Category Archives: startups

There and Back Again II – Why You Need to Apply for DEMO Africa

OK, so 2 years after the fact, this guy David Marete, is dusting off an old story, which he should have completed way back then, published and simply moved on. This sounds very much like a has-ran looking back at their only claim to fame with a wistful look in their eye. IKR? So why are we revisiting this story?

Look, I made a promise to Harry Hare, the CEO of DEMO Africa, that I would (finally!) finish my second blog post on the DEMO Africa experience. Why is this important to him, or to you for that matter? Because DA have put out a call for applications and we want you to send in yours. ‘We’ in this case includes Harry Hare, myself and the DEMO Africa alumni community/fraternity. We will cover that fraternity section shortly.

So let’s get this out of the way. The entire message of this post is, APPLY FOR DEMO AFRICA!! If you are running a startup in Africa, are involved in one, or are considering where to launch a product or service APPLY!! Special bonus points to you if you know you are onto something special, the product is smoking hot, the market is ripening by the day and you are ready to totally kill it. APPLY!!! Crypto guys need not apply though. Just joking. So the point is…

Image result for we want you uncle sam

To apply.


So, What’s In It For You?

Why should you as a startup spend 2+ hours filling in some forms for something that feels like a lottery ticket, when you could be pushing code, capturing market share and making bank? Runways end right? Hockey sticks don’t just happen. Let’s get into the meat of it…

WIIFY 1: The Selection Process

We covered this a bit in the first post. If you’ve been on the startup scene for any duration of time, you have come across startup ‘competitions’ and ‘challenges’ with vague and opaque selection processes. The ones where the winners fly in from off-continent specifically for the competition. The ones where the winners announce their win an hour before the judges do. Oh and the judges and winners are pals/dating kinda? Or the ones where you need to pay some weird registration fee just to compete? DEMO Africa is not like that. Ok? Underscore, italics not like that. I did a bit of digging on the selection process. Sources close to the matter say that there are panels who look at 2 sets of 10 startups each. So each startup is assessed in two separate panels. The overall score for each startup is averaged across the panels in which they were assessed. In summary this selection process is rigorous, transparent and competitive. It is partly what makes DEMO Africa (DA) what it is. The outcome of this process is a rather talented set of entrepreneurs and startups ready to take on the world. If you are running a serious startup, you want that kind of pedigree. It doesn’t hurt.

WIIFY 2: The Experience Itself

I have done gigs. But none of them matched up to DA. This isn’t exaggeration. Let’s start with locations. Business is location, location, location, right? DA always chooses smoking hot locations for demo day. They don’t pull punches on this one. During our year it was Sandton City. Sandton City is an alternate reality my friend, a glitch in the matrix. I could gush about it but we don’t have the time.

DEMO Africa can be a surreal experience for the startuppers who are demoing. You thought you beat 95% of startups in Africa to come and fluff around? Or you thought people flew from all over the world to watch you pitch so that you could disappoint? My ninja… think again.

You land on day one. On day two you go in for bootcamp training so intense your head wants to boil. (Head boiling doesn’t happen often for me.) The training itself is 100% relevant and 99.99% accurate. On day 3 you submit and test your presentations. These are the final copies guys. You don’t submit decks five minutes before you mike-up. Beginning day four you are unleashed on an unsuspecting world.

There was a lady there called Nichola Hodgson. She and her team were amazing. They scripted and scheduled us through the rough cuts and the actual thing like clockwork. The variables they managed included, how many presenters are on the team? Are you running a Mac, Linux or Windows demo? Will you be streaming a mobile device? What’s your cable interface like, is it HDMI or VGA? Does the actual demo have sound or it’s all from your mike? If yes, at what point in your demo? Then watching all these variables come together on audio-visual for 15 presentations in a day, was just something else.

On the material day, Toby Shapshak was our mcee. I was so stressed backstage he came and told me to relax. At this point I could have passed out. A couple of months back me and my boys were watching Toby on CNBC Africa and now we are backstage of the same event? But passing out was not what we went to do!!

