Joining Africa Technology Ventures

One of the gaps in the technology landscape of East Africa and Nigeria is funding for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) at seed and early growth stage. As an advisor to startups with a lot of potential and my own angel investing experiences, this gap in financing is one that I would like to tackle and help fill. I met Eline Blaauboer (TBL Mirror Fund; Safaricom Spark Fund; East Africa Venture Capital Association) and Mairead Cahill (Dalberg; M-KOPA; BT) through mutual friends. They are the managing partners of Africa Technology Venture. After several discussions and meetings, we had similar thoughts on what is needed to help propel startups in Africa to the next level and more importantly how I would be able to do my part to fill this gap.

I am delighted to announce that I will be joining Africa Technology Ventures as Venture Partner.

We are raising investment for a $50m venture capital fund (“Africa Technology Ventures” or “ATV”) alongside an enterprise development facility, which will invest in and support the growth of tech enabled start-ups in East Africa and Nigeria; that have the potential to scale and create value in key sectors including Agriculture, Consumer, Education, Energy, Financial Services and Healthcare. The Fund will be based in Nairobi and Lagos and brings together a team of experienced international and local tech entrepreneurs, investors and advisors.

This is an exciting opportunity and one that I am looking forward to learning and growing in. I will be at TED 2016 this week, if you are attending, do ping me via email contact [at] julia [dot] na

One Maker Space Per Village?

I feel very fortunate to have met Dipesh Pabari. Years ago, before Ushahidi, we crossed paths when we were both interested in environmental issues and conservation. When I met him again this year, I found that we are still tree huggers just with more responsibilities, smartphones and more hectic lives.

Dipesh near the gray water treatment area

Dipesh is an inspiring man with a mission to help a village develop. When I visited his family in the South Coast of Kenya, I had no idea just how much he had continued to champion re-use and recycling. In Kenya we used to have a very efficient deposit system for soda, where you had to either have the bottle/case of empty bottles to purchase soda and beer. It worked very well. Current situation? A mess. So many plastic bottles litter the city, and you’d be hard pressed to find recycling bins anywhere. There are bins for trash, but as far as I know there are no formal recycling services. Informal systems of collecting plastics for reuse do exist, but not at a scale that takes care of the current problem. Kenya’s cities have a trash handling problem to say the least.

Seeing these problems in Kenya, Dipesh decided to do something. Through his work with Camps International, he has continued to champion reuse and recycling.
Taking discarded flip flops (what Kenyan’s call Pati Pati in Swahili) and turning them into beautiful, functional pieces like key rings, pencil holders, bangles, desk art and more.
He has found ways to use discarded plastic bottles as building materials for everything from water tanks, sky lights and many more.
What was most inspiring is that he is using plastic bottles to build out a polytechnic in Muhaka, a small village of about 3000 inhabitants. It is quite remote, beautiful but very very poor with few options for creation of wealth.

This is what he has been able to do so far.

Water Tank

Water tank made with plastic bottles, cement and other materials.

Vertical gardening with used tyres

Vertical gardening with used tyres

Muhaka Polytechnic

Plastic bottles as decorative building material at Muhaka Polytechnic


This is a skylight. Made out of what?

Reuse. Reclaiming. Ingenious. Impactful

Find out…

Glass bottle Re-use

Decorative wall that lets in light, made out of glass bottles


Fun items made from recycled flip flops

Muhaka is an outpost of creativity, dare I say innovation and a possible node in the global network of people interested in learning, making and solving problems. Many of you who read this blog likely work in one such place, be it 1871 in Chicago, The Media Lab in Boston or even iHub in Nairobi. I am curious about the idea of making, with highly contextualized problem sets. Like those to be found in this small village, in urban spaces like Detroit, struggling towns in the midwest and Appalachia. I could not help but think, what if we networked these initiatives and learned from each other? perhaps at first virtually, but then mix fun safaris with actual world changing work and learning? Makers meeting makers, sharing, learning, inspiring… Transnationally, is it possible?

Welcome to Mobisoko

Mobisoko is Africa’s mobile app marketplace. It is the place for you to find location and language relevant applications for mobiles, especially geared to the African market.



In June of 2009 I had the good fortune of attending Nairobi University Techfest. It was an event that showcased the final year projects done by University students. It became clear to me and after discussions with Mulumba and Jessica, that mobile developers in Kenya have the ideas and skills to solve the myriad technology problems we have in Africa. They are creating applications that provide unique, localized utility for Africans.

An example of this is the text to speech application that Simon Ndunda developed. It allows Kikamba (one of the tribes in Kenya) speakers to hear audio versions of SMS in the proper pronunciation. This is particularly useful for blind people, and the library of sounds can later be used for GPS navigation instructions.

video from last year’s techfest, featuring Simon’s app

Simon and other mobile developers have inspired Mobisoko to be a repository for their ideas and a marketplace for the applications they bring to you. We look forward to providing more local apps for Africa and we invite you to join us by:

– Downloading the applications, providing feedback for the developers on the product page. This will help them improve their apps.

