

 

5 African Education startups you need to know about

The idea of online learning is definitely changing people’s way of accessing education worldwide, and Africa is certainly not the exception. The new generations are more open every day to knowledge from whatever perspective technology allows them to receive it, and if the possibility is online education, African countries are not staying behind in this trend that has been changing the world for the past years. Quality education has no limits now, with startups created to promote this innovative way of spreading knowledge and education throughout children and adults that are eager to learn. The idea of a future built with education, development, values, pride and hope, with key factors that strengthen countries’ economies can only be conceived with solid tools and sources that are able to supply essential learning and education elements for the children and the young people of today. The contribution the education and learning startups in Africa will generate in the near and not so near future is not only represented in income for companies or for the country, but it will also hopefully be reflected in society patterns and the respect for human rights. These startups and companies created throughout the past decade have a huge responsibility opportunity in the education of African countries and most of them already know it and are working hard to make sure they don’t let their countries down.

The following list describes 5 of the most promising and inspiring educational and e-learning startups in Africa that are creating an impact in today’s African digital learning environment. All of them have the same mission which is to give people the possibility to access quality education, without attending an educational institution. The possibilities digital learning platforms are giving people is something you cannot put a price to, because its value is so big, it could never be calculated. You are invited to take a deeper look into each one of them.

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Image courtesy of IICD on Flickr.com

DoviLearn

DoviLearn is a Nigerian online learning platform that has a simple mission: To make learning digital. It is one of the services offered by a startup called Dovichi Services which specializes in skill acquisitions for people who are interested in a career upgrade. The courses offered online by DoviLearn are human resources, digital marketing, project management, and android and IOS development, among other courses that will make any professional gain more knowledge to share with the people and companies they work with. Online certifications and professional training are also offered online and the best part of it is that courses are dictated by excellent trainers and instructors.

Prepeclass

This startup was initially born as an online learning platform but after some time of growing and adapting itself, it turned into a tutor marketplace that offers personal home tutors the possibility to meet customers with academic needs. The services of Prepeclass are focused on delivering quality and in order to prove it, they have a money-back guarantee policy that states that if a customer scores under 75% in the exam they asked to be tutored for, they will be refunded. Prepeclass is web and mobile friendly and that is one of the ways it makes it possible for people to take quick tests based on targeted examination practices. Prepeclass won the TechCabal Battlefield contest in 2014.

Rethink Education

Created and launched in 2012 in Cape Town, Rethink Education is an e-learning startup that allows educational content to be pushed and delivered through the mobile version to various instant messaging platforms and to the web platform mainly for school use. Rethink Education allows students the access to quality education while parents and teachers can monitor the student’s progress and adjust the lesson based on the progress the student is making day by day. The main goal for this startup is to operate not only in South Africa but also in Nigeria and Ghana.

Obami

Launched in 2009, Obami, a South African Startup specialized in education, provides web and mobile learning solutions to students, big and small companies, NGO’s and also teachers. Obami brings all of them together on a social learning platform, while allowing them to share educational content with each other. Obami is simple, scalable, and is it built in a secure, social framework. It is very intuitive so anyone can use it.

Qurio

Qurio is a perfect digital platform for those who have the need to create quizzes, surveys and tests online. Qurio is accessible both on web and mobile. It is easy to use and doesn’t need to be downloaded. It is a useful e-learning platform for companies that want to get feedback from their employees or measure their customers’ satisfaction, and also for teachers that want to evaluate a class or a lecture. With Qurio there is no need for paperwork and it can be used in real time.

African Entrepreneurs’ Organization Supports East African Startups

As Africa continues to expand its entrepreneurial culture and emerge as a major startup leader, several organizations have emerged to help entrepreneurs realize their ideas . One of the most prominent of these is the African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC), which launched in Rwanda in 2012. Since then, AEC has supported more than 100 entrepreneurs in Rwanda, as they grow and expand their organizations to other countries in East Africa. What separates AEC from other incubators and accelerators is its focus on long-term support, even for companies that have survived the early stages. Recognizing that early-stage support can help drive the development of ideas, the organization offers continued support to help businesses expand and create new jobs.

