Ugandan Tech: 6 startups thinking way outside the box
Kampala, Uganda may seem like one of the last places on the planet you'd find a thriving technology industry, but the city acts as something of a regional hub for tech startups catering to East Africa's unique demands. Fixed line internet connections in the country are still rare and access is limited to businesses and the wealthy. However, mobile connection options are exploding. Google launched 120 wifi hotspots in Kampala in 2016 and today officials say around 8.5 million Ugandans are internet users, or around 23 percent of the population. Still, access to hardware and fast, reliable connections remain significant challenges for most, which gives Kampala's tech industry nearly exclusive opportunities to address local market demands.
Here are six Ugandan tech startups thinking way outside the box:
SafeBoda is basically Uber, only for Kampala's large fleet of motorcycle taxis. Boda boda, as motorcycle taxis are called locally, are big business in East Africa and by some estimates there are five times as many boda boda operating in Kampala as there are yellow cabs in New York City. SafeBoda allows riders and drivers to connect with the click of a button. Besides being convenient, SafeBoda's big draw is it's requirement that riders wear a helmet, which is, otherwise, almost unheard of. Furthermore, the smartphones SafeBoda drivers use collect data on things like braking speed and then rank the operators on their safety. The company says that 40 percent of trauma cases in Kampala hospitals can be attributed to boda boda accidents, a figure they plan on improving.
Honexus runs an online health information system and data collection platform that’s aimed at the developing world. Their platform allows clinics and hospitals to record electronic medical records that can then be used by NGOs or others to improve health outcomes. They also help clinics share these resources. While similar systems exist around the world, Honexus built their platform as an Africa-first model. As such, the system was built with the needs of researchers, policy makers, suppliers and doctors in mind, while also being user friendly for the people charged with imputing data in the field who are often not computer literate.
ENVenture makes a point of sale system for rural entrepreneurs in the developing world. The platform allows users to do things like take inventory, input sales and forecast orders. But, unlike similar systems built in the U.S. and Asia, the app is photo and number-based and will operate on a 2G network or completely offline. Because it’s app-based, users do not need to own a computer or have access to WiFi to create things like sales reports or track sales volume.
Patasente allows users to lend or borrow small amounts online — think of it kind of like Kickstarter for the micro-loan industry. If a small farmer needs money to buy a piece of farm equipment, they can apply for a loan with Patasente instead of at a bank. Patasente will then connect that loan applicant with an investor online who will earn a percentage off their investment. Because the loans are small and the whole thing is done outside of the normal banking system, Patasente is able to offer lower rates to borrowers, with way better terms — fixed payments, no prepayment penalties, etc.
MobFit connects rural farmers to the supply chain via SMS and automated voice calling technology. The platform's use of ‘dumb technology’ is on purpose, since smartphones and computers are out of reach for many farmers. Instead, MobFit allows farmers to send a short text message about their crop to the company. They will then connect the farmers with whichever buyer on their marketplace is paying the highest price. The farmers get the peace of mind of having a buyer and a pre-negotiated price for their produce before they harvest, while the buyer gets a guaranteed supply. Check out the MobFit website to see what local produce is going for in Kampala — just do yourself a favor and do not compare what you find to the prices at Whole Foods.
Remit is an online mobile payments service aiming to shake up how remittances are sent and received. The African diaspora sends around $60 billion a year back to their home countries. Of that hard earned money, an average of 11.89 percent is eaten up by transaction fees, meaning Africans are spending a whopping $7 billion a year in fees. Remit’s platform allows users to send money home instantly, safely and, importantly, inexpensively. Their current USD to UGX rate, for instance, is under 3.5 percent.
Images via companies featured.