TC Sessions: Mobility will present a day of programming with the best founders, investors and technologists who are hell-bent on inventing a future Henry Ford could have never imagined. These thinkers know that before autonomous vehicles are deployed as service, the revolutionaries have to forge rivers of regulation, consumer sentiment, embedded business thinking, and, perhaps most important of all, profound technology challenges with dependencies in fields ranging from blockchain to AI to satellite navigation to mobile networks. The technical challenges are no less momentous than the vision itself.
Yesterday TechCrunch held its first-ever event in Nigeria — our second in Sub-Saharan Africa. The day was packed with Battlefield presentations from 15 different startups from across the region, along with panels featuring some of Africa’s best known tech entrepreneurs and executives.
It was an incredible day and offered a fascinating peak into an absolutely vibrant tech community. For those unable to make the trek through the standstill Lagos traffic, have no fear. We’ve included footage from the day’s event below. And for those who were lucky enough to join, you can relive the highlights right here.
Expats, Repats and Africans
Kwame Acheampong (Mall for Africa), Eleni Gabre-Madhin (blueMoon) and Lexi Novitske (Singularity Investments) discuss the ups and downs of the influence repatriates and outside investors exert on the African startup community
Fireside Chat with Funke Opeke
Main Street Technologies founder and Main One Cable Company CEO Funke Opeke has led the charge to bring broadband internet to West Africa. She discusses the role of entrepreneurship in helping to scale business.
Investing in African Startups
Kola Aina and other area investors discuss the lessons that can be learned from Silicon Valley VC and which aspects of the model don’t apply to the African tech ecosystem.
Blockchain’s Potential in Africa
Olugbenga Agboola (Flutterwave), Omolara Awoyemi (SureGroup) and Nichole Yembra (Greenhouse Capital) and Olaoluwa Samuel-Biyi (SureRemit) discuss the impact crypto has had on the African tech community and the different ways blockchain technology can help build a broad cross section of different categories.
The Winner of Startup Battlefield
The winner of the event was M-SCAN from Uganda, which develops portable mobile ultrasound devices (Ultrasonic probes) that are laptop, tablet and mobile phone compatible. The judges were impressed with its scalability potential to make many other medical access devices affordable for Africa, where mother and infant mortality is unforgivably high.
Startup Battlefield Africa in Lagos, Nigeria, is coming up fast. As usual, we have a great lineup of panels that will include investors and founders discussing issues such as blockchain, raising venture capital on the continent and beyond and more.
And of course companies will compete in Startup Battlefield, our premier startup competition. Startup Battlefield consists of 15 teams competing in three preliminary rounds — five startups per round — which have only six minutes to pitch and present a live demo to a panel of expert technologists and VC investors. Five of the original 15 startups will be chosen to pitch a second time to a fresh set of judges. One startup will emerge the winner and receive a US$25,000 no-equity cash prize and win a trip for two to compete in the Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2019 (assuming the company still qualifies to compete at the time). The event is now sold out, but keep your eyes on TechCrunch for video of all the panels and the Battlefield competition.
And now to announce our next batch of judges who will be grilling the startups after their pitches. See you next week!
Jason Njoku, Iroko
Jason Njoku is the founder and CEO of Iroko, the home of Nollywood content. He has pioneered the African digital content market by bringing Nollywood (Nigerian cinema) to a global audience, and in the process has raised more than $40 million in investment from international VCs, including Tiger Global, Kinnevik, RISE Capital and Canal+.
In 2013, Njoku was crowned as the CNBC Africa West Africa Young Business Leader, and in 2014, he was recognized as one of Fast Company’s Top 1000 most Creative People in Business.
Dapo Olagunju, J.P. Morgan
Dapo Olagunju is head of West Africa at J.P. Morgan. In this capacity, he represents J.P. Morgan’s global platform to clients, regulators and other stakeholders in the region.
