As more Africans access higher-speed mobile broadband and adopt smartphones in greater numbers, homegrown entrepreneurs are taking advantage to design a new generation of Africa-focused digital products.
Below, FT reporters look at four technology innovators shaking up the African market.
Tunde Kehinde, co-founder and co-managing director of Africa Courier Express
In 2012, London-born, Lagos-bred Tunde Kehinde co-founded Jumia with an initial $1m investment from Rocket Internet, the German start-up incubator. Today, the company has grown to become one of Nigeria’s top ecommerce websites, with more than 100 million visits in 2015 in Nigeria alone.
Encouraged by Jumia’s success and capitalising on the boom in online shopping in Nigeria, Mr Kehinde, 32, left Jumia to set up another tech business in 2014 with Ercin Eksin, Africa Courier Express (ACE). The company aims to streamline the logistics of delivery for ecommerce companies, tracking and pay-on-delivery services for Nigerian businesses.
Mr Kehinde, who has a degree from Harvard Business School, has ambitions to take the business to the rest of the continent. “We think that tech is going to really transform how Africans receive products, and we want to be at the forefront of getting those products to them — whether it’s their bank card or an insurance product or a lunch or their favourite pair of jeans, we want ACE to get it to them,” he said.
Ken Njoroge, co-founder of Cellulant
In 2004, with just $3,000, a credit card and a business plan drafted on the back of a napkin, Kenyan Ken Njoroge co-founded Cellulant, the mobile payment system that connects consumers to merchants, banks and mobile operators.
From its origins in Kenya and Nigeria, the business operates in 10 African countries, connecting 40 banks, 200 merchants and 44 mobile network operators. The blue-chip companies it works with include Kenya Airways and Standard Chartered. The Nigerian government has also turned to the company, in 2012, giving it a four-year, $8.9m contract to run a registration and validation system for subsidised fertiliser.
Mr Njoroge, who describes himself as a “mobile commerce evangelist” on his LinkedIn profile, set up his first business in 1998 — 3Mice Interactive Media, an independent interactive agency that specialises in developing digital brand experiences. Two years later, Africa Online, then the largest pan-African internet service provider that was owned by London-listed African Lakes Corporation, snapped up the business.
Bright Simons, president of mPedigree Network
Bright Simons is frighteningly clever, as his name suggests. After winning a scholarship to study astrophysics at Durham University in England, the 34-year-old gave up an academic career to start his own company back home in Ghana in 2007 with the aim of using technology to revolutionise healthcare.
MPedigree provides Africans with a mobile phone verification service to check the authenticity of medicines. Fake pharmaceuticals are a big killer in the developing world, accounting for about 30 per cent of all medicines on sale, according to the World Health Organisation.
The system involves a scratch card number on the back of medicine packets, which can be texted to a central database for verification. Because consumers send the texts for free, mPedigree charges manufacturers. The business has a relationship with many of the big regional pharmaceutical companies, as well as some multinationals including French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis.
Via mobile phone networks, mPedigree’s use has spread across west and east Africa and is also being used in India and other parts of Asia. It is also expanding to seeds, cosmetics, motor parts and other businesses. “Seed growers are now using our technology against counterfeiting,” says Mr Simons. “Take a bag of grain. It looks like grain, but can sell as seed.”
Michael Macharia, group chief executive SevenSeas Technologies
Michael Macharia was very much at the vanguard of Kenya’s tech revolution, founding SevenSeas Technologies in 1999 when he was just 25 and internet connections in the country were rudimentary at best.
The 40-year-old qualified chartered accountant has developed the provider of integrated business solutions into one of Kenya’s largest private tech companies. Joseph Mucheru, technology minister, believes SevenSeas is not only ready for a public listing but would be able to expand even faster if it did.
SevenSeas is already active in 10 African countries across the continent and has established a toehold in Europe by developing operations in Portugal. Among its successes is winning a $5.6m contract to upgrade business information systems for the Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation.
When not working on his day job, Mr Macharia is active in mentoring young tech entrepreneurs through SevenSeas’ Knowledge for Life programme. In the longer term, he hopes to build an African venture capital fund aimed at financing technology start-up companies.