African Entrepreneur Collective logo

With the goal of increasing the availability of jobs to fuel economic growth, the coalition primarily works with entrepreneurs to identify new avenues for business development. AEC helps companies to enter new markets and grow stronger in its existing operations. Working across a range of industries, AEC maintains several different accelerator and incubator programs. The African Innovation Prize works with students to develop industry-defining ideas. THINK is a Tigo-backed incubator that works primarily with technology companies. In addition, SPRING is an accelerator that works with female entrepreneurs across East Africa. Inkomoko remains the flagship AEC program that focuses on business development. The organization also operates AEC Rwanda Trustee, which offers low-interest direct financing.

The AEC Difference

AEC understands the difficulty involved in growing a business in Africa. The organization has worked diligently to identify key ways of removing barriers to growth. From an entrepreneurial perspective, scaling operations often means making difficult choices in terms of managerial changes, as well as gaining access to capital. In addition, growing businesses often face new regulatory challenges. In order to overcome these challenges, AEC provides affordable access to capital for businesses that have proven that they are ready to grow and key support during this difficult period. The skills required to grow a business do not always coincide with those needed to create a new venture. Through hands-on mentoring and strategic consulting, AEC ensures that entrepreneurs gain the skills they need as they enter new stages of growth. In addition, the organization offers practical training opportunities.

The AEC model has met with success in a wide variety of sectors. Some of its most recent success stories illustrate the versatility of the organization’s approach. One of the entrepreneurs that it supported expanded a cayenne pepper production company that markets the pepper according to its myriad health benefits. Southern Rwanda has an ideal climate for growing hot peppers, and the company now employs five farmers to sustain its operations. Another entrepreneur started a magazine for East African women and mothers. The publication is released in Kinyarwanda, a local language of Rwanda, in order to increase readership. The entrepreneur behind this publication was recognized with the Rwandan Youth and Business Excellence Award for her work to improve awareness of key maternity issues among local populations.

Kenyan women farming
Kenyan Women Farming – Image courtesy IFPRI-Images on Flickr

A Closer Look at AEC Programs

The African Innovation Prize: Available to students in Rwanda and Burundi, the prize seeks to encourage entrepreneurship by rewarding excellent ideas with seed funding. The three-phase program challenges students to dream of world-changing ideas, design new products, and then dedicate themselves to the idea. The resulting business plans are presented in a two-part competition that examines the feasibility of each idea and the dedication of the entrepreneurs. In addition to seed funding, winners receive entrepreneurial training and mentorship.

THINK: Seeking to fast track the development of digital solutions for Africa, THINK provides funding and support to technology entrepreneurs. The program consists of a six-month intensive incubation period that takes place in Kigali, where participants have the opportunity to collaborate with leading business experts and technological innovators. THINK is open to tech startups around the continent.

SPRING: Committed to the needs of East African entrepreneurs, SPRING supports businesses owned and operated by females, providing services and products to benefit adolescent girls. The five-year program offers financing, mentorship, and technical assistance. SPRING receives funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Nike Foundation, and the U.K. Department of International Development (DFID).

Inkomoko: As the flagship AEC program, Inkomoko targets young Rwandan entrepreneurs who have already started thriving enterprises and are ready to expand their operations. The accelerator connects them to the funding and skills training necessary to meet their goals. Participants have access to a wide range of different services according to their specific needs. Once they are accepted into the program, entrepreneurs receive support for a full year as they develop their business plans, consult with business leaders, and secure capital.

AEC Rwanda Trustee: The financing arm of AEC, this initiative offers direct financing at rates that are considerably lower than those of local banks. In addition, the repayment terms are written to be flexible according to the needs of entrepreneurs. A Kiva partner, AEC Rwanda Trustee seeks out companies that plan to expand operations and create new jobs through the loan. Clients must participate in an AEC accelerator, which is the organization’s way of minimizing investment risk.

