March was a busy month across Africa’s tech space.
500 Startups’ frontier and emerging markets travel series ― Geeks on a Plane ― kicked off its first Africa tour. The 12-day trek packed in events, a startup pitch battle, and visits to tech hubs in Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa. Talking to TechCrunch about the trip, 500 Startups CEO Dave McClure confirmed “we’re not announcing a fund at the current time” but said the Silicon Valley accelerator was “planning on doing more investment in Africa” to add to the 10 investments already made in startups such as such as Nigerian HR platform TalentBase and South Africa’s SweepSouth. McClure, who kicked off the Geeks trip Monday in Lagos, did not rule out a dedicated Africa micro-fund, noting a decision could be made within the next 12-24 months.
Alphabet expanded its Africa initiatives in March, opening Google’s Launchpad Accelerator to African startups and committing to train another 1 million students under its Digital Skills for Africa program in the next 12 months. Debuted in April 2016 with a goal of training 1 million within a year―a goal Google attained―Digital Skills for Africa offers online and face to face instruction to individuals and small businesses through 14 partners across 27 African countries. Anyone can register for free and set an individualized plan across three primary categories: business development, career advancement, or basic internet use. Users can choose from 89 courses across 23 topic areas and earn badges and certificates for successful completion.
Kenyan communications hardware company BRCK unveiled its SupaBRCK—a waterproof, solar-powered Wi-Fi box that operates as a 3G hotspot and off-grid server. The product is the sequel to BRCK’s eponymous debut creation, launched in 2013 to tackle two common African IT challenges: reliable power and viable internet options. The new SupaBRCK — with its dual core processor and a 5 terabyte hard drive — can be plopped down in just about any environment to provide up to 100 internet connections, streaming video for 50 devices and enough server capacity to run a Linux stack.
Accompanying BRCK’s hardware product is the startup’s new Moja service, which will provide ad-supported free public net access and a content delivery network (CDN) service through SupaBRCK devices. “The demand on internet in Africa is largely driven by the 10 to 15 percent who can afford it. The real massive opportunity is trying to connect the 70 to 80 percent of the people who can’t,” said BRCK CEO Erik Hersman on value proposition of the new device.
And finally, Facebook issued an open call to Africa developers to enter its Bots for Messenger Challenge―a contest judging innovative new bots in categories of gaming and entertainment, productivity and utility, and social good. Contestants have until April 28 to apply and compete for prizes, including up to $40,000 in tools, services, and mentorship from FbStart, FB’s early stage mobile startup program.