Meet the top five African startups pitching at the MEST Africa Challenge finals!

Lundie Strom, Tuesday March 19th 2019

On February 27 and 28, 2019, MEST welcomed nearly 400 guests to watch semi-finalists from the annual MEST Africa Challenge pitch for the chance to become the regional winner in Abidjan, Accra, Cape Town, Lagos and Nairobi.

From nearly 1,000 applicants, more than 40 semi-finalists were selected to pitch in front of top ecosystem players. Five winners emerged:

  • Seekewa (Côte d'Ivoire) - A FinTech platform allowing people to make in-kind contributions to small agricultural projects in Africa
  • OZÉ (Ghana) - A platform that equips small business owners to make data-driven decisions to improve their performance and access capital
  • Snode Technologies (South Africa) - A cybersecurity and intelligence business that leverages mathematics to analyse data in real-time at scale
  • (Nigeria) - The 'LinkedIn for sports in Africa,' connecting talents to a world of opportunities
  • WayaWaya Ltd (Kenya) - Provides one account to combine your bank, mobile wallet, and SACCO, and makes payments accessible across the world

We spoke to the finalists to find out more about their companies, and how winning the final pitch at the MEST Africa Summit 2019, and the chance at up to $50k equity investment from MEST, would help them achieve their goals.

MEST: In 3 lines, what is your 'startup story'?

Snode: The Snode story started 8 years ago, with roots in high-tech security consulting and ethical hacking. During the foundation years, Founder and CEO Nithen Naidoo, realised that the entire way we look at defense is flawed because of how easy it was becoming to bypass security controls. Snode was created to gain insight into prevailing patterns, not visible to the human eye, allowing our users identify attacks before they happen.

MEST: What problem does your startup solve?

AMPZ: Our solution tackles 3 areas: access, platforms and exploitation. An estimated 230 million African sports participants within a viable age bracket have no access to verified information on opportunities. AMPZ is using technology as a tool to improve information quality and promote equal distribution of opportunities.

As well, currently there are no platforms supporting talent profiling, discovery and connections in Africa. AMPZ is here to bridge the gap and facilitate the process of talent discovery.

Finally, these huge gaps have left talents open to the risks of trafficking and extortion by fake agents and scouts. AMPZ is using technology as a tool to mitigate against these social challenges by ensuring data verification and digital regulation.

MEST: Why is 'now' the time for your company to exist?

OZÉ: Just this year, urban internet penetration in Africa matched that of China. Africa is ready for a solution that uses digital tools to spur business growth. At the same time, youth unemployment persists. For inclusive economic growth, we need to equip small businesses to thrive and solve the unemployment crisis.

MEST: How does your location give you an advantage over operating anywhere else in Africa?

Seekewa: [We operate in Côte d'Ivoire because] it is one of the leading powers in Africa (world's leading producer of cocoa and cashew nuts, leading African producer of rubber trees, and second African producer of oil palm) and has one of the most dynamic agricultural ecosystems, based in particular on farmers' cooperatives.

MEST: Who is your target customer & why?

WayaWaya: We look to serve a majority of users aged 18-35 years. Our statistics show that at least 52% of Millennials and Gen-Z are already using non-traditional payments and banking platforms, and 23% of them are already using peer-to-peer lending platforms. We have tailored our services to seamlessly integrate our platform within their day-to-day lives and business/financial needs and requirements.

MEST: Why do you think people will be excited about your company?

Snode: Snode is an innovative African solution that has been embraced globally due to its effectiveness, efficiency and simplicity. It solves a serious global problem, in a truly African way, using our local creativity and ingenuity.

MEST:  Tell us about your team & what makes it unique

OZÉ: We combine deep local knowledge with global experience. Meghan and Dave, OZÉ's founders, both served in the Peace Corps before working in the corporate sector. Together, they launched and scaled French-speaking Africa's most active SME accelerator. Aly and Albert, who run tech and data respectively, bring decades of industry experience to bear building a one of a kind, machine-learning enabled solutions.

MEST: Over the next year, how do you think your company will grow? Where do you see yourselves in the next 2-5 years?

WayaWaya: We see ourselves having a market share of at least 4.2% of the $4.7 billion initial market target in the next year. Within two years, we [hope] to have grown the business across West Africa, Southern Africa and Northern Africa, and to have started pursuing frameworks to convert us into a digitally available virtual bank within 5 years or less.

MEST: What has been your biggest challenge whilst building your company thus far, or what do you think will be your biggest challenge/threat as your company continues to grow?

Seekewa: In Cote d'Ivoire, and more generally in the West African monetary space, regulation prohibits the lending of money by any economic actor without a banking or financial institution license. This barrier makes it almost impossible for a startup to set up a crowdfunding platform. We therefore had to reinvent the classic crowdfunding model by combining it with an electronic voucher system valued in points. This innovative approach makes it possible to provide resources (goods and services) directly by credit instead of money to acquire them.

In partnership with Microsoft, MEST is excited to welcome the five finalists back for the final pitch at the MEST Africa Summit in Nairobi this June!