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ICT start-ups win cash to get business ideas off the ground

A vibrant market for ICT solutions in Kenya is anticipated. Photo/FREDRICK ONYANGO
A vibrant market for ICT solutions in Kenya is anticipated. Humanipo, a collaboration between networks of free agents, will invest Sh54 million in ICT start-up companies. Photo/FREDRICK ONYANGO 

Humanipo, a collaboration between networks of free agents, will invest Sh54 million in ICT start-up companies.

The firm’s officials said three Kenyan ICT start-ups have been identified for funding of between Sh3 million and Sh2 million each following successful presentation of their business ideas at the just- concluded IPO48.

IPO48 refers to a contest that was held at the I-Hub in Nairobi where competitors had just 48 hours to turn their ideas into viable business ventures. This year’s winners are Tusquee Systems, Ghafla and 6ix Degrees.

Humanipo also gives budding entrepreneurs feedback on their start-ups and connect them to potential co-founders, mentors, investors.

This is the second time the competition is being held in Kenya. Mfarm scooped the top position in the inaugural event held last year at Strathmore University in Nairobi and won Sh1 million in investment funding.

Mfarm aims to provide farmers with a tech-based solution to marketing , including access to commodity prices and market data so as to curb exploitation by middlemen.

Business Daily talked to each of the three start-ups on their projects and how they plan to invest the prize money to improve business.

Tusquee Systems: The group comprises six University of Nairobi students studying mathematics, geology and computer science.

According to one of the company founders, Mr Boniface Githinji, the idea is to provide affordable means of communication among schools, students and other stakeholders through an SMS code.

The services include inquiry and access to examination results, school fees balances and fee statements.

The application is mobile based as it utilises the short message (SMS) function which will cost Sh10 for enquiries.

It is a cheaper alternative to methods that schools currently use to call impromptu meetings such as newspaper and radio advertisements.

Ten schools participated in the pilot stage, including Alliance Girl’s High School, Precious Blood Riruta, Naivasha Boy’s Boarding and Nairobi Primary School and the company officials are optimistic of attracting more institutions once the business is officially rolled out.

But there is a challenge. “As much as there has been increased mobile handset penetration in Kenya, it is difficult to market the idea to schools that do not have computers. We are looking at ways of getting them on board,” said Mr Githinji.

This is where they intend to channel part of the Sh3 million prize money. The rest will be used on marketing and product improvement.

6ix Degrees: This group was picked following a decision by the investors to fund three start-ups including the winner.

It founders are three former classmates at Moi University who are working on a mobile application that can retrieve all contacts in the user’s phonebook and back up the contacts in a remote server.

All that the user needs to do is download the backup service from 6ixdegrees to his phone, a process that automatically backs up the contacts into a remote server.

Upon loss and replacement of one’s mobile phone, the user can download the backup application on to the new handset to retrieve old contacts, a service that will cost Sh50.

Retrieve contacts

“It will be like a normal phonebook from which users can retrieve contacts of other people on the network,” said Ngugi Gikonyo, one of the founders.

The search option is secured to enhance privacy of information.

One has to accept the search request from people not in their phone book before their contacts can be released .

The search option applies to both within and without the backup network.

To make it accessible to as many people as possible, the application can be accessed through basic feature phones that command about 80 per cent of the mobile handset market.

Already, the group has signed up 1,500 individual numbers for free testing.

Their long term goal is to build a people-relations platform through which they can network or do multi level marketing.

Ghafla: It is the creation of Samuel Majani and Lyosi Mwedekeli who want to kick out boredom while availing an avenue for companies and business owners to advertise themselves.

The company is an upgrade of Kenyanlyrics.com that was set up in 2009 and renamed Ghafla this year to enter the contest.
“We decided it was time for rebranding to match IPO48,” said Mr Majani.

While trading as Kenyan Lyrics, the company’s role was limited to selling advertisement space to local companies. Visitors to the site could not purchase any digital downloads.

But it is now hoping to explore a larger East Africa market after the rebranding.

The new site will consist of a section for free content that will be limited to lyrics of popular songs and another chargeable part for digital downloads where buyers can log in to buy entertainment material.

The firm is eyeing revenue from the sale of content that will cost between Sh30 and Sh50 as well as from advertisements due to huge traffic expected in the scramble for the free content.

Target clients
The service targets mainly women aged between 18 and 35 who constitute 54 per cent of visitors to the website, according to a research they conducted on Kenyan lyrics users. It may expand into entertainment and sports news.

According to Mr Majani, Ghafla plans to use the seed money to buy servers as it currently relies on shared ones while the rest will be channelled to marketing and promotion of the website.

But a weakness that was evident across all the three groups is lack of well laid out business relations between the various partners. Most of them started out as friends but have not mapped out clear strategy of managing their companies.

This year’s contest drew 12 entries compared to last year’s 13. In addition to giving the winners capital, Humanipo is mentoring the entrepreneurs and supporting their systems through investors and consultants until they can stand on their own.
Humanipo gets funding from its founder KrestenBuch, co-founder David Owino and other international investors.
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