Takes Top Prize at the 2012 Cameroon Startup Challenge

{ Posted on Oct 05 2012 by Bill Zimmerman }
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The 2012 Cameroon Startup Challenge was the first competition of its kind to recognize the achievements of technology entrepreneurs in the country. The awards ceremony, held on September 20th at the Foyer du Marin in Douala, brought together Cameroon’s leading innovators, their teams, judges and special guests. Also in attendance were investors and leaders from the local and international technology community. The competition was made possible through collaborations with Sanaga Ventures, AppsTech, ActivSpaces and VC4Africa. It was an electric evening filled with positive energy and enthusiasm for the Cameroon startups in the spotlight.

The awards ceremony kicked off with a welcome by the hosts, Sanaga Ventures, followed by an introduction of the panel judges and the startup teams. After a review of the success criteria used to determine the winner, a presentation was made of the first and second runners up, followed by the grand prize winner. The winning team addressed the audience before a speech was delivered by Rebecca Enonchong, the CEO of AppsTech. The evening closed with a banquet dinner served at the hotel.

Celebrating Cameroon’s Top Innovators

Judges highlighted the overall quality of the entries. It was noted that the applicants were well past “idea” stage with most having promising business models and working revenue streams in place. When the final results were tallied, one startup clearly rose to the top while the first, second and third runners up were each separated by a single point.

We shared the excitement of the audience as was announced as the grand prize winner. is a social TV platform that lets viewers engage their favorite TV shows in real-time. The service brings television programming to life by allowing viewers to, for example, share their excitement when their favorite football team scores a goal or join a heated debate on a social issue. By unlocking this real-time sharing, integrates a missing social layer into any television program. The service also provides viewers with additional context and information on the program they are viewing, introducing a vital new tool for editorial staff. - You'll Never Watch TV Alone

For the cable companies providing the shows, is an invaluable tool for gathering feedback from the audience. It’s also an important channel for advertisers and sponsors to engage with audiences to further brand awareness. The team has completed a successful pilot with Spectrum Television Cameroon (STV) and is looking to secure a partnership with the station while also expanding their offering beyond Cameroon’s borders.

The project is headed up by an all-star team that includes Patrick NDJIENTCHEU, a software engineer and cofounder of, Hervé DJIA, a software engineer and tech enthusiast, Eloge FOKEM, a web developer and CEO of the web agency, and Kouotou ABOUBAKAR SIDIKI, a software engineer with expertise in social media. The four person team took home a USD $5,000 cash prize. In a passionate acceptance speech, the team explained their motivations for the project and outlined some exciting developments for the future. The winnings are critical in the team’s effort to push the venture across Cameroon and abroad.

The top three finalist are presented below:

Grand Prize Winner: ($5,000)

Pitch: With, you’ll never watch TV the same way again. is a social TV platform that lets TV viewers ever aroundywhere discuss their favorite TV shows in real-time.

For the users, provides additional information and comments around their current TV shows, crowdsourced from other users, or directly from our editorial staff. Sometimes, we just want other viewers to know how pissed off we are when our favorite soccer star loses a penalty. For the cable TV companies providing the shows, is a fantastic innovative tool to gather audience feedback and further develop brand awareness.

First Runner Up: KingMaker Ad Network ($1,000)

Pitch: KingMaker is an internet (cyber) cafe ad network that uses innovative technology to serve relevant ads to an audience which can be highly targeted.

Mobile internet is still too expensive for most of Cameroon’s population and few local websites have enough users to actually interest advertisers. Cyber cafes are the number one internet access points in the region because of their affordability and relatively good internet connection. We work hand in hand with them to bring relevant local advertising to their clients, thus creating extra revenue channels for their business.

Second Runner Up: AGRO-HUB

Pitch: AGRO-HUB aims to combat poverty among rural farmers by boosting demand for their products. We achieve this through an innovative use of the web and mobile technology to streamline the flow of market pricing information for farmers’ products.

