NAIROBI, KENYA — From games to mobile payment systems, entrepreneurs from across Africa are getting together in Nairobi, Kenya, to pitch their high-tech innovations to potential investors and partners. Some of the newest trends are on display at Demo Africa.
By his stall at the back of the showroom floor, Bayo Puddicombe of Nigeria plays a bus-driving game on his phone as he touts a new mobile payment system called ChopUP.
“ChopUP is a social platform that helps local developers to monetize using locally available payment messages, such as premium SMS and mobile money,” said Puddicombe.
The game shows how one can go to a “garage” for a bus and buy upgrades by using ChopUP to send the payment through existing mobile money transfer services.
Puddicombe said the idea came to him following some early disappointments when he first tried to launch the game.
"I made it available on the Nokia store for $1, six months later, I had seven downloads. It wasn’t the brightest spot on my existence, but we realized that most of our target audience didn’t have credit cards and all that, they didn’t have the means to do those kinds of transactions,” he said.
Creative, useful products
The companies launching products here at Demo Africa range from new social media platforms, event organizing applications and many new ways to buy things online.
The event’s producer, Harry Hare, said organizers had to select the best products from more than 300 applications.
“So what we do is we curate them from different countries, then we take them through a whole process of adjudication and preparation, and find the best 40 out of those and we bring them to launch in Nairobi,” said Hare.
Hare said he has noticed a theme of more hardware products being showcased compared to the previous year, when mobile applications and software dominated. Among them is an on-demand streaming media player from Kenya’s Able Wireless Company. The company's CEO, Kahenya Kamunya, explained how it works.
“You get a black box, plug it into your TV set, put it into power, it connects to a Wi-Fi network and basically starts streaming content. So you get to choose what you want to watch on demand, you have a remote control, search, press ‘ok’ and you’re good to go,” he said.
Kamunya said the little plastic box will be assembled in Kenya. It costs a little less than $100, and can provide Internet in addition to streaming movies, news and other video content.
“If you don’t have access to Internet and there’s no existing infrastructure there, we bring the infrastructure to your neighborhood and this device will be able to connect to our infrastructure, so you’ll ideally just need the box,” he said.
Able Wireless already has $1.5 million in funding for the product, which Kamunya expects to launch next month.
Other companies here at Demo Africa are hoping to raise a bit more money for their products, or find partners to help distribute or further develop their ideas.