Seven finalists have been shortlisted from 673 applicants in the inaugural African50 Innovation Challenge.
Launched in May 2019, the Innovation Challenge aimed to crowdsource innovative solutions that can improve last-mile connectivity to increase access to reliable and affordable Internet in underserved areas in Africa.
The initiative of pan-African infrastructure investment platform Africa50 yielded 673 proposals from information and communications technology (ICT) developers, innovators, engineers and entrepreneurs, with over 80% from Africa.
“Africa50 is looking for the most innovative infrastructure and technology solutions which enable people to connect to the Internet in their daily lives through fixed and mobile devices,” said Africa50 CEO Alain Ebobissé.
Out of the 60 and then eventual 30 shortlisted participants, seven finalists, Globtel Holdings, DMM HeHe, Ared Group, Mesh++, LifiLed, POA internet and Bluetown, were selected to work with the Africa50 investment team to conduct due diligence.
“We were really impressed with the quality and diversity of the proposals we received,” said Africa50 communications director Fleur Tchibota.
While proposals from startups and large technology companies alike were received from across the globe, over 80% of the solutions emerged from Africa.
The winners, which will be announced in November, will receive cash prizes and be considered for possible project development funding.
The winning team will also be able to obtain access to business-to-business matching services to connect with new partners, integration into Africa50’s pipeline of bankable projects, an opportunity to pitch the solution at AfricaCom and Transform Africa and access to technical support to improve the project’s investment readiness.
“Those who are not selected should not be discouraged, because they will have access to our network and they can leverage our presence in 28 African countries to find new growth opportunities,” added Ebobissé.
The winning solution will be deployed as a government-supported pilot project in Rwanda, with the objective to scale the solution to Africa50’s 28 shareholder countries across Africa.
Rwanda has been at the forefront of digital technologies, policies and the legal frameworks that permit rapid deployment, Ebobissé said.
“We see synergies between our Innovation Challenge and our codevelopment of Kigali Innovation City, a major tech hub. In fact, Rwanda is an ideal pilot country for implementing the solutions we hope to find. We can validate the concepts and technologies there before rolling them out in other countries.”
Rwanda's Vision 2020 development programme aims to attract technology companies from Africa and all over the world to create an innovation ecosystem and knowledge-based economy with pan-African impact.
“Rwanda is excited to host the pilot project as they are piloted, tested and proven viable,” said Rwanda ICT and Innovation Minister Paula Ingabire.
“This is very much aligned with our proof-of-concept strategy through which we invite innovators from across the world looking for a place to prove and scale their solutions to the African continent to consider Rwanda as their base.
“It is also aligned with our vision of becoming a knowledge-based economy, for which citizens’ access to affordable and reliable high-speed Internet is essential.”
Congratulating the finalists, who have put together “incredible solutions”, she emphasised the timeliness of the initiative as the Covid-19 pandemic proves that access to Internet must be a basic right.
Access to the Internet has become an indispensable tool for communications, work, studies and the way business is conducted in general.
“Our ability to survive and remain resilient to this and future shocks requires a multipronged strategy that includes building robust and secure digital infrastructure, digitising government and private sector services, but most importantly, ensuring that our citizens have access to Internet to consume these kinds of service and products that we put at their disposal,” she concludes.