Our agricultural market development strategy involves partnering with rural farmers to source products and information for newly sort out local and international markets. Sourcing of products is done through setting up of collecting centers [or storehouses] within rural communities while sourcing of information is done through provision of SMS based tools and knowledge farmers need to access and share information about their activities. The information sourced from the farmers thereof is used on the web to attract consumers for their products.

First SolarKiosk Opened in Ethiopia

{ Posted on Aug 02 2012 by Bill Zimmerman }
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SolarKiosk, a modular business unit for Africa and off-grid areas anywhere in the world, recently opened its first kiosk near Lake Langano, Ethiopia. Following a period of design and planning, a privately financed company was formed to prepare the product for serial production by building prototypes and running pilots in several countries. The first prototype of the SolarKiosk was built in November 2011 and displayed in various locations, including the 2012 TedXBerlin conference. In March of this year, a subsidiary, Solarkiosk Solutions PLC, was incorporated in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to run a pilot program. Construction of the first prototypes in Ethiopia began in April. Today, the kiosk is up and running in a new community.

The SolarKiosk is modular, able to be transported in a lightweight package to remote areas and is available in numerous configurations:

Much like a “platform” in the automotive industry, the basic model can be arbitrarily extended and modified, adapting to all kinds of uses depending on the local market, local tax benefits and so on.

Certain parts of the kiosk—the electrical components, in particular—are manufactured centrally to ensure quality and durability, but all others can be made of local materials such as bamboo, wood, adobe, stone, metal or even recycled goods. This makes the kiosk attractive for purchase or license by entrepreneurs and both public and private and institutions. It’s also possible to connect multiple kiosks to create a local grid.

Thinking about many a dark night I’ve passed in Cameroon, with container shops and call boxes lit by candles or kerosene lamps, the need for a solution like this is obvious. If the capital expenditure makes sense for business owners over the long term, SolarKiosks could become a viable alternative in on- and off-grid areas.

South African MC Sifiso Sudan selling mixtapes via Blackberry

{ Posted on Jul 25 2012 by Bill Zimmerman }
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Sudan recently released his new mixtape ‘Rage against the machine’ directly through his Blackberry, cutting out any labels or middle men. He made a deal with airtime merchants that enables him to sell his latest mixtape from his BBM at the cost of R5 MTN airtime per single. Within a few days he managed to sell hundreds of copies of his single ‘Cheaters’ in this way.

“The future is literally in our hands” says Sudan.  “Mobile phones have 80% penetration in South Africa and everybody knows that this is Blackberry country. My music also promotes a ‘do for self’ attitude so it’s important that it walks the talk. To prove that this is a great business model for all of us, I’m planning to go platinum this way.”

Join Sudan on BBM #27AC730C, follow him via Twitter and check out two tracks from the mixtape which are available for download below.

via Timbuktu Chronicles.

Africa re:load 2012 – Highlights & Growing the AfriLabs Network

{ Posted on Jul 16 2012 by Bill Zimmerman }

I recently returned from Africa re:load 2012, an annual two-day conference hosted by the Bauhaus University Weimar and GIZ (German Agency for International Cooperation) and wanted to share some thoughts while they’re still fresh. This year’s event was centered around the topics of creative industries, maker culture, green construction, renewable energy, design communities and innovative financial solutions. The participants were drawn from organizations based in Ethiopia, Egypt, South Sudan and Germany, among others.

For Ben and myself, being at this event was an opportunity to reconnect with Jörn Schultz, Marton Kocsev and Oliver Petzoldt—the energetic founders of the icehubs network whom we’d met in Addis Ababa last year—and to network with ‘doers’ from a range of disciplines who are actively prototyping the continent’s future.


