Kenya’s huge success with mobile money and the M-Pesa platform has launched Africa into the startup spotlight.
But African innovation goes way beyond mobile money. Whether it’s ecommerce in Nigera, price comparison in South Africa or mobile advertising in Tanzania, African startups are not only changing their continent, but the world.
1. Saya – Ghana
Chat messaging clients are hugely popular across Africa. Mobile chat app Saya Mobile builds on the success of such services. It works across the iOS, Android, Blackberry and Java platforms, and is a product of the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) based in Accra.
Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, was initially a website developed to map reports of violence around the 2008 Kenyan election. The company has since evolved to become a tech non-profit that specializes in developing free open-source software for data collection, visualization and interactive mapping.
Digital and mobile advertising is big business everywhere, including Africa. AdsBrook provides a network of channels for advertisers to run integrated campaigns. Headed by New York-born Derek Jason Bossman, who relocated to Ghana with his parents as a teenager, the company operates in West Africa and is rapidly expanding across the continent.
In Lagos, a city of 21 million people with 30,000 more arriving every day, the idea of running an online grocery business seems insane, but Gloo somehow manages to grow. Founder Dr. Olumide Olusanya gave up his medical practice to devote time to building his business. It now employs more than 100 people.
Mara Online is a family of web and mobile platforms that allow users to communicate, interact and collaborate. Sometimes referred to as Africa’s answer to Skype, the May launch of the company saw a chartered jet fly over Silicon Valley with a Mara-branded banner that read, “It’s Time For Africa.”
This digital agency is disrupting the media, marketing and brand space by harnessing social media and traditional communications. The company works with major African brands, such as Vodacom, Castle, Tigo and Ndovu to extend their reach and messaging.
As the largest price comparison site in South Africa and Africa as a whole, PriceCheck considers the prices of thousands of products. In May it faced 100,000 other entrants to win the International “App of the Year” at the BlackBerry Live conference in Florida.
Iroko is the world’s largest distributor of African entertainment, including Nigeria’s huge Nollywood film industry. Launched at the end of 2010, the company has a global audience of more than 6 million users from 178 countries — it’s regularly referred to as “Africa’s Netflix.”
9. biNu – South Africa
BiNu mobile app platform can boost Internet speeds by 10 times, which means even the most basic phones can have smartphone-like capabilities. Its more than 100 channels include social media, news, weather, entertainment and free books. BiNu users can also interact with each other via news feeds, social profiles and messaging.
10. Konga – Nigeria
One of Nigeria’s leading online megastores, Konga is growing rapidly across its mobile and SMS platforms. Founded in the summer of 2012, the company now has 150 employees. It promises to deliver products that range from flatscreen TVs to cosmetics anywhere in the country, within five days.
11. Bozza – South Africa
Backed by HP Ventures, Bozza is a mobile social networking startup aimed at township users. It’s headed by entrepreneur Emma Kaye, who describes the service as “a place to discover and share content, enabling small enterprises in a township environment to collaborate and prosper.”
12. Njorku – Cameroon
Launched in March 2011, the Njorku job search engine helps users find careers across Africa. Active in seven countries, the platform offers free and unlimited access to hundreds of thousands of job listings. The company has already raised seed funding from a business angel in France and a Canada-based technology company.
13. Fawry – Egypt
Fawry is a payment service customers can use through banks, post offices and a nationwide network of retailers. Services range from bill payment to Internet and mobile banking. The company employs 250 people and has already collected more than $220 million.
As a mobile music download platform, Spinlet offers media distribution to emerging markets in Africa. It encourages the social aspect of music by making it easy to create and share playlists to friends within the application, while enabling both the purchase and discovery of new music.
15. MXit – South Africa
MXit is Africa’s biggest social network, with 50 million users across more than 3,000 different mobile phones. Users can send free online messages, enjoy multiplayer games, buy music, exchange goods and even trade on the stock market.
Dropifi users can see data in relation to industry metrics, access demographic and social media profiles of message senders and analyze the real sentiment behind the messages they receive. In May 2013, it became the first African company to join the 500 Startups Accelerator Program in Silicon Valley.
ForgetMeNot Africa’s optimizer technology converts Facebook “actions,” emails and chat messages into SMS formats, without connecting to the Internet. The company’s ECONET Wireless Zimbabwe’s eTXT service is a cheaper alternative than a fixed-line Internet connection or most Internet cafés.
18. Jumia – Nigeria
As Africa’s biggest online shopping mall, Jumia operates in Egypt, Morocco, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Kenya as an “African Amazon.” In March 2013 it received a $26 million investment from Summit Partners, which it will use to expand business to other African countries.
19. moWoza – South Africa
The company’s commerce service focuses on mobile as a delivery platform. Customers can “shop wherever they are, at any time” and register with a licensed agent. When the transaction is complete, both the customer and beneficiary are informed by SMS, which also indicates where the parcel can be collected.
20. Afroes – South Africa/Kenya
Afroes produces applications and content for young people, which contain educational and social messages. It is in development with a series of mobile games and SMS reporting platforms that will form the interactive component of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, “Champion for Children campaign.” In 2012, the company won the prestigious MEF Social Responsibility and Development Award for its Moraba game in London.