“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.
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.
- 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.
- The launch of the South African Business Angels Network.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
Patricia doing what she came to do…
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
With Hany Zuhudi after it ended…
With Mbugua Njihia at Michelangelo Towers. First Day of Bootcamp