With a solid roundup of sessions planned, choosing which ones to attend proved to be a challenge. I gravitated toward presentations focused on technology, maker culture, innovation hubs and the like. One of the most intriguing projects I saw was Simon Höher’s demo of the online DIY community, which just entered its beta phase:

Knowable is a network that provides free and open access to effective, creative, low-tech solutions that help people provide for their basic needs on their own. It combines elements of Afrigadget, the Appropedia wiki, Make magazine, GitHub and the Instructables online communities, remixed in a totally original way with a genuine desire to foster the growth of a grassroots DIY culture. Their platform is engaging, clean and designed from the outset to be accessible in conditions commonly found in Africa. As knowable’s co-founder Simon put it, “we want knowable to work in IE6 in a crowded cyber cafe.” The founders have won numerous pitch competitions, including the Enorm Social Business Angel Competition and are looking to attract investors for their seed round. I hope to connect with Simon again soon and will definitely watch this startup closely.

Growing AfriLabs

On Saturday morning I gave a presentation together with Marton Kocsev on innovation networks that are spreading across the continent. Marton is currently heading up the development of icecairo, the newest node in the growing icehubs network. Building on the success of iceaddis, which I had the pleasure of visiting, I’m sure that the Cairo hub will be poised to make a similar if not greater impact.

Just prior to the conference, the founders of AfriLabs processed the applications for new member hubs and sent out invitations to community managers and representatives across the continent. Here are two slides I pulled from my deck to illustrate the growth of the network. The first visual represents the AfriLabs network at its founding in 2010:

As of today, we have added nine new open coworking spaces, incubators, startup accelerators, pre-incubation labs and social innovation hubs to the network:

The light blue circles represent hubs which are either coming online shortly or have membership applications in process.

A system to connect innovators

Putting African tech hubs under an umbrella organization like AfriLabs is well and good but, practically speaking, how does this help facilitate collaboration and communication across borders? Following the example of hundreds of existing hackerspaces that span the globe, including a growing number in Africa, I made a modest proposal to link the AfriLabs member hubs with a communications network. The ChaosVPN (wiki and GitHub project) is an open, secure, mesh-based network designed to connect hackers wherever they are. It has no single point of failure, low latency for voice over IP (VoIP) and is designed such that noone sees other people’s traffic.

A solution based on the ChaosVPN model provides the low-level communications infrastructure—or basic plumbing—which permits a range of services to be rolled out across the network. These services could include things like website mirrors, local caches of resources such as MIT OpenCourseware, LDAP, FTP, Jabber, TOR entry/exit nodes, cloud services, distributed computing and so on. As usage increases and more nodes join the AfriLabsVPN, additional sevices pop up and its potential reach is further extended.

This offers loads of possibilities for virtual incubation as well; with greater numbers of virtual memberships being offered through AfriLabs member hubs, online resource offerings can be tailored to these various member levels. What are the implications for computing services? One exciting possibility that springs to mind is eschewing Amazon’s AWS in favor of iHub’s forthcoming supercomputer cluster for “parallel and resource-hungry applications such as weather prediction, draught prediction and real-time information dispatch.”

The software is there; the hardware costs are negligible—all that’s required are a few brave souls to step forward and start hacking the future. Who’s in?

Deadline Extension for CSC2012 Entries

{ Posted on Jul 06 2012 by Bill Zimmerman }
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As the deadline for the 2012 Cameroon Startup Challenge draws near, a number of entrepreneurs have stepped forward to request extensions. The quality of contestants is very high and we know that entrepreneurs are going to great lengths to perfect their prototypes, documentation and video pitches. The group of challengers that is forming already represent the top innovators in Cameroon. In an effort to give everyone an opportunity to put forward their best and to join this group of innovators, we’ve decided to extend the deadline until August 31st.

One frequent request I’ve heard is to review the Solution Description, Pilot Test Plan and Sustainability Plan for a project. As much as I enjoy offering advice and coaching, as a panel judge I unfortunately can’t advise teams this way. What I can do, however, is provide a link to a model document. This was an entry to the Chembe Ventures Urban Security Challenge, launched in 2010 by our colleague Sean Murphy together with the Betavine Social Exchange. The level of detail is quite high here and, in fact, we’d be pleased to see a document that follows this example but at a shorter length.

Best of luck to all the teams and we’ll see you at the awards ceremony in September.