We wouldn’t be surprised if the word “innovative” immediately conjured up pictures of Elon Musk in your mind, or made you think of the driverless cars that both Google and Uber are working on. Perhaps you’ve heard of Amazon’s Echo, Google Home or the ground-breaking Blockchain technology.
Indeed, Tesla Motors is top on the Forbes 2016 list of innovative companies, while Google heads up the BCG ranking. More recently, Amazon was the decided 2017 favourite for Fast Company’s top choices. What do these tech giants have in common, other than being at the forefront of disruptive innovation? Of course, they’re all born and based in the US (perhaps with the exception of Elon, our home-grown hero, who was born and schooled in Pretoria).
So why is there is no representation of African companies in the annual lists of the globe’s most innovative companies? We did our research and came to the conclusion that lack of creativity and dynamism is surely not to blame. With that in mind and in no particular order, here is our list of the 7 Most Innovative Companies in Africa.
1. Eneza Education
Eneza Education is a Kenyan start-up that we are extremely excited about.
Noticing that the average school in Kenya has 60 students for each teacher and four students to one textbook, but that 95% of Kenyans have mobile phones, Kago Kagichiri, with his passion for advancing education in Africa, revolutionised the EdTech industry.
Since its launch in 2011, Eneza turns any mobile phone, even if it’s only capable of SMS, into a virtual classroom. Well-trained teachers are available to answer questions via SMS on-demand, high-quality content and resources are sent to students individually and a wide variety of subjects including English, Mathematics, Science, Business and Entrepreneurship courses are available.
Eneza, the Swahili word for “spread,” currently has 2,3 million students and has spread to Tanzania, Ghana and Zimbabwe. We have no doubt they will reach their goal of impacting 50 million scholars across 10 different African countries within the next five years.
2. African Leadership University
ALU is a network of tertiary education institutions aiming to cultivate African leaders. What makes ALU special is that it was created with no downtime in mind: students spend eight months in classes and then four months working for various businesses each year for three years. By the time they graduate, the students are well-educated with specific leadership training and have had three years’ work experience.
The founder of African Leadership University, Fred Swaniker, is a Ghanaian serial entrepreneur and leadership development expert. He wants to see the graduates go on to become Africa’s businessmen and women, politicians, doctors, entrepreneurs and success stories. Instead of Africa’s brightest students leaving to study and work overseas, African Leadership University makes it possible for them to achieve success on the continent.
Currently, there is a campus on the island of Mauritius and in Rwanda, and Swaniker aims to expand the institution to dozens more countries in the next few years.
The industry of counterfeits is one of the most dangerous in the world, especially for medicinal purposes – 2 000 people are estimated to die from false medicine annually. M-Pedigree is a company that, since its founding in Ghana in 2007, continuously strives to amend this by providing systems to protect medicines, cosmetics, medical devices and more, that are critical to the safety and well-being of society.
A basic mobile phone is all a customer needs to access the system. The customer sends a text message to a number that is on the package of the device or medicine, and can then receive and respond to real-time information about the quality and authenticity of the product.
M-Pedigree is the global leader in the use of mobile technology to secure products against faking and counterfeiting. Their mission is to protect and enrich the lives of communities with cutting-edge transformative technology, and the difference they’ve made already illustrates that.
Based in Egypt, there is an incredible company operating. Yomken is specialised in crowdfunding and “crowdsolving” ideas and solutions for the challenges faced by institutions across the Arab region. Essentially, Yomken.com is a website where a specific challenge is posted online and solutions are sought from the extended web family. Apart from crowdsourcing, Yomken also offers a platform for MSEs or innovative entrepreneurs to post their ideas and receive funding.
One of Yomken’s innovation success stories that we love is the invention of the fold-up bicycle. The bicycle, widely used across the region, can be folded up and stored away, making it perfect for people living in population-dense areas such as the mega-city, Cairo. The innovation is simple but much-needed, and wouldn’t have otherwise been discovered if it weren’t for Yomken’s crowdsourcing and crowdfunding opportunities.
5. Academic Bridge
Rwandan-based Academic Bridge is a tech education start-up that builds digital solutions for schools, parents, teachers and students. The company has adopted top-class data collection and data processing, that is quicker and easier than ever before in Africa, and provides schools and parents with accurate data about their students, results, payments, and more.
Academic Bridge is a web-based platform as well as a mobile application, developed for schools to monitor student and staff records, academic records, attendance lists, finance administration and online enrollment. By digitizing the school system, this company is leading Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Kenya towards a more advanced educational and technological future. We expect to see this trend catching on in different parts of Africa too.
The idea of Academic Bridge was thought of in Kigali’s open technology hub, kLab, standing for “knowledge lab.” The space is open to students, graduates, innovators and entrepreneurs to work on their ideas and projects and turn them into practical business models. kLab’s main aim is to promote and support the developments of innovative solutions by cultivating a community of inventors and mentors. Watch this space for more exciting things to come from the innovation-breeding work space.
Safaricom is the Kenyan start-up that is leapfrogging Africa’s electric and banking sectors. The telecommunications provider has been continuously recognized as the most innovative company in Sub-Saharan African. There are two reasons why:
In 2007, Safaricom launched M-Pesa, (M for mobile and pesa, the Swahili word for money), Africa’s first SMS-based money transfer service. In 2002, there was one mobile to every 10 adults in Kenya, and today about 82% of Kenyan adults own mobile phones. A large majority of the country is now using the service to pay for everything from groceries to taxi fares, bringing banking closer to people who are miles away from physical bank branches.
The second reason Safaricom makes our list of the most innovative companies in Africa is due to the launch of M-Kopa in 2011 (M for mobile and kopa is the Swahili word for “borrow”).
M-Kopa is a solar energy company that sells home solar systems. Customers pay 3 500 KES (R444) to take the system home and 50 KES (R6) per month to own it – payments are sent to the company with mobile payments via M-Pesa. Contrast this amount to the 20 770 KES (R2 634) that Kenyan households pay for paraffin lamps. Paraffin is the archaic system that has been widely used in Sub-Saharan Africa before the invention of M-Kopa – the lamp oil that is an expensive and dangerous health-hazard.
Today, the innovative company has connected over 500 000 homes to affordable solar power across Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and plans to expand its country, client and product base over the coming years. The lack of electricity in Africa that has always been seen as a disadvantage, now paves the opportunity for Africa to leapfrog over the rest of the world as forerunners of solar power, saving the environment and saving money with a brighter alternative.
It’s not just in Kenya, Ghana and Mauritius, Egypt and Rwanda where all the potential lies. In every corner of Africa there are budding entrepreneurs, start-ups gaining momentum and the potential for a complete digital revolution led by innovative minds and technologies.
It’s been said that, “If you want to innovate, listen!”. So if you’re aiming to keep your ear close to the ground, then best ensure you’ve got the social media monitoring tools to hear an idea drop. Get in touch with the Meltwater team to see what these tools can do for your company.
To let us know your thoughts on Africa’s most innovative companies, Tweet us at @Meltwater.