The actual demo is about 6 minutes of you pitching and then 4 minutes Q&A with a preselected panel. Know your stuff coz the panellists are razor sharp. My panel had Agatha Gikunda – Intel Corp, Llew Classen – Newtown Partners and Collins Onuegbu – Signal Alliance.

The opening and closing graphics for DA 2016 were also quite inspiring to say the least. To be honest I came away from both feeling half-jedi/half-wakanda if you get what I mean.

WIIFY 3: The People

The rolodex you acquire from DA is also something else. Let me rattle off a list of VC’s that I kinda know now. To quote Eminem, “So here’s my list and the order it’s in”

  1. Tommi D – Arguably the biggest name in angel investing in Africa.
  2. Collins Onuegbu – Signal Alliance. Probably chair of Nigeria’s angel network.
  3. Lexi Novistke – Singularity Investments. Levi is one of the bigger and more respected names among women in tech in Africa.
  4. Vinny Lingham – Investor on Dragon’s Den
  5. Stephen Ozoigbo – Innovate Africa. He was our trainer on the bootcamp preceding demo day. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the funding process and startup life.
  6. Llew Claasen – Newtown Partners
  7. Wim Van Der Beek – Goodwell Investments
  8. Farouk Jivani – Invested in and was one of the few Kenyan VC’s at the event. Kenyan VC’s are like black swans. You don’t know they exist until you meet them. (Or maybe I haven’t looked hard enough.)
  9. Tom Tshingano – IDF Managers
  10. Lia Mayka – At the time she was with Village Capital.
  11. Marcello Schermer – at the time he was with Seedstars World. He since moved to SA.
  12. Kezia Njeri was representing Viktoria Ventures whose principal is Stephen Gugu, the other Kenyan VC who was present as far as I know.

A couple of disclaimers are necessary at this point. One, I haven’t raised any funding. (These things take time!  lol) Two, I doubt whether most any of them remember me. But what you might not get from these names is that these are principals not analysts. These are the market leaders who will corral a team and shepherd them into a funding round. This network is where the deal action is, it’s where the competition is (but it’s also where the sharks are. Good luck!)

Other big names who were in attendance and I later got to meet included:

  1. Toby Shapshak – Hosts a weekly tech show on CNBC Africa. He is also an alumnus of TEDx.
  2. Amrote Abdella – Head of Microsoft Africa.
  3. Christine Nganga – Strategia Advisors Ltd. Worked on Wall Street
  4. Liz Muange – Trade Africa, official YALI alumnus
  5. Doyin Adewola – BoxOffice Nigeria
  6. John Kimani, Andy Volk and Aniedi Udo – Google SSA
  7. Idriss N’daho – Orange Africa

WIIFY 4: The Freebies

No other launchpad gives you as many freebies as DEMO Africa. Useful ones too. Seedstars tries yes. But DEMO knocks this one out of the park. All conferences need your signage and stuff. DA handles that for you. DA organises deal rooms so that VC’s can take you offline very fast, lock you down and sign some term sheets, if you get what I’m saying. Some of the training that they give you cannot be gotten from any measure of scouting the internet. These include how to handle VC’s, how to structure employee equity, personalised pitch deck coaching etc. I haven’t gotten come across this level of goodies anywhere else.

For the techies, these included AWS credits. There was another freebie that made a world of difference for me. I was on assignment with my startup in a foreign country and I realised I had to tweak some aspects of my technology stack. I popped into my freebies and pulled out a Visual Studio subscription that was just sitting there waiting for me. I used it just yesterday to update my Visual Studio Enterprise subscription. Without it my life would have been exponentially harder for 6 months. So courtesy of DA and Microsoft, my life was exponentially easier for 6 crucial months.

There’s a level of the DEMO Africa game that I failed to unlock. The top 5 startups get to visit Silicon Valley on an all-expenses paid tour in spring. How cool is that!