Prior to joining J.P. Morgan, he was a general manager at Access Bank Plc where he oversaw the financial markets division of the bank. He was a member of the bank’s Digital Council, which had overall responsibility for the bank’s digital strategy, approved partnership with fintech companies and monitored the implementation of digital initiatives. He was, at different times, a consultant on peacekeeping financing at the United Nations in New York and chief dealer at Investment Banking & Trust Company Limited (now Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, a member of the Standard Bank Group). He was also co-founder of 234Give.com — an online fundraising platform.
Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook
Konstantinos Papamiltiadis is the director of developer platforms and programs for Facebook, supporting the company’s product and platform strategy through partnerships with technology companies and programs for startups.
Prior to that he supervised product and engineering at Taptu (sold to Mediafed) a Cambridge, U.K.-based startup. Prior to Taptu, he led the Yahoo EMEA mobile product team. His team supervised the development and launch of mobile sites for Search, Mail and IM across Europe, as well as News, Sports and Finance for iPhone and Blackberry apps. Before joining Yahoo he was a product manager at Skype and Vodafone R&D.
Bosun Tijani, Co-Creation Hub
Bosun Tijani is the co-founder and CEO of Co-Creation Hub, a social innovation center based in Nigeria dedicated to accelerating the application of social capital and technology for economic prosperity. In pursuit of an active lifestyle, he also founded and serves as the CEO and founder of Truppr, an emerging fitness brand in Africa that connects users to fitness events across the world. In addition, he is a partner at Growth Capital, Nigeria’s first social innovation fund for high-potential, early-stage businesses.
He has more than 15 years of experience across public and private corporations, including Pera Innovation Network (U.K.), Hewlett Packard (EMEA) and International Trade Centre (UNCTAD/WTO), both in Geneva, Switzerland.
TechCrunch will soon be returning to Africa to hold its Startup Battlefield competition dedicated to the African continent.
The event, in Lagos, Nigeria, on December 11, will showcase the launch of 15 of the hottest startups in Africa onstage for the first time. We’ll also be joined by some of the leading investment firms in the region. The event is now sold out, but keep your eyes on TechCrunch for video of all the panels and the Battlefield competition.
Here are just some of the investors and founders who will be judging the startups competing for US$25,000.
Olugbenga Agboola, Flutterwave
Olugbenga Agboola is the CEO of Flutterwave, a payments technology company headquartered in San Francisco with operations and offices across Africa and Europe. Prior to co-founding Flutterwave, Olugbenga contributed to the development of fintech solutions at several tech companies and financial institutions such as PayPal and Standard Bank, among others. He is a serial entrepreneur with two successful exits under his belt. He is a software engineer with a Master’s Degree in Information Technology Security and Behavioral Engineering, as well as an MBA.
Barbara Iyayi, Element
Barbara Iyayi is the chief growth officer and managing director of Africa for Element, which deploys AI-powered mobile biometrics software to develop digital platforms globally. Barbara was part of the founding team of Atlas Mara, a London stock exchange-listed company, co-founded by Bob Diamond, ex-CEO of Barclays Bank, which was the first-ever entity to raise more than $1 billion to invest in, operate and manage financial institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. As the Regional Lead for M&A and Investments, she led investments into banks and developed the banking platform’s entry into seven countries in Africa. Notably, she led the acquisition and first-ever merger of two banks in Rwanda, to be the leading innovative retail bank — Banque Populaire du Rwanda — and led a $250 million equity investment in Union Bank of Nigeria.
Aaron Fu, MEST Africa
Aaron is an early-stage investor, entrepreneur and strategic advisor to both startups as they scale and corporates as they transform to gain agility for disruptive innovation. Over the last five years he has specifically focused on innovation in Africa, working with global brands and entrepreneurs across diverse industries, from financial services to health to mobile to agriculture.
As managing director at MEST, he is dedicated to training, investing in and incubating the next generation of global software entrepreneurs in Africa. He manages a portfolio of 30-plus startups spanning fintech, media, e-commerce and agritech.
Sam Gichuru, Nailab
Sam Gichuru is founder and CEO of Nailab, one of Kenya’ s leading business incubators. His contribution in establishing the startup business ecosystem in Kenya, through Nailab, has been significant, and as a result was invited as a key speaker during the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, held in Nairobi and officiated by then U.S. President Barack Obama.
