Top 7 apps shaping small businesses in Africa


In February 2017, a group of young entrepreneurs unveiled apps they hope will see them make a splash across the continent.

The entrepreneurs, who were drawn from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, graduated after a six-month training programme that saw them hone ideas they’d presented at the Insiders4Good fellowship programme run by Microsoft.

These are seven of the ideas that were presented.

1. Mshonaji of Mtaalamu

Tailoring is a source of income for approximately 75,000 Kenyans. These are the numbers Leah Otieno was looking at as she explored the possibilities of making tailoring a more attractive venture.

“Tailors lack an effective means of marketing their services to new clients. They typically rely on word of mouth, which is a limited approach that results in low customer numbers and minimal income,” she says.

Leah came up with the Mshonaji platform to connect tailors to an expanded base of customers through reviews, an e-Commerce portal, and a sophisticated profile and search function.

A cheaper alternative to an individual website, the platform offers a digital workspace that enables tailors to showcase their past creations and highlight their specialities.

2. Ivomerere Smart Agriculture

Agribusiness has become an attractive investment field for young people. Talk to any graduate in whatever field and many will tell you about poultry keeping or urban farming of berries.

Ivomere plans to cash in on this interest through its crop sensing system that tells a farmer when to irrigate or harvest produce.

The app takes advantage of the Internet of Things (IoT) to gather data on humidity, temperature and other soil factors, and delivers real-time information to farmers.

According to Rosine Mwiseneza, her app can tell a farmer the exact amount of water needed for maximum impact.

“Most farmers don’t have the means to assess whether their crops need to be irrigated or not. These inefficiencies negatively affect their productivity, which is what the app plans to reverse,” she says.

3. Breast cancer prediction system

A Kenya Methodist University graduate wants women to be able to predict their breast cancer status through a smartphone.

John Mugendi, a computer science graduate, says he’s been interested in the fight against cancer since he lost a friend to the disease.

“My friend’s aunt had breast cancer and we could see her getting worse by the day.

There’s nothing as bad as seeing someone you love die a slow death when you can’t do anything about it,” he says.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women in Africa, with 70 per cent to 80 per cent of these cases diagnosed when the cancer is already in the late stages.

Peter says factors like a lack of awareness and inadequate diagnostics facilities have contributed to the problem. Through his business, Lyons Analytics, he proposes to develop a predictive and prescriptive system that uses machine learning to track the progression of breast cancer from its onset to the late stages.

According to Peter, his system will support increased understanding on breast cancer formation and its spread, how the disease progresses, and what treatments to initiate.

“The information provided will be as accurate as possible. I’m currently doing it out of passion and not as a means of making money. Money can come later,” he says.

4. Worknasi

The idea behind this app is simple: the need to rent out office space to start-ups that can’t afford offices of their own, and to give tenants an extra source of income.

If you’ve thought you could make a few extra thousand shillings every month by partitioning the extra space in your office and leasing it out, then this app is for you.

“New businesses often struggle to succeed due to the high costs of working spaces. Worknasi aims to make it easier for start-ups and freelancers to get their own space by connecting them with businesses and office owners who want to share their working spaces and meeting rooms,” says Edgar Mwampinge, the brains behind the app.

Worknasi, available on web and mobile, lists available office spaces, reviews, rates and payment options.

5. Mega Gas

Peter Njeri’s Mega Gas creates energy through waste, helping clean up the environment in the process.

Peter says charcoal and wood fuel contribute to indoor air pollution, a serious health hazard that causes the deaths of more than four million people worldwide every year.

“Mega Gas refines unsorted polythene or plastic waste into clean cooking gas through a process that creates no emissions, residue or pollution to the environment.

“Clients experience healthier indoor environments, and climate change is mitigated when clean cooking gas replaces charcoal and wood.”

6. Kids Comp Camp

Kids Comp Camp is a programme aimed at training children in rural areas on the use of computers. It also works with adults with no prior exposure to the computer.

According to Caleb Ndaka who came up with the programme, a large majority of children leave school without working with computers, putting them at a disadvantage in the job market.

“I have gone to rural communities and seen children in high school who have never seen a computer. This is not a good thing for them, especially when they later have to compete for jobs that require computer literacy,” says Caleb.

Kids Comp Camp is a mobile coding and ICT training unit, with children trained after-school and while on holiday on everything from computer basics to coding.

Caleb, who holds a degree in IT from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, says he’s used the programme to train 7,000 children in rural communities since launching in 2014.

He has a team of five staff and more than 8,000 volunteers in colleges who take the mobile training centres to villages to offer the training.

Adults part with a Sh3,000 fee for two-hour training held over eight weeks.

7. Azali

Azali aims to automate savings and credit access.

According to Festus Okumu, who came up with the platform, 98 per cent of Kenya’s businesses are small and medium-sized enterprises that often need quick access to credit to boost cash flow or for growth purposes.

The JKUAT graduate says his mobile-based lending platform connects borrowers to numerous lenders, including chamas, Saccos and peer-to-peer platforms.

A borrower can then view the loan options available across a variety of financial institutions, and choose what works best.

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