Review the 15 African innovative startups for 2014 …

(CNN) — Africa is not just a mobile-first continent. It is mobile-only.

“As such, many of the most innovative startups address mobile for what it is: the gold of today, the new, digital equivalent of a railroad”, said Toby Shapshak who is a technology journalist based in Johannesburg where he writes about tech and innovation in Africa. 

Drawing up this list, I was struck by how readily I thought of good South African tech firms that deserved to be here — so I shamelessly let my patriotic fervor guide me. Looking back, I still think they all deserve to be on this list.

Several of the names on this list come from the final 40 of this year’s Demo Africa the African arm of this renowned launch event for tech start-ups, held in Nairobi.

The most recent figures for mobile and internet usage are promising, and show room for growth. “Only 16 percent of the Africa’s one billion people are currently online, but that share is rising. More than 720-million Africans have mobile phones, 167-million already use the Internet, and 52-million are on Facebook,” reported consultancy McKinsey, in a report entitled ” Lions go Digital: The Internet’s transformative potential in Africa.”

“Promising ‘Free Wi-Fi For Africa’ is a bold statement, but not when you’re Alan Knott-Craig, the erstwhile CEO of Mxit and you’re passionate about something like this,” says Shapshak. Rather than a business, Project Isizwe is a non-profit organization aiming to bring online connectivity to people across the continent, by facilitating the roll-out of free Wi-Fi for public spaces in low income communities.
“Everyone knows Nigeria’s film industry, Nollywood, is the Bollywood of Africa — especially Nigerians abroad, who want to keep watching their favorite cinema. They do this through, iROKOtv, which calls itself “the world’s largest online distributor of African content.'”
“Mxit, which was the largest social network in Africa before Facebook took that title earlier this year, has a new focus under new CEO Francois Swart and chairman Michael Jordaan, easily South Africa’s most charismatic business figure. It also has 7.5-million users, with 6.5 million of them in South Africa — all emerging middle-class consumers who want to buy your brand.”
“The Karibu solar system is a small standing lamp, that is split into three components: the lamp, the battery and the small solar panel. The merchant ‘rents’ out the lamp and battery for a few weeks, before the renter owns the whole device, including the charger. Using the same small amounts that are typically used to buy kerosene, the Karibu provides light but also power to charge cellphones.”
“One of the finalists at Demo Africa, Kenyan start-up Able Wireless wants to stream paid-for content for $6 per month using a household set-top box. It is an edge-of-network service that ‘delivers content over a wireless network through a secure device, reducing 83% of capital and operational costs for current network providers, creating a legitimate distribution system.'”

“With the Kenyan economy riding the M-Pesa wave, the key beneficiaries have been consumers using their phones to make payments. Kopo Kopo aims to make merchants the next mobile payment-enabled segment of society.”
“Financial-planning site — and now app — offers a different, behavorial economics-approach to managing your finances. Snapped up by London-based Old Mutual, one of the largest insurers, 22seven is expected to deliver great things.”

“Kind of like an AirBnb for Africa, but using SMS as much as the internet as its main interface, Kenya’s Sleep Out was a highlight at Pivot East in Nairobi last year. It has a touch of to the bookings it offers in over 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East.”

“Facebook-like education for the high school masses is the idea behind the Obami education site. The brain child of Barbara Mallinson uses the familiar Facebook paradigm as its interface, making it familiar to students, teachers and parents — enabling group discussions and problem solving.”
“mPawa matches employers with potential employees via skills and experience. It’s also SMS-based, which is ideal given that much of Africa is mobile-only.”
“To become Nigeria’s largest deal site is no mean feat. Just ask Sim Shagaya — this is one of the three digital giants he has created in the country. Skepticism runs high, even in Nigeria, but DealDey, which could be just another Groupon ripoff, appears to be bucking the odds.”
“Aiming to be the ‘African Amazon,’ offers cash-on-delivery in the populous Nigerian cities of Lagos and Abuja. Ordered online or via mobile phone, the products are driven by motorcyclist couriers to the buyers’ home or business, when cash can be paid.”
“If they gave Nobel Prizes for Bloody Fine Ideas, it would be to Arthur Attwell, whose thoroughly clever Paperight idea turns education into a win-win for everyone, from publishers to students to small print shops. Everybody wins.”
Toby Shapshak has selected Africa’s most interesting startups: “From the founders of real-time info site Ushahidi comes a brick-like device that they call ‘the internet’s backup generator.’
And that it is. The sturdy plastic-shelled device has everything you’d need to survive the wilds of the unreliably African internet, like Nairobi or Johannesburg. The BRCK has a big battery, so it can keep 20 devices connected for eight hours and is robust enough to handle power failures, poor line speeds and just general grumpiness.”

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