WIIFY 5: Credibility/Legitimacy

As you would well know the world revolves around trust and credibility. This is doubly so in the corporate world where I ply my trade. Unfortunately credibility for startups can be a very scarce resource.  Let me give you two examples of how DEMO Africa gave me more credibility.

I put up a youtube video of my demo during DEMO, then added that link to my email signature. Quite simply, my email response rates went up. It’s like people now had a reference point to see that what we are doing is verifiably legit.

The same email signature saved me in a spot of trouble late last year. I was on an implementation assignment in Kampala with the startup and I had a cash crunch. I needed to pay my rent and my cash wasn’t coming in for a week or two. So eventually I went to my host hat in hand and said, “I’m sorry. I’m out of pocket right now but cash is coming next week or so.” He told me, “I saw your youtube video. It’s fine. I trust you. You are legit.” Have you ever felt grateful? Somehow in the process of swapping interesting articles and links with my host, I had used my official email; the one with the automated signature; the signature that had the youtube link in it. He’s called Gary Mugisha by the way. Best host you can ever ask for in Kampala. Please don’t go abusing his kindness.

Did I mention that the youtube video was a very high quality recording from DA’s official videographer? This was yet another freebie from DA.

WIIFY 6: The Fraternity

If you are a startup CEO, you are a hero in your own right. If you are in Africa you deserve 2 extra medals. For goodness sake you are bearing the weight of the world and its ancestors on your shoulders. Chances are you are walking a very lonely path. However, you are not alone. DEMO Africa is a community of people who are positively rooting for you, who want you to succeed, who understand some of your challenges and are willing to open doors for you. This is something you don’t want to and shouldn’t walk away from. This is a culture with the DA team. In some hubs you will find some people who get it. But I found this to be the culture with the whole DA team – Harry, Pam Sinda, Hany Zuhudi, Francis Nderitu, Mbugua Njhia, the late Eng. Obuya (May he RIP.)

There is also the fraternity. The cohort looks out for each other. Are you visiting in my country? Please feel welcome, let me help you knock down doors.  Am in your country? Let’s meet up and discuss… Even non-cohort fellow alumni will generally speaking have your back.

Findings, Summary and Conclusion

Ok, so that’s it. You now have the full breakdown of why DEMO Africa is the launchpad of choice for game-changing technology and startups in Africa. (And also why this post took 2 years to write – I knew y’all would think it’s way too over the top.)

In short, there is no other launchpad that gives you as much as DEMO Africa does or will. Ok? There just isn’t. It remains unrivalled, unparalleled and unbeaten.

Please. Go and apply.

Bonus Facts: Past DEMO Africa Members

You have made it this far. Your attention span is long. Your patience is legendary. You have endured 2000+ words of inept selling. You are quite simply a champion. This is another reason why you need to apply.

So as a bonus for staying with us this long, here is a list of a few of the larger names on the continent that launched/made it into DEMO Africa.

  1. SpacePoint
  2. ZeePay
  3. SimbaPay
  4. Eventus
  5. OgaVenue
  6. Eduze
  7. WezaTele
  8. RoundBob
  9. BambaPOS
  10. InsureAfrika
  11. Lipisha
  12. iPay
  13. CarpartsNg
  14. Zuvaa

Again I ask: Please go and apply.



There and Back Again I: DEMO Africa 2016

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers… -Mac ad by Apple 1984

Yawn.. Stretch…     Ding! “Landing in 10 minutes. Cabin crew please take your seats…” Ding!  This was the captain of The Zambezi River on flight 761 from Johannesburg to Nairobi. I was waking up.  Shake my head… rub my eyes… The interesting thing is I hadn’t been asleep. I had been wide awake, but I was waking up from a dream. And that dream was DEMO Africa 2016. Pinch myself. Wake up sleepy head!

I will be honest with you DEMO has been on my bucket list since 2013. So this was a dream come true. And I really didn’t want to wake up J But besides it being a personal goal, DEMO Africa 2016 was a parallel universe. Otherworldly, overwhelmingly, different.