– Mobile developers simply email info at Mobisoko dot com with your application, a description and your contact information. We shall test, review and make it available for download on the site.

Karibu! (Welcome!)

**crossposted on the Mobisoko blog. For those in Kenya, come by the ihub 6pm-7:30pm for Mobile Monday, I will be doing a brief presentation about Mobisoko.

Broadband In Kenya: Small Businesses, Big Pipes

**free flow thoughts on Broadband in general and the advent of SEACOM cable in Kenya**

The 3 SAT3 countries of South Africa, Egypt and Senegal could be said to have fibre optic connections to the rest of the world or what others may call ‘true broadband’, the rest of the countries in Africa have to contend with VSAT connections or have their internet traffic routed through the above named SAT3 countries.

In the case of Kenya, fibre has been laid by companies such as Kenya Data Networks for communication within the country. The problem has been connecting Kenya to the rest of the world. That is where the bottleneck has been. The government of Kenya has been laying cable in many parts of the country, so is just a matter of time before high speed internet access is made available to urban areas and even smaller towns.

Do note the VSAT connections can have broadband-like speeds, so what we should look at is the connection costs and amount of bandwidth available.
For example, an E1 line (equivalent to the American T1) of 2 Mbps to ISPs costs 4000 USD in Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, 7000 USD in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, 32,000 USD in Cameroon, 25,000 USD in SA.

In residential access Telkom Orange charges about 5990 Ksh (approx. 75 dollars) for home access line of 256 kpbs downloads and 128 kpbs uploads per month. Many people use the Huawei wireless modems E220, E160 particularly in Nairobi with the 3G connections, utilizing a pay-as-you-go plan. Kenyan readers, how much do you pay for your internet access? what kind of speed do you get? Do you have a preferred service provider?

By and large, broadband access is very expensive. There are also other projects like TEAMS and EASSY (Quasi-Govt. consortium: Telkom Kenya/Orange is a member, as is Safaricom and Econet) that plan to connect parts of Africa to the rest of the world by Fibre optic Cable. So far SEACOM has arrived first and the prospect of having more competition could result in the cost coming down. Though that may indeed take time. For now, companies herald the arrival of SEACOM’s fibre optic line because it would mean an increase in productivity for businesses that depend on the internet. For example, there is a young businessman in Nairobi with an IT outsourcing company, with his relatively decent connection, he still has to wait for more than 5 minutes to download a 26MB file. In a few months with the SEACOM cable reaching Nairobi, the same download could take less than a minute and he can move on to other tasks. He has employees who often have to upload files via ftp to servers in the US. With the faster speeds it will make their jobs that much easier. He is not even too concerned about the cost right now, the overarching benefit is well…broadband.

There are other factors such as open access, latency, and reliability, but talking about that would be tantamount to counting chicks before they hatch no?

As always, feel free to chime in with your thoughts in the comments or via twitter if you prefer to be pithy.

Africa popping up in Trend Watch

Now this is positively surprising, though not to many Africa-watchers…
Africa is hot for business now, and its popping up in Time Mag’s trend watch. Great to see that ideas espoused at TEDGlobal Arusha 2007 are reaching the ‘center’ from the fringes.

It’s great to see Time magazine present some trends that are not obvious, well-worn, are already over. They take a chance in this list of ‘10 Ideas Changing The World Right Now.‘ The line up includes not your usual suspects. With any list like this, there is no telling which are likely, but they are at least plausible. Two extra points for a positive African scenario. The ten trends are featured in the pic below; details at the link.

Picture 38

(Via KK Lifestream.)

In the back of my mind I couldn’t help but wonder…what of the global economic crisis? Wouldn’t that put a dent in this positive outlook? Oz has a great run down of how the global crisis affects Africa.


1. A slump in external demand affects exports and remittances.
2. A slump in external demand lowers commodity prices. Oil producing nations such as Nigeria are particularly vulnerable.
3. Lack of credit is stifling capital inflows and trade finance in the more advanced markets like Nigeria, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
4 The region is not immune to financial problems of its own. Credit has ballooned in many countries. Banks’ loan books are often concentrated in commodity-related industries.
5. Some retail investors borrowed heavily to punt on local stock markets.

You can also follow OZ on twitter.

Small Scale Wind Energy – A call for papers

Via Afriwea

Picture 1.png

An International Workshop on Small Scale wind energy For Developing Countries will be held
September 14-16, 2009, Nairobi, Kenya
The workshop will cover the following main themes:

Wind energy technologies, their perspectives and applications in developing countries,

Reliability of wind turbines, lifetime and strength of wind turbine components,

Low cost and natural materials for wind turbines,

Case studies, social and economic aspects of wind energy in developing countries.

