The MEST Africa Challenge, Africa’s biggest tech startup pitch competition, has announced 2020’s winner, along with two runner ups and the winner of the inaugural Community Choice Vote.
The MEST Africa Challenge is Africa’s biggest tech startup pitch competition offering entrepreneurs and young businesses the opportunity of a lifetime; $50,000 in funding, a space in one of MEST’s Hubs, support from MEST’s Portfolio team, and amazing prizes from a diverse pool of ecosystem partners.
This year saw the competition grow and expand from five countries to nine, giving more startups much needed support during this pandemic. For the first time, the entire competition was also held virtually, making it possible for over seventy-five startups from Ethiopia, Kenya, Côte D’Ivoire, Rwanda, Ghana, Tanzania, Senegal, Nigeria, and South Africa to pitch to a global audience of over one thousand people.
Over the past two months, each country held individual country finals to select the country winner who would go on to compete in the finale. Winners are DeboEngineering representing Ethiopia, Fundis representing Kenya, Tutoo+ representingCôte d’Ivoire, BAG Innovation from Rwanda, Oniocha Ltd representing Ghana, Kilimo fresh Foods Africa Limited representing Tanzania), Mousso Africa representing Senegal, Gradely representing Nigeria and PopUpShopShop representing South Africa.
The country finals were a unique experience, giving the audience remarkable insights into the tech ecosystems of participating countries, and the innovative entrepreneurs rising up to the challenge to solve the everyday problems they see around them. Judges for these finals were also selected from within the countries themselves, complemented by partners and leaders in the African tech industry.
For the finale, the judging panel was a veritable who-is-who of serial entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and senior tech executives including MEST’s very own CEO and founder — Jorn Lyseggen, Senior Director for Software Partnerships at Microsoft — Chris Lwanga, the Founding Principal of Imaginable Futures — Teresa Mbagaya, and Partner of TLcom Capital — Andreata Muforo.
Like the country finals, each startup had four minutes within which to pitch their business and their purpose, justifying why they deserve to win the MEST Africa Challenge. After the judges had six minutes to ask questions and clarify any concerns they may have about the startups.
To get the ball rolling, the competition began with an exciting welcome video, taking viewers through the journey from last year’s competition till date. It was a visual showcase of the competition’s ethos and a stimulating glimpse into what was coming next.
After addresses from MEST’s CEO, Jorn Lyseggen, Managing Director, Ashwin Ravichandran, and Senior Director for Software Partnerships at, Microsoft, Chris Lwanga, the competition officially kicked off with Debo Engineering from Ethiopia.
Debo Engineering is an integrated engineering firm that designs, develops, and implements smart business applications for the agricultural sector. They were represented by their co-Founder, Boaz Berhanu who presented their flagship product; an app that utilizes fast and accurate machine-learning algorithms to detect, monitor, and prevent plant degradation.
They estimated that $120 billion is lost worldwide due to crop diseases with Africa and Ethiopia losing $68 billion and $720 million respectively. The solution Debo Engineering has created is aimed at helping farmers reduce crop diseases.
During the Q&A session, judges seemed most concerned with how they dealt with internet connectivity problems to which Boaz answered that the mobile app no longer needs internet connection to run and they’ve set up an active call center for customers without smartphones to still access the service.
Team Fundis, pitched next, led by Alex Kamanga, their CEO. As a peer to peer platform, they help customers find & hire competent, vetted, and reliable local service professionals and aim to solve the problem of Africa’s disorganized and fragmented informal sector by bringing craftsmen and local artisans together on one platform. With over 1000 job requests since March, they are well on their way to becoming a bonafide tech giant in Kenya.
At the end of their pitch, Judge Teresa commended them for their initiative and wanted to know how they built trust between their clients and workers. To this, Alex answered that they have a 55% client retention rate, which has been possible because they run background checks on workers and require them to have guarantors and trustees before they start working, ensuring that clients have nothing to worry about.
The innovative e-learning platform is providing a disruptive education on cutting-edge technologies and entrepreneurial skills in Francophone Africa. Their solution addresses the increased availability of jobs in the ICT sector versus the inadequacy of skilled labor available to fill those roles. Their customer age group is between 15–34, and they also provide an offline version of their innovative e-learning platform.
When asked how they add value to their certifications, Amenam, the CEO, responded that they are in the process of partnering with some local tech-based companies and will, later on, reach out to international tech institutions for added credibility to Tutoo+ certification.
After their exciting win in Rwanda, Bag Innovation was back with more enthusiasm than ever before. Co-founder Yussouf Ntwali, took to the ‘stage’ with a pitch that was both inspired and delightful, painting a clear picture of the value of their product and the innovativeness behind it.
The startup is committed to preparing Africa’s future workforce by applying gamification to offer real-time access to experience-based learning for university students in East Africa.
They collaborated with the creator of the global game phenom, ‘Candy Crush,’ to create a game that increases retention, conversion, and engagement among students and have also partnered with many universities in Rwanda who have seen the benefit of their programs for graduates.
Following their pitch, Judge Teresa wanted to know how many universities they had secured and how they certify the graduates who use their platform. They responded that they have twenty partner universities in Rwanda for whom they create different study modules based on their requirements. The certification is also based on the points graduates and students generate when using the platform.