DEMO Africa is Africa’s best launchpad for its top startups. And when I say ‘best from Africa’ it very literally means that. This year the number of startups launched was 30 and this year about 720 startups from across Africa applied. Now by definition a startup is a curious thing. It has a sideways view of a value chain or gap which it then decides to get into and rearrange or fill. So when you get 700 startups applying, even if it is from across the continent, then you know that the future of entrepreneurship in Africa is bright. Going by these numbers DEMO Africa curates the top 0.5% of startups coming out of the continent over a given duration. Unverified sources tell me that there were panels looking at 2 sets of 10 startups each. So each startup was assessed by two separate panels. Thereafter the total scores per startup were averaged across all the panels which assessed them. In summary the selection process was rigorous, transparent and competitive. It is partly what makes DEMO Africa what it is. This process resulted in a talented set of entrepreneurs being selected. We shall discuss the Kenyan startups shortly and the rest of the startups in a later article.

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The 2016 Bootcamp Class.

For starters it was hosted at Sandton Convention Centre (SCC) which is South Africa’s biggest and best convention centre. So it is arguably the best in Sub Saharan Africa. Rumour has it that it is booked one year in advance. For example, the attendance was approximately 400-500 persons. The conference had one wi-fi network assigned to it and that network was always up and fast. This was covering all social media uploads and downloads – whatsapp, instagram, facebook, twitter, livestreams, periscope, snapchat etc. 500+ people.  As Willy Semaya captured in his article on twitter activity, there were 4500 tweets with the hashtag #DEMOAfrica. And that was only Twitter, and specifically that hashtag. And wifi was always on. That was just the wifi, which should give an indication as to the scale of SCC. We shall deal with the name Sandton later.

To dial it back a bit, I am from Nairobi, and we call Nairobi the Silicon Savanna of Africa – the unrivalled epicentre of innovation in Kenya and East Africa. There is a place similarly called the Silicon Cape of Africa and that is Cape Town. Cape Town has been running away with the brand of being the innovation and entrepreneurial hub of South Africa. Now Johannesburg, being the economic capital of SA has decided it will not just stand by and watch as that brand is stolen out from under its nose. And so in the past week, there was a series of events which planted it solidly on the map as a rival in that space.

  1. LeaderX was aimed at SME’s and spurring innovation not necessarily large scale, but SME’s and innovation all the same. It was geared towards a slightly older, more experienced demographic. A mid-career executives thinking of taking the big leap and unsure about what they were getting into.
  2. The launch of the South African Business Angels Network.
  3. Simodisa was an evening cocktail bringing together some people from within LeaderX and the South African Business Angel’s Network. The keynote speaker was one VC who goes by the name Vinny Lingham who is one of the sharks on Sharktank SA, in other words our version of Kris Senanu or Myke Rabar. At Simodisa I had the opportunity of meeting a mid-career oil and gas engineer with 3 patents about to launch out. He inspired me because too few Africans are diving into the deep end of innovation with technical solutions.
  4. Then there was DEMO Africa.

So as you can see there was a wide range of levels, events and demographics which one could plug into and participate in both spurring as well as celebrating entrepreneurship. In the light of this sequence of events, we must recognise the strong and effective hand of the City of Johannesburg for orchestrating it. In a strange twist of events, the mayor of the city, who had been deeply involved, had originally been selected to open the conference. However, voters expressed their displeasure for the ANC and voted the ANC out of Jo’burg, Pretoria and Cape Town. As a matter of fact, my taxi from the airport to the hotel featured a live radio interview with the new mayor expressing his thanks to the voters and staking out his line item deliverables. So the original mayor of Jo’burg who was a rather effective person was no longer in a position, to undertake this duty, both literally and figuratively. Bad things do happen to good people sometimes. But we digress.

The preparations for DEMO Africa began weeks in advance. Our cohort was being guided online by Innovate Africa’s team which is led by Stephen Ozoigbo. Innovate Africa took us through the business plan canvas, how to calculate customer lifetime value, and most importantly how to value a startup for vc negotiations. We learnt that when discussing funding with vc’s, you should preferably not mention company valuation until as late as possible. As an aside Stephen operates out of Silicon Valley, California and is one of the most experienced and probably centred people in the VC space I met. I should have gotten a selfie with him.

