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Fast Company reveals 10 most innovative companies in Africa for 2019

American business magazine, Fast Company has revealed its list of 10 most innovative companies in Africa for 2019.

The winners were selected based on those “making the most profound impact on both industry and culture,” the magazine said.

Here’s the list of the 10 companies selected and what they do.

African Leadership University.

Fred Swaniker, a Stanford Business School-educated serial entrepreneur, founded ALU’s sister organization, the Johannesburg-based ‘African Leadership Academy,’ a selective institute dedicated to educating the next generation of African leaders. A recent recipient of a US$30 million Series B funding round, the ALU is training future African leaders by moving away from more traditional university programs; students select missions to pursue, rather than majors. Swaniker is now expanding even further with the new ALX accelerator program, which runs six-month courses in leadership and technical skills in areas like data science and operational management from low-cost setups such as coworking spaces.  ALU has also rolled out an innovative approach to student finance based on income-sharing agreements. This model means students pay nothing up front for their education, and instead only pay a share of their income to investors once they are employed. ALU already has campuses in Mauritius, Rwanda, and Kenya, and will use its funding to open its doors in Johannesburg, Lagos, Cape Town, and Casablanca.

Flutterwave.

After cofounding the coder-training company Andela, Nigerian entrepreneur Iyinoluwa Aboyeji left in 2016 to start Flutterwave, a digital payment API designed to make it easier to do business across the continent by allowing users to make international payments in their own currencies. Now integrated with major online tools like Shopify and WooCommerce, and allowing customers to make payments on platforms like Amazon and Netflix, Flutterwave processes millions of dollars in transactions and has been expanding across Africa of late. A Series A extension round took its total raised funding to over US$20 million, and it has begun testing a solution directly targeted at SMEs, allowing them to convert their Instagram pages into e-commerce stores.

Flare

The 911 of the future, Flare is building a brand-new emergency response system, which launched commercially in Kenya in January 2018. The company’s digital platform brings together the East African country’s fragmented ecosystem of emergency vehicles, and uses GPS tracking and Google navigation to route the most appropriate responders to each emergency scene as requested by users. Aiming to launch in all countries that do not have existing emergency systems, Flare is already the largest such network in Kenya, with a network of more than 400 ambulances. It has already completed 350 life-saving rescues, and reduced its average response time to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, it has launched its membership product, Rescue, to market and provided around 28,000 Kenyans with coverage.

Sanku-Project Healthy Children

Based in Tanzania, the Sanku-Project Healthy Children has developed innovative new technology, the “dosifier,” which enables rural flour mills to fortify flour with key nutrients during the milling process. Fortification, which includes things like adding iodine to table salt, is common across the world, but difficult to do at scale in rural Africa, an issue solved by the project. With fortified flour tackling issues of nutrition deficiency such as birth defects, child development issues, and blindness, the potential impact is huge. Sanku-PHC already provides fortified flour to more than one million people, and a recent pilot program conducted with Vodafone brought real-time, data-driven insights to 3,000 flour mills. By utilizing the Internet of Things, Sanku-PHC aims to reach 100 million people, providing them with more nutritional food, by 2025. 

Farm to Market Alliance

A nonprofit project born out of the World Food Program, Farm to Market Alliance is attempting to make Africa’s agricultural sector—a potential breadbasket for the world—more sustainable by empowering farmers and building stronger markets. A consortium of eight agri-focused organizations, it has developed PATH, a cutting-edge value-chain solution that helps farming families transition to commercial agriculture. The solution provides farmers with four key areas of support—predictable markets, affordable finance, technologies and quality inputs, and handling and storage solutions—to help them become reliable market players, and build the confidence of other players in the wider agriculture market.

Talamus Health

Active in Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa, Talamus has developed a mobile-first healthcare platform that allows patients to make physical and video appointments with doctors, receive appointment reminders and laboratory and imaging results, organize medication, store medical records, and pay medical bills, all from their mobile phone. Healthcare providers can fully digitize their operations, increasing information throughput, transparency, and efficiency, as well as reducing errors and delays in patient care. The goal is to improve and unify healthcare delivery in emerging markets, and help patients interact with and share their health information with a connected circle of providers. 

Yego Innovision

Rwanda’s “boda boda”–motorcycle taxi–industry is huge, with 20,000 on the roads compared to 600 taxis. It is also unregulated and chaotic, causing a number of problems that mobility company Yego Moto is fixing with its innovative platform. After an extensive trial in 2017 that involved 840 motorbike taxis, Yego Moto was licensed by the government in early 2018 and has now set about providing meters to boda boda drivers. These meters, which have been provided to around 2,000 drivers thus far, are formalizing the industry, allowing customers to request and pay for rides using their phones, with a model similar to that of Uber. Yet Yego Moto is adapted to local conditions. Passengers can also pay using Ride-Tap-Pay NFC tags, while overcharging is eradicated using the its Intelligent Connected Fare Meter. The platform has been designed to work in the harsh and varied African environment, even with limited or no internet connectivity, and the IoT platform enables local law enforcement to monitor drivers for insurance, safety of rides, and license and registration. The government can use collected data to alleviate traffic congestion, while drivers are able to build up a credit record.

The Sun Exchange

Founded by Abraham Cambridge, who moved to South Africa with a background in climate change and environmental management, Sun Exchange is an online platform that allows users to use digital currencies to purchase solar cells, which are then leased to projects and earn returns over a 20-year period. It has over 10,000 users and has constructed six projects, including one at the Knysna Elephant Park. Currently, in the process of expanding into Kenya, Sun Exchange taps into crypto communities in order to help organizations such as schools and churches begin using previously unaffordable solar power, while also helping its users make money over time. It recently raised a seed funding round and launched its own digital token to offer loyalty discounts to customers and encourage adoption.

Ovamba Solutions

Founded in 2013 by Viola Llewellyn and Marvin Cole, who wanted to empower African entrepreneurs with access to finance, Ovamba provides short-term capital to micro-, small-, and medium-size businesses via mobile phone technology. With traditional banking unable to bridge the continent’s credit gap, Ovamba’s proprietary algorithm analyzes various types of data, including cultural information, in real time to measure risk. It can lend amounts of up to US$500,000, and has seen default rates of below 6% across its US$25 million portfolio. Recent innovations that set it even further apart from traditional banks include a natural language chatbot for African languages, a blockchain solution for investor onboarding, and facial and voice recognition security features for its funding platform.

Aerobotics

Cape Town-based agri-tech company Aerobotics combines aerial imagery obtained from satellites and drones with its machine learning algorithms to provide early problem detection services to farmers, helping them monitor their crops, get early warning of potential risks, and optimize yields. Cofounded by James Paterson, who grew up on a South African citrus farm and saw the challenges faced by farmers on a day-to-day basis, Aerobotics provides farmers with accurate statistics on their trees and vines and allows them to use its management zones to plan planting. It now operates across hundreds of farms in 11 countries throughout the world, including Australia and the United States, has cornered 40% and 20%t of South Africa’s macadamia nut and citrus markets respectively, and has raised two funding rounds totaling US$2.6 million. It is now doubling down on U.S. expansion.

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