According to Deborah Saki, their co-founder, their business model was based on the fact that over 90% of readers in Africa don’t have access to the books they are looking to purchase, with over 80 million readers willing to pay at least $10 to acquire books. Oniocha helps institutions and individuals buy, sell, and swap books, which has come in handy for most of their university clients who tend to use books for a semester and then want to swap it out for others.
For most of the judges, their biggest concern with Oniocha was logistical, in how they move books around. Oniocha responded by saying that they partner delivery services and use postal services for international deliveries.
Kilimo Fresh Foods
He began his pitch by sharing his personal experience as a farmer dealing with issues like loss of produce, poor storage facilities, poor transport and handling, and lack of access to market causing more than 48% of food produced in Tanzania going to waste.
Kilimo Fresh solves this problem by developing digital farming solutions, including online produce distribution platforms which helps farmers earn a higher income on their yield by offering immediate access to buyers who prefer fresh foods and the ability to safely store foods for longer periods. Their main customers are hotels, restaurants, catering companies, and retail stores like supermarkets.
Senegal country winner Mousso Africa, was up next, pitching their digital and financially inclusive platform for developing the socio-economic lives of Africans. According to Mohammed Ndaye, founder and CEO, Mousso Africa is aimed at reinventing the way microfinance works, by giving businesses working capital and supplying them with goods on credit.
They also work in partnership with supply companies who provide raw materials at affordable prices to their clients, putting in place supplier partnerships, and referral programs to increase their platform activity.
Coming from Africa’s largest economic market, Nigeria’s Gradely was met with much anticipation from viewers. Their personalized online learning platform harnesses the power of data and AI to help schools and parents intervene in real-time to cover their children’s learning gaps.
Their CEO and co-founder, Boye Oshinaga, spoke about the plight of most African students who are in school but are not actually learning, contributing to the startling reality that although more African children are going to school than ever before, there is still a huge literacy gap because students are not receiving quality education.
Responding to Judge Teresa’s question about how adaptive their platform was, Boye said that Gradely allows students to do their homework and practice online, view recommended video lessons, and access tutoring sessions. Teachers can also set up classes with students and engage them live, online, while creating AI-assisted assessments. They also allow parents and schools to get real-time feedback on learning progress making it a very adaptive platform.
Popup Shop Shop
Popup Shop Shop is an online marketplace connecting brands to great spaces in shopping centers and high street locations for short or long term rentals. It is designed to be an easy to use tool that simplifies the administration of commercial short-term leases and also offers a suite of tailored shopfitting solutions to make popping up easy.
With an available market for commercial retail property estimated at $3.4 billion, Pop Up Shop Shop hopes to capture at least 10% of it with their short term rentals by solving the problem of brands not being able to access short term retail opportunities, property manager’s being unable to source a vast range of brands who want to popup and unproductive retail floors.
And with that, after an incredible two hours, it was time for the judges to decide the winners!
While the judges were away in a private chat room, the Community Choice Vote was ongoing, causing a lot of buzz in the chat section from viewers and fans of the startups who were debating the winner and interestingly, which country makes the best Jollof rice.
This was the backdrop of ‘The Great Debate’ going on between the entrepreneurs on why their country was the best for startup creation and growth.
Then came the part we had all been waiting for — Drum roll, please…
Community Choice Vote
By popular choice, Debo Engineering was announced as the winner of the first MEST Africa Challenge Community Choice Vote. For their prize, they’ve won a spot in one of MEST’s Hubs, with access to its vast and international community and exclusive perks.
This was followed by the announcement of the two runner-ups: BAG Innovation and Moussa Africa , who were selected for their value in the problems they are trying to solve, the fact that they had a clear path to scaling, impressive traction among others.
Ultimately, Kilimo Fresh Foods Africa Limited was announced as the overall winner of the MEST Africa Challenge 2020. They walk away with an investment totaling $50,000 and will be welcomed into one of MEST’s Hubs for a year of support and incubation.
MEST Africa Challenge 2020 Partners
This year, the MEST Africa Challenge partnered with over thirty organizations that share their vision to support Africa’s next generation of tech businesses. MEST will like to say thank you to its network of ecosystem partners:
VC4A, AfriLabs, YUX, Briter Bridges, Blue Moon, Founders Factory Africa, Silicon Cape, Gebeya, Nailab, Royal Work Club, Growth Africa, Nairobi Garage, Swahili Box, 250 Startups, Impact Hub Kigali, KLab, Ghana Tech Lab, Hacklab Foundation, Move Me Back, SBIncubator, Seedstars, GrowthLab, Levers in Heels, Robotech Labs, Africarena, Impact Hub Lagos, Take My Word and She Leads Africa.
We are truly grateful for your contributions to the success of the competition’s first virtual edition.
The MEST Africa Challenge won’t be complete without tech giant Microsoft. Their continuous support of tech entrepreneurs and businesses is both significant and inspiring. Thank you.
About the MEST Africa Challenge
Now in its third year, the MEST Africa Challenge is an Africa-wide tech startup pitch competition offering up to $50,000 in equity investment and a chance to join MEST’s hub and start-up community of talented entrepreneurs as they build and scale successful businesses that add value to African economies. It has become an establishment in the start-up technology industry, giving an unprecedented global platform to hundreds of local tech entrepreneurs in Africa. This year, the Challenge expanded from five markets to nine, embracing early-stage companies in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Sénégal, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania, and providing the opportunity for the Challenge organizers — MEST and lead partner — Microsoft, together with other ecosystem partners the opportunity to support even more startups through funding and resources.