BY EMEKA AGINAM
Committed to helping Africa improve its global competitiveness, the software giant, Microsoft Corp. has said that five African startups from Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya will get innovation grants designed to provide the financial support needed to cross borders and empower the next generation of developers and entrepreneurs in Africa.
Microsoft 4Africa initiative is expected place tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youth, bring 1 million African small and medium-sized enterprises online, upskill 100,000 members of Africa’s workforce, and help an additional 100,000 recent graduates develop skills for employability, 75 percent of whom Microsoft will help place in jobs.
Accordingly, the grant, Microsoft said is part of the company’s 4Afrika Initiative, which was launched in February 2013 to facilitate the company’s active engagement in Africa’s economic development to improve its global competitiveness.
It would be recalled that last year , Microsoft 4Afrika had extended the Microsoft Ventures partnership program to Africa, with startup accelerator 88mph as its first partner.
Through the 4Afrika Initiative, Microsoft is now extending its support to include grants to startups, selecting five startups as the first set of recipients.
The startups, Microsoft said were selected based on the uniqueness and scalability of their solutions, their business models and the relevance of the key problems they are addressing. The solutions and apps developed by the startups are relevant to consumers and the African market, ranging from agriculture, education and consumer (gaming).
The startups that will receive funding will include:
• access.mobile LLC (Uganda) : A solution with a key focus in the agriculture and healthcare industries, giving enterprises the ability to collect, analyze and share clear, real-time information about their operations and supply chain activity.
• Africa 118 (Kenya): A mobile directory services solution that helps bridge the information gap both for enterprises and consumers.
• Gamsole (Nigeria): A mobile game production company creating Windows games, with downloads topping more than 4 million.
• Kytabu (Kenya) :A textbook leasing application for low-cost tablets. Students can save more than 60 percent of their education cost by renting their textbooks on an hourly, weekly, monthly, school term or annual plan.
• Save & Buy (Nigeria): A Web and mobile platform that enables Nigerians to save toward the purchase of items conveniently and securely through e-commerce channels.
In addition to grants, Microsoft will provide technical support and mentorship to help these startups develop their businesses through the company’s Center of Expertise.
This group of Microsoft technology enthusiasts focuses on using Microsoft tools and technologies to solve business problems.
The 4Afrika Initiative aims to help startups break through barriers and reach new heights with the help of Microsoft’s data platform solutions, unified communications, optimized desktops and enterprise project management.
Responding to the capacity building program, Amrote Abdella, director of startup engagement and Partnerships for 4Afrika, aid that, “As part of the 4Afrika initiative, we are excited to be supporting startups that have developed innovative solutions that address key issues in Africa,
. “Our support is aimed to showcase the importance of local innovation, but, more important, it highlights the great potential that African innovators have in competing with world-class developers and entrepreneurs.”
Similarly, Abiola Olaniran, CEO of Gamsole, which has already developed some of the most popular Windows Phone games in Africa, said, “The Microsoft 4Afrika innovation grant provides a great support as it helps entrepreneurs to further bootstrap their companies without giving up equity or control. It allows us to not miss out on the kind of fast growth that only major cash infusion can provide.”
“A critical success factor in driving the economic success of entrepreneurs in Africa is access to capital together with a solid incubation foundation. Microsoft 4Afrika is partnering with local organizations in creating opportunities for ‘smart capital’ to be available to our young innovators,” Fernando de Sousa, general manager for Microsoft 4Afrika, said adding that, “Smart capital combines access to finance, technical skills development, business mentoring, sharing of global best practices and access to markets with the infrastructure provided by local partners to enable world-class companies to emerge from Africa.”