Abstract Submission

Please submit a two-page abstract (700-800 words, in MS Word format) by e-mail to haqi [at] risoe[dot]dtu[dot]dk no later than March 15, 2008. Authors will be notified of the Committee’s
decisions shortly thereafter.


All participants are requested to register before March 20, 2009. The registration fee is 200 EURO
for participants from developed countries, and 1200 Kenyan shillings for the participants from
developing countries
. After March 21, 2009, the registration fee increases to 350 EURO (developed
countries) and 3000 Kenyan shillings (developing countries), respectively. The payment of the
registration fee should be made either by credit card (Euro, Master or Visa), or by bank transfer.
Finally, after June 15, 2009, we take additionally late-registration fee of 70 EURO and 1000
shillings, for developed and developing countries respectively. The registration includes the access
to the sessions, coffee/refreshment and lunch/dinner.

Download the Workshop2009.pdf here.

PS: please stop laughing at the logo. My explanation, a lion was standing near a wind turbine, it farted a lightbulb or had a brilliant idea.

TED 2009 – Reboot: Juan Enriquez


Juan has a research and investment firm called Biotechonomy, which invests in new genomics firms.
From TED
“Juan Enriquez thinks and writes about the profound changes that genomics and other life sciences will cause in business, technology, politics and society”

Juan gives an update on lifesciences advances that have lead to tissue regrowth, molars, ears and even bladders to replace catheter bags.
He mentions advances in robotics such as Boston Dynamic’s Big Dog robot. (check you tube for a video of Big Dog’s amazing capabilities. It can carry loads, and self corrects if it is destablized e.g by kicking it – hard)

He touches on evolution and thinks we will advance into Homo Evolutis that takes all the trends in lifesciences, robotics and evolution into something quite…well futuristic.

Here is a video of Big Dog

Opportunities for Entrepreneurs

Two opportunities I would like to pass along, the first is SEPS (Sustainable Energy Project Support) call for applications.

Now in its fifth year, WISIONS, a Wuppertal Institute initiative that is funded and supported by the Swiss-based foundation ProEvolution, has launched its annual call for applications for Sustainable Energy Project Support (SEPS).

WISIONS invites the submission of proposals from now until 18 August 2008. The total grant fund for financial support of SEPS projects in this, the 5th round (2008), is â?¬500,000 (across all projects). Partial funding of projects is possible.

We are looking for promising concepts and innovative projects with an integrated approach in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Our main goal is to identify environmentally sound projects that use modern existing technologies, demonstrate the advantages of sound energy solutions and integrate local people, enabling acceptance and further replication.

The deadline is August 18th, and you can download an app here.

Via AFriWea

SeedCamp for the entrepreneurs in Europe

From securing funding to developing the right network, young entrepreneurs in Europe face challenges in building globally competitive technology businesses. Through the provision of seed capital and a world class network of mentors, we want to provide a catalyst for Europe’s next generation of entrepreneurs.

The deadline for this is August 11th.

Via Park Paradigm

Lighting Africa Grant Competition Launches today

lighting Africa image

Lighting Africa (LA) is a joint World Bank (IBRD) and International Finance Corporation (IFC) initiative aimed at developing the market for off-grid lighting in Africa and providing poor households and small businesses with access to modern, clean and affordable lighting products.

The grant competition is open to a variety of organizations, from entrepreneurs, LED suppliers and NGO’s. Click here for more information about the grant competition and here for the forum where you can ask questions about the grants process; It is also a B2B portal of sorts.

Via Core 77

Odds and Ends

Pardon the light posting…my attention has been diverted a bit to a couple of gigs that are keeping me away from the blog. While i get my schedule rearranged and all that good stuff…Please head on over to

Afrigadget for a very Afro-cool post from Henry Addo

A ’10 questions’ interview of Steve ‘Ntwiga’ and Afrigadget team at the Sietch.

Subscribe to the Global Voices podcasts

Check the site of the Afro-preneurs who are holding an event… (that i hope someone blogs or tweets for us who are away)

TIDE (Technology, Innovation, Design
and Everything)- Innovation Series Event *this Saturday September 1st,
10-12pm at Grand Regency. The guest speaker will be Joseph Mucheru, Google
Kenya CEO. The entrance charge is Kshs.1000. This talk is open to all
persons and is not a technology only event, it will focus on innovation in
Africa from a business and entrepreneur point of view.

Last but not least, check out the 5 dollar solar thermal water heater from Instructables (Requires modification).

I almost forgot…you have got to watch Vusi Mahlasela. From Ted Blog

AOB – Agony is: finding your web host’s site has been hacked into. 🙁 so if the blog is not reachable, i have a backup, i am keeping my fingers crossed that it gets sorted soon.