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Posted: 18 Feb 2016


Digital innovators are making waves with solutions for local problems and tools to drive development and the economy.

We’ve entered the Age of the App, with digital innovations shaping the way we shop, travel and socialise. But the spotlight has turned firmly on Africa where a new generation of innovators is using their skills to solve local challenges, but also responding to global opportunities with impressive products.

Cameroon’s Marc Arthur Zang’s cardio-pad has drawn praise and interest from the health sector. The tablet records and processes a patient’s ECG (electrical heart patterns) and sends the data to a station via mobile phone network. It can be used in remote clinics and hospitals to communicate with specialists who can then interpret the readings using diagnostic tools embedded in the application to generate results and a prescription, which can be sent back to the local medical team.

Tapping into new communities

The fact that most villages in Africa have access to mobile phones now means that solutions for these communities are literally only a phone signal away. The Economist reported that Ericsson estimates that the number of mobiles will rise to 930 million by 2019, almost one per African. The spread of smartphones is also likely to push Internet penetration to 50% within the next 10 years. They also reported that Microsoft is funding a small firm that is developing wide-area Wi-Fi systems able to cover entire regions at less than a hundredth of the cost of existing mobile telephony. The intention is to bring the same model to rural communities in the West.

Supporting Small Businesses

A South African start-up, Yoco, recently launched a new payments and point-of-sale system that is reducing the complexity of processing payments for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in South Africa. Yoco’s solution is designed for businesses that want to accept card payments quickly and simply. Because Yoco runs from a phone or tablet, a merchant needs only a device and an Internet connection to operate it. The system processes both cash and card payments, and a business owner is able to use this real time data generated by payments to analyse key trading times, staff sales performance and other key information that they are able to use to run their business more efficiently and strategically. Clients range from a woman selling jam in a flea market to a 14-year-old boy who has started a small business on his own.

In order to grow this exciting emergence of entrepreneurs, training and development, and youth mentorship are key. This sector is also hungry for venture capital injections, which poses exciting opportunities for the investment community.

The Old Mutual Masisizane Fund is an example of a group operating in this space. The Masisizane Fund is an Old Mutual initiative that was established in 2007 following the closure of the Unclaimed Share Schemes Trust in consultation with the National Treasury of South Africa. Masisizane was set up as a non-profit funding company to provide loan financing and support to small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs).

The mandate of the fund is to help job creation, reduce inequality, promote economic growth and support, develop and promote entrepreneurship, while attracting investment to SMMEs.

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