October, 2013

  • Partnering to accelerate African innovation

    By Leila Charfi, Director, Innovation Partnerships, Africa Initiatives

    What do we mean when we say we see boundless potential in the people of Africa? To be boundless is to be limitless. Abundant. Infinite. To have potential is to have qualities and abilities that can be developed; that can lead to future successes. To have boundless potential must then be to have abundant abilities and endless opportunities for development.

    Unfortunately, in Africa, opportunities for development are not endless. At least not yet. There is limitless talent, but more opportunities are still needed to develop it. Being on the continent for over 20 years, Microsoft is very familiar with Africa’s inherent talent and through our 4Afrika Initiative, we’re helping to ensure that Africa can continue to grow and create its own opportunities.

    Today, at DEMO Africa, we unveiled a new commitment to support startups under the 4Afrika banner by entering into cooperation agreements with innovation hubs CcHub in Nigeria, DTBi in Tanzania and AfriLabs – a pan-African hub network spanning Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia. Through these cooperations, we’re giving their communities access to:

    • Microsoft BizSpark memberships for startups
    • Business networking
    • Capital investment opportunities
    • Events and workshops on the latest Microsoft technologies for developers
    • The 4Afrika Internship and Volunteer programs, providing access to Microsoft mentors and experts as additional resources

    In short, we’ll be a catalyst for young innovators to have much easier access to the tools and resources they need to fully develop their ideas. This builds upon our existing agreements with Kenya’s iHub and m:lab which were announced in March. As Eric Hersman, founder and manager of iHub said, “Microsoft is clearly a brand that developers and startups want to engage with and this cooperation enables us to provide tech community members with great programs that can help them develop innovative new software products, establish their businesses and reach new markets”.

    It also builds on our news from last week, when we announced the expansion of the Microsoft Ventures partnership program into Africa, with 88mph as our first African accelerator partner. Microsoft Ventures is our global effort to offer the tools, resources, expertise and routes to market for startups, through partnerships with accelerators around the world.

    I can imagine no better backdrop for this great momentum than DEMO Africa, which is built on the premise that startups in Africa are developing real-world solutions and are worthy of investment and global attention. As platinum sponsor, we’re partnering with fantastic organisations in Africa to get these startups seen and turn their ideas into realities. We don’t just want to encourage African innovation, we want to help accelerate it. And to do this, we’re providing each DEMO Africa finalist with free access to our global BizSpark program, which provides them with software, support, visibility and a community of mentors. 

    To have boundless potential means to have no boundaries to success. These cooperations are a strategic and crucial opportunity to help remove these boundaries and extend our support broadly to the African continent. Because when we say we see boundless potential in the people of Africa, we mean it. In every sense of the word.

  • Be the next big thing in Africa

    Posted by: Dele Akinsade, Developer Platforms Evangelism Lead, sub-Saharan Africa and Indian Ocean Islands

    I must have the best job at Microsoft. I get to experience the passion of young people using technology every day, and how a little imagination can solve seemingly impossible problems. Like this year’s Imagine Cup winners of the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Award, Team Code 8 of Uganda, who developed a Windows app called Matibabu that diagnoses malaria without pricking a body part! By attaching a Kinect sensor to your finger, your malaria status is fed into your smartphone within seconds, and for free! From the heart of Africa, here is an innovation that has the potential to save lives all over the world.

    Team Code 8 truly deserves their success, and their hard work and dedication is inspiring. I caught up with them after the Imagine Cup World Finals in St. Petersburg and we talked about some of their competition highlights. "Getting to present our project to Matt Smith, who is the famous doctor from BBC’s Doctor Who, is a definite highlight,” says Josiah Kavuma, the team’s mentor.

    When asked how it felt to win, Josiah beams at the memory. “It was awesome, we could not stop smiling. It’s one of the best moments we shared as a team.” 

    We also chatted about the apps presented at the competition that inspired us most. Team Code 8’s favourite was SoundSYNK, developed by the UK’s Team Colinked, which is an app that enables the synchronisation of music playback between multiple Windows devices in perfect harmony, essentially creating a stereo sound system. “The effect is mindblowing,” says Josiah.

     My personal favourite was the Portuguese team’s For a Better World app, which uses a portable device to determine a person’s blood type in about five minutes - no surprise that it won the World Citizenship Award.

     In addition to the USD 12 000 prize, Team Code 8 will take away lifelong memories from participating in the competition - networking with peers, experiencing a world-class city, and being exposed to the best technology ideas in the world. The team’s success will no doubt impact aspiring developers in Uganda and other African countries, and to all the local students out there, I say don’t let your circumstances define you. Be inspired by what you see around you. Be the new Africa!

    I look forward to seeing more local students coming up with inventions that will positively impact millions of people on the continent, and the world. Next year, I believe e-commerce will be the next big thing in app development, for it has the potential to solve the financial inclusion problem in many parts of Africa - just look at the success of Mpesa.

     But for now, keep your eye on the Windows store for new, life-changing apps every day. And in a few weeks, Matibabu will be available for download! 


  • Microsoft Ventures provides support for African entrepreneurs

    By Amrote Abdella, Director 4Afrika Venture Capital and Startup Programs

    As leading Harvard Professor, Michael Porter, once said: “Innovation is the central issue to economic prosperity.” At Microsoft we couldn’t agree more, which is why one of our goals is to empower Africans to make the most of, and monetize their own business ideas. There is certainly no shortage of brilliant ideas on the continent, but no matter how bright they burn, they require time, investment, and the right tools to become a blazing, fully-fledged business.   