Also, the ICT Authority of Kenya very graciously bought the air tickets for Kenya’s five startups to attend the conference. In many cases, startups are stilling fleshing out cash flow on to the bare bones of a market opportunity. So for startups to raise the funding to attend can be a task. For example, a number of startups missed the bootcamp two days prior to the main event for financial reasons. During day one of the bootcamp is when we taught how to handle negotiations with venture capitalists. During day two of the bootcamp, a lady from University of Cape Town (Silicon Cape things) took the class through how to structure and plug a pitch. Experience and expertise was shared during the bootcamp and all of Kenya’s five startups benefitted from it. The bootcamp itself was so good that one DEMO Finalist from Egypt called Ehab said that even if he never demoed then he had gotten enough value for money and time so far. In short the Kenyan government is involved in innovation here, and we Kenyan startups were grateful for that.

Now that we are mentioning the startups let me give a special mention to the Kenya Team

  1. Anthony Nyagah from Strauss Energy. Strauss are Kenya’s sole representative in DEMO Africa’s Top 5 and will be going to Silicon Valley later this year. They are replacing roofing tiles with solar tiles. An interesting component of their technology is that the energy storage is done not via battery but via a technology called compressed air energy storage (CAES). CAES achieves conversion efficiency of 75% compared to 60% with the latest lithium-ion batteries. This CAES is provided by a demo 2015 finalist called LiGE who’s operations director, Margriet Leaper, I had the opportunity of meeting.
  2. Patricia Mithika from Boresha Ltd who is doing digital content for peer-to-peer learning. We spent a good 4 days together and she has a golden heart, much better than mine :-). Not to mention the fact that we happen to be from the same area in Meru! Boresha Ltd has users outside Kenya, which is proof of a valid opportunity and business model. 20160826_120716.jpg

Patricia doing what she came to do…

  1. Brian Ondari from AirKlip was the youngest member of the team. A true innovator, he paid a grand total of USD 100/- for his accommodation in SA. That’s the power of AirBnB. AirKlip is also in educational technology helping students plan their coursework, classes and exams.
  2. Millicent Micere and Isis Nyong’o from Mum’s Village. Mum’s Village is an online community for mothers and especially first time mothers. Motherhood can be overwhelming and the community provides a place where experiences can be shared, resources identified and targeted marketing done. One of their most interesting products is called The Milky Way. Let me leave it at that. Millicent and I were classmates in campus and I find this important because Strathmore IT graduates have been said not to stack up against Chiromo or ‘Juja Boys’ or Moi University graduates. So that fact that 2 DEMO Africa finalists were Strathmore graduates should be proof that we measure up against the best of them out there. Millicent is also one of the most humorous ladies I know. Much love Millie!



BBIT class of 2016 lol


Serious discussions in our own personalised deal room 🙂

  1. Then there was me plugging anti-money laundering solutions for the African market.

As you can imagine selecting the best 30 from across Africa was difficult judging strictly on the basis of the Kenyan startups. More on the other African startups and the experience itself will follow in the next two days in a different post.

A word must be reserved for the organising teams who made sure that 29 out of 30 startups made it to the event, including visa organisation, air tickets for some, audio-visual set up, food, drinks and logistics over the four days, scheduling the pitches, confirmations for various events, slotting in speakers and panellists per industry experience, planning, backup-planning, exit-planning and more planning. These were Harry Hare the leader, in conjunction with LIONS Africa, the City of Johannesburg, Google, Intel, Microsoft. Harry’s team comprised Mbugua Njihia, Pamela Sinda (whose brother used to school me in basketball in high school) Hany Zuhudi(who I once shared an office with at 3Mice) Francis Nderitu and Engineer Martin Obuya.

IMG_20160826_170934 - Copy.jpg

With Hany Zuhudi after it ended…


With Mbugua Njihia at Michelangelo Towers. First Day of Bootcamp