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.
Fostering the growth of the VC4Africa community is central to the daily work that Ben and I do. In our travels and interactions with entrepreneurs in all corners of the continent, we’re also acutely aware of the need for early stage venture finance. Increasingly, new funds, niche firms and angels are testing the waters of investing in African tech. Despite this, many African markets remain underserved. The challenges are well understood: high costs of due diligence, lack of viable exits and so on.
We’ve kept Sanaga Ventures in standby mode over the last year while we refined our strategy. Ben and I are focused on markets and sectors we know well, and will offer not only seed finance but a package that includes the knowledge, network, mentorship and non-financial resources needed to give startups their best shot at success. Our end goal is to work closely with these founders to create an attractive opportunity for the investment community.
To start things off, we’re pleased to announce a Startup Challenge for Cameroon; a country and tech community that’s very close to us:
The competition offers a cash prize of USD $5,000 for the most innovative web, mobile or hardware-based business venture in Cameroon. As an additional benefit, the winning venture is eligible to be incubated at ActivSpaces, Cameroon’s leading technology hub, and receive ongoing support, oversight, services and mentoring. An awards ceremony will be held in Cameroon at the close of the challenge with the top three startups, participants, judges, invited guests, a video crew and local press. Entries will be accepted from May 7th – July 6th, 2012.
We’re very fortunate to have several of the top figures in Cameroon’s tech sector participating on the judging panel. Entry criteria, eligibility, success measures and all the details are available in the press release:
The compilation album “Music for Saharan Cellphones” is an incredible collection of tracks scraped (and later remixed) from the memory cards of mobile phones in Ivory Coast, Mali, Algeria and Niger. In much of West Africa, cellphones are used as all-purpose multimedia devices. In lieu of PCs and high speed internet, knockoff mobile handsets store portable music collections, playback songs on tiny built-in speakers and swap files in a very literal peer-to-peer Bluetooth wireless transfer.
The impetus for the project began in 2010 when Chris Kirkley returned from his travels in Mali and Mauritania and presented the rough cut album. The music on the compilation was collected from mobiles in the remote northern Malian town of Kidal. The songs from Kidal range from DIY Tuareg guitar, auto-tuned Moroccan chaabi, Malian coupé décalé and fruityloop hip hop. Originally released as a limited run cassette tape, the cassette was ripped onto the internet and has circulated around the world, featured in the The Guardian, BBC World Service, Pitchfork as well as a number of other blogs. The tracks quickly became a viral source of new and inspiring sounds, but have never had an official release until now.
The songs chosen for the compilation are some of the highlights—music that is immensely popular on the unofficial MP3/cellphone network from Abidjan to Bamako to Algiers, but have limited or no commercial release. They’re also songs that tend towards this new world of self production—home studios, DIY, synthesizers and autotune.
Following a hugely successful Kickstarter fundraising, a 17 track remix of the album is now available for free download (with optional donation) and via cassette, vinyl…and microSD memory card, of course. The vinyl release is a chance for the artists in the compilation to get paid and be properly credited. If you enjoy this album half as much as I do, consider chipping in a few bucks to support the artists and encourage future releases.
Edit: These are two separate and unique releases. The Boomarm Nation album is a remix of the original material sourced by Chris Kirkley.
May 14th marked the first official Google Android Developer Challenge Sub-Saharan Africa event in Cameroon. The week prior, a Google delegation arrived in Douala to plan next month’s inaugural G-Cameroon event, discuss the latest happenings at ActivSpaces and rub elbows with local entrepreneurs at the first VC4Africa Cameroon meetup in Douala.
With a short timeframe to organize the event, Rebecca Enonchong and Eric Niat of AppsTech offered to host the launch at their Douala office in central Akwa. Just three days before the event, the local tech community generated some buzz online and hoped for the best. It was thought that up to 15 developers might show up for the launch. More than 50 techies from around Douala, Buea and Yaoundé arrived with laptops and handsets at the ready.
With the AppsTech conference room filled beyond capacity, groups were split out into adjoining offices and work areas. Presentations were led by local dev Alex Drahon and assorted Android schwag was distributed to the top participants. By the day’s end, attendees had an overview of the Android platform and SDK, as well as the judging criteria and prizes for the challenge:
Judges will consider each entry under the following equally-weighted judging criteria: Originality of Concept, Effective Use of the Android Platform, Polish and Appeal, and Indispensability. All teams that make it to the final round in each category in each region (West/Central, East and Southern Africa) will be awarded Android phones. The 1st prize in each category across all regions will receive $25,000 USD and the chance to attend a Google developer event. Teams can be no more than 3 people. All applications in each region and category will be evaluated and ranked by a team of Google-selected judges. At the end of the judging period, on September 12th, finalists will be announced.
With this kind of cash on the table, competition within regions and categories is bound to heat up (Cameroon’s finest are up against heavyweight techies in Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal). Regardless of which teams take home Android phones and cash, it’s great to see the local developer community in Cameroon galvanize around events such as these.
Miniature versions of vehicles are as popular with kids in Cameroon as anywhere else. Adult craftsmen across the continent use materials such as wire, beads and recycled cans to create toy bicycles, trucks and airplanes—many of which transcend the level of children’s toys and are nothing short of art objects. Indeed, some of these creations are produced for corporate clients and international buyers.
No less ingenious and fascinating are toys created by and for kids themselves, usually from the simplest of materials and tools. This includes items like toy tractors (Kenya) and SUVs (Uganda) made from recycled plastic bottles.
In Cameroon, one such popular toy crafted by kids is a ‘remote controlled’ car or ATV. These are often built from discarded flip-flops (slippers), sardine tins, bamboo or raffia palm, electrical conduit (pipe), rubber and bits of string. Steve blogged a design in Bamenda that incorporates a split bamboo steering column and a full-sized wire steering wheel.
It’s not difficult to spot toy cars like this being piloted by kids in Cameroon—the trick is usually being able to catch up with them to photograph one . A big advantage of this design is its ability to handle rough terrain when being driven at speed. The bamboo frame, chunky tires and rubber fasteners suck up bumps in the road like a 4WD Toyota. The proud builder of this R/C all-terrain vehicle paused long enough to demonstrate his creation for me.