Kenyan Startup Offers Business Software Tailored to Entrepreneurs

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For many business founders in Africa, accounting is almost an afterthought, something that is not high on their list of priorities. Unfortunately, tracking and analyzing the money coming in and out of a company is vital to any nascent company’s survival. Many software solutions exist, but few of these options are designed with the startup in mind. Moreover, these solutions can prove costly for smaller startups, and devising in-house solutions can prove extremely complex. Luckily, a team of Kenyan entrepreneurs who founded Uhasibu has developed a solution tailored to the needs of entrepreneurs throughout Africa.

The Uhasibu MiniERP Business Automation Solution

The team behind Uhasibu developed MiniERP as an end-to-end solution that provides cloud-based accounting services and other automation services for small businesses. Through MiniERP, small business owners gain the ability to streamline their business processes without the hassles of conventional tracking systems or the expense of modern software solutions. The product’s name comes from the concept of an enterprise resource planning system (ERP), which is used by larger companies to integrate business operations through technology. Typically, ERPs are modular and can be adapted for companies in a variety of sectors. However, these systems tend to be very expensive to deploy, not to mention time consuming.

MiniERP is designed with the needs of the small business in mind. As the name MiniERP suggests, the product provides much more than simple accounting services—at a price that small businesses can afford. Integration is simple and easy with the use of cloud technology, and business can begin using the product within a matter of minutes once they decide to enroll. The Uhasibu team initially focused primarily on accounting operations, but they quickly recognized that companies needed more functionality. As companies learned about the cloud accounting system, they expressed interest in a product that could also address more basic operational issues.

Features of the MiniERP Cloud Solution

Many startups in Kenya and other African countries avoid cloud-based systems due to the unreliability of Internet services. At the same time, this type of product is appealing because it does not require expensive investments in hardware and software to implement. The MiniERP team addressed the former concern by making the product available even when the user is offline so that companies could still benefit from the latter advantage.

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The product can be used in many different industries. Some of the small businesses that already use MiniERP include pharmacies, barbershops, and salons. Because it integrates seamlessly with the Uhasibu accounting system, business owners can capture critical financial information and quickly apply it to their business processes.

If companies already have an accounting service but still want to take advantage of the features of MiniERP, they can use MiniERP to generate an accounting report that systematically lists all entries that must be made through the other program. Some other benefits of MiniERP include the following:

Integrated M-PESA payments

MiniERP accepts payments via the mobile M-PESA platform. The program gets assigned a Lipa na M-PESA till number that indicates where customers can send their payments.

Automatic revenue tracking

The system automatically makes note of all money coming in and out of the business. Therefore, business owners can quickly detect and correct any revenue leaks.

Built-in commission system

Employee commissions are calculated and updated automatically in a matter of minutes. Business owners can set commissions based on a fixed percentage of the sale or a certain amount per product sold.

Debt and debtor management

To help business owners minimize their number of bad debts, MiniERP calculates what certain customers owe. The system also notifies salespeople of any unsettled balances as customers visit.

No-effort bookkeeping

Through MiniERP, business owners can focus on running their operations rather than keeping books up to date. All transactions are automatically recorded so that the business has professional-quality books.

Automated payroll

Uhasibu offers a payroll solution that integrates seamlessly with MiniERP. Commissions  and payments are issued at the end of a pay period with a single click.

Getting Started with MiniERP

To allow entrepreneurs to see whether the MiniERP solution is right for their businesses, the first month of access is free. People can sign up for the service in a matter of minutes and begin using it immediately.

The company offers a flexible payment system so that businesses can fit the product into their respective budgets. The base system costs 1,000 shillings per month, which is equivalent to about $11.50, and extra tills are an extra 500 shillings per month for each location. Companies able to pay in advance can get multi-month deals. By paying for six months upfront, startups get the seventh month free. Similarly, companies that pay for 10 months will get access for 12 months. For a limited time, MiniERP is offering two free months for new users through Microsoft Biz4Afrika.