Sam has been instrumental in propagating the development of a strong and vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystem, and it’s through this engagement that he was most recently selected by Jack Ma to lead, through Nailab, the Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative, a $10 million Initiative that seeks to discover, spotlight and support 10 African entrepreneurs every year for the next 10 years.
Olufunbi Falayi, Savannah Fund
Olufunbi Falayi is a partner at Passion Incubator, an early-stage technology incubator and accelerator that invests in early-stage startups. He co-led investment in 12 startups, including Riby, BeatDrone, AdsDirect, TradeBuza and Waracake. Olufunbi also a principal at Savannah Fund, driving investment in West Africa.
A person with physical disabilities can’t interact with the world the same way as the able, but there’s no reason we can’t use tech to close that gap. Loro is a device that mounts to a wheelchair and offers its occupant the ability to see and interact with the people and things around them in powerful ways.
Loro’s camera and app work together to let the user see farther, read or translate writing, identify people, gesture with a laser pointer and more. They demonstrated their tech onstage today during Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.
“We started this project for our friend Steve,” said Loro co-founder and creative director, Johae Song. A designer like her and others in their friend group, he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, a degenerative neural disease that paralyzes the muscles of the afflicted. “So we decided to come up with ideas of how to help people with mobility challenges.”
“We started with just the idea of a camera attached to the wheelchair, to give people a panoramic view so they can navigate easily,” explained co-founder David Hojah. “We developed from that idea after talking with mentors and experts; we did a lot of iterations, and came up with the idea to be smarter, and now it’s this platform that can do all these things.”
It’s not simple to design responsibly for a population like ALS sufferers and others with motor problems. The problems they may have in everyday life aren’t necessarily what one would think, nor are the solutions always obvious. So the Loro team determined to consult many sources and expend a great deal of time in simple observation.
“Very basic observation — just sit and watch,” Hojah said. “From that you can get ideas of what people need without even asking them specific questions.”
Others would voice specific concerns without suggesting solutions, such as a flashlight the user can direct through the camera interface.
“People didn’t say, ‘I want a flashlight,’ they said ‘I can’t get around in the dark.’ So we brainstormed and came up with the flashlight,” he said. An obvious solution in some ways, but only through observation and understanding can it be implemented well.
The focus is always on communication and independence, Song said, and users are the ones who determine what gets included.
“We brainstorm together and then go out and user test. We realize some features work, others don’t. We try to just let them play with it and see what features people use the most.”
There are assistive devices for motor-impaired people out there already, Song and Hojah acknowledged, but they’re generally expensive, unwieldy and poorly designed. Hojah’s background is in medical device design, so he knows of what he speaks.
Consequently, Loro has been designed to be as accessible as possible, with a tablet interface that can be navigated using gaze tracking (via a Tobii camera setup) or other inputs like joysticks and sip-and-puff tubes.
The camera can be directed to, for example, look behind the wheelchair so the user can safely back up. Or it can zoom in on a menu that’s difficult to see from the user’s perspective and read the items off. The laser pointer allows a user with no ability to point or gesture to signal in ways we take for granted, such as choosing a pastry from a case. Text to speech is built right in, so users don’t have to use a separate app to speak out loud.
The camera also tracks faces and can recognize them from a personal (though for now, cloud-hosted) database for people who need help tracking those with whom they interact. The best of us can lose a name or fail to place a face — honestly, I wouldn’t mind having a Loro on my shoulder during some of our events.
Right now the team is focused on finalizing the hardware; the app and capabilities are mostly finalized but the enclosure and so on need to be made production-ready. The company itself is very early-stage — they just incorporated a few months ago and worked with $100,000 in pre-seed funding to create the prototype. Next up is doing a seed round to get ready to manufacture.
“The whole team, we’re really passionate about empowering these people to be really independent, not just waiting for help from others,” Hojah said. Their driving force, he made clear, is compassion.