    This is why we are so excited to announce that Microsoft’s Ventures partnership program is expanding into Africa, starting in Kenya. Microsoft Ventures was created to give startups a leg-up by providing access to tools, technology and training. Kenya is quickly being recognised as an innovation hub, particularly in the mobility space. It’s been reported that there are 74 mobile phones for every 100 Kenyans and, of those who access the internet, 99% do it via a mobile device.

    Expanded to Africa as part of our 4Afrika Initiative, Microsoft Ventures speaks to our belief that technology can accelerate growth for Africa, and Africa can also accelerate technology for the world. Around the world, Microsoft Ventures selects strategic accelerator partners in each region to provide local market expertise. For our venture into Kenya, we’ve selected 88mph for its proven track record in helping local entrepreneurs turn ideas into thriving businesses. Since opening up in July 2011 the company has already graduated 32 startups. That equals nearly one success story for every month they’ve been in operation!

    One of my favourite stories and a prime example of what we hope to achieve with this partnership, is a company called Gamsole, started by Nigeria’s own Abiola Olaniram. Abiola had a vision of creating his own tech company, capitalising on the growing mobile space and people’s love of entertainment in Africa and all over the world.  Funded by 88mph and Microsoft’s BizSpark program, he started developing Windows Games and is now the highest paid Windows game developer in Africa, with over 1.5 million downloads.  This is just one example. You can read about dozens more on the Microsoft Ventures website.

    We want to remove as many barriers as we can to enabling a startup to thrive. The program is simple: those who are interested can apply to an immersive 3-6 month
    accelerator program. The only requirements are a full-time founding team and less than $1 million raised. Qualifying companies will have access to mentors, technical and design experts, development tools and key resources.

    Ultimately, we want to see a thriving African startup ecosystem contributing to Africa’s economic development and competitiveness on a global scale. We feel strongly that by partnering with 88mph we are helping to pave the way to a better, stronger future.  

  • Listening to Africa: Microsoft Forms 4Afrika Advisory Council

    By Mteto Nyati, MD of Microsoft South Africa and Vice Chair of the 4Afrika Advisory Council 

    Last Friday in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I was honored to take on an additional role and responsibility as vice-chair of our new 4Afrika Advisory Council, led by His Excellency, Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania. The first meeting of our Council brought together 10 prominent business and thought leaders from across Africa who have all accepted to help us shape our strategy around the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative.

    At Microsoft, we strongly believe in the collective wisdom of a group and the value of outside perspective, which is why we invited these distinguished influencers to establish the Council. The mission: to ensure that the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative always remains relevant for Africans and does in fact help the continent become and remain globally competitive for the benefit of the African people. The Council will meet in-person twice yearly in different locations and hold regional meetings at other times throughout the year.  

    It was important to us that our Council truly represent the diversity of Africa – geographic, age, gender and a broad range of industries which stand to benefit from technology. It is that very diversity that is so core to Africa’s allure and potential.

    Council members therefore include the likes of Senegalese Mariam Jamme, CEO of SpotOne Global Solutions and co-founder of Africa Gathering, the first global platform bringing together entrepreneurs and others to share ideas about development in Africa. We also have technology innovator, development activist and World Economic Forum member, Bright Simons, who as President of the mPedigree Network invented a system that empowers consumers to instantly verify whether their medicines are safe and not counterfeit. For the full list of the Council members, see bottom of the blog or Click here.

    With such a diverse and distinguished group, the conversation at our first meeting was lively and insightful. Topics ranged from how to spur local innovation, to economic growth and urban development. Leading the agenda was the topic of how to fuel the potential of Africa’s youth. The continent is home to the top ten youngest populations in the world, and according to the World Bank, there are 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 years on the continent, comprising more than 20% of the total population. An even bigger challenge is that youth make up 37% percent of the working-age population, but 60% of the total unemployed.

    In the coming weeks, we will also add four African youth leaders to the Council because we want to make certain that we are really listening to and understanding the needs and wishes of this critical demographic. We look forward to introducing those new Council members soon, and to working together as a full Council to continually push forward the agenda of the 4Afrika Initiative to accelerate economic development and improve African competitiveness.     

    4Afrika Council Members

    Chairperson - H.E. Benjamin Mkapa

    Vice-Chair - Mteto Nyati

    Secretary - Louis Otieno

    Benjamin Mophatlane

    Bright Simons

    Fernando de Sousa, General Manager 4Afrika

    Florence Iwegbue

    Hanan Abdelmeguid

    Juliana Rotich

    Luís Lélis

    Marieme Jamme

    Monica Musonda

    Phuti Mahanyele

    Richard Attias

    Ali Faramawy, Convener, 4Afrika Inaugural Meeting, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Middle East & Africa.




  • Microsoft’s YouthSpark turns one - and gets ready to target more African youth

    By Djam Bakhshandegi, Corporate Citizenship and Partners in Learning West East Central Africa & Indian Ocean Islands

    Microsoft’s Partners in Learning isn’t the only initiative to celebrate an anniversary this year. On the 23rd of September 2013, Microsoft’s global YouthSpark programme officially turned one. Over the past 12 months, we’re proud to say that this programme has created opportunities for over 103 million youth worldwide.

    But this is only the beginning.

    In Africa alone, there are over 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24 today. When we see that number, we think of all the potential and innovation there is still to be unlocked. Which is why, through YouthSpark and initiatives like 4Afrika, we’re placing more focus on the youth than ever. Young people are at the core of Africa’s economic growth, its innovation and its future. If we can bring access to technology, opportunities for innovation and world-class skills to them, imagine what they can bring back to us.

    YouthSpark in Africa has so far impacted over 2.5 million youth. We look forward to reaching more of our young people, and celebrating even more new opportunities this time next year.

    Read more on YouthSpark’s first year, and how it’s impacted students globally.