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Technology

Duo seeks to ride on blockchain to create solutions for African firms, public sector

Frank Deya
Aeternity Hub Africa chief operations officer Frank Deya during one of the blockchain training sessions in Nairobi. PHOTO | FAUSTINE NGILA | NMG 

When a blockchain team from Bulgaria visited Kenya early last year, two Nairobi technology brains saw an opportunity to launch an African initiative that would undertake projects centred on customised blockchain solutions targeting the continent.

They are now engaged in projects ranging from those on raising capital to those making remittances and other payments as well as cheque clearing using blockchain.

FundRaise, a crowdfunding platform that makes it easy for enterprises to raise startup and growth capital using the blockchain through what is called tokenisation, is one of the projects they are working on.

They are also developing BitPal, a payments platform that enables merchants to accept cryptocurrencies from their customers, and settle the payments in fiat currency at no cost.

A cheque clearance system that enables banks to settle cheque transactions instantly is also on their list of deliverables.

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“My co-founder Mr Apollo Eric, initially shared the idea with me. He had made some good contacts with the core development team from Bulgaria and he needed help with putting together the team and formulating the mandate of the company going forward; and that's where I came in,” says Mr Frank Deya, the chief operations officer of Aeternity Hub Africa.

In July 2018, the two men poached technology talents in the market and expanded their team to eight professionals who conduct blockchain technology training in universities and private companies, and raking profits in the process.

But the team does this in different ways.

They organise workshops for universities, which are free events open to all students. This is geared towards creating exposure about the tech and opportunities it presents to them.

Students who are already programmers in new technologies also get a chance to work with the organisation as blockchain developers and get engaged in some of its projects.

But to earn revenues, Aeternity Hub Africa has to penetrate into Kenya’s corporate world which is constantly thirsting for new blockchain knowledge.

“We conduct industry specific corporate trainings which are customised to the unique expectations of our clientele; the rates are dependent on how far into the development pipeline our clients would like us to go,” says Mr Eric, the chief executive officer.

They work closely with UTU Trust's, chief technology officer Bastian Blankenburg who imparts skills that will enable software engineers deploy applications on the æternity Blockchain.

“A unique feature of these trainings is that we identify specific use cases relevant to the industry needs and take it a step further by building prototypes that can be tested by the client for possible implementation into their operations,” says Mr Deya, who holds a Bachelor of Commerce (Finance) degree from KCA University.

Each of these activities targets a unique audience, from corporates, government, small businesses, academia and special technology groups. The use cases apply across the board and the team aims at creating opportunities for exploring them.

“Presently we are working with a mobility services provider from Kenya, a remittances company from Ethiopia and an Irish tech company. It's generally a mix of sectors each with unique requirements,” he says.

“The team of eight has been quite effective in delivering on the mandate we set out to accomplish. We have been developing partnerships with other institutions and agencies to plug into some of our activities,” says Mr Eric, who has been an entrepreneur and software engineer for seven years.

Based at UTU House, Home of Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence in Nairobi’s SpringValley, the tech company has partnered with Crossover Kenya, BlockXAfrica from Ghana, and most recently they are working out on a Memorandum of Understanding with KCA University. ­

Previously, the duo has worked to deliver other blockchain projects, witnessing tremendous opportunities that exists in the space but Blockchain has faced teething problems in Kenya, especially in the quest to spread it.

“Blockchain is complex and quite technical. The demand is high but uptake is still slow. At least at this stage, teaching it requires patience and the ability to simplify its elements in a language that the target audience can understand,” says Mr Eric.

And don’t ignore the presence of scammers who run fraudulent schemes especially on cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. It therefore becomes really vital for the public to be warned against these negative elements.

“Many tech savvy Kenyans have fallen prey to pyramid schemes and fake fundraising projects that ride on the Blockchain hype to woo their victims. We take it upon us to ensure that the right information is spread to the masses,” remarks Mr Deya.

Additionally, the path to mass adoption is fraught with technical challenges, which means a lot of collaboration, research and capacity building are required in order to build a good app for blockchain training in Africa.

However, they remain hopeful that blockchain will eventually be inevitable in public and private governance in fighting financial impiety.

“Corruption in Kenya can be tackled by blockchain applications which ensure trust. If a transaction in any sector in our economy was to be recorded on a public blockchain, issues of pilferage, mismanagement and theft would cease.

“To date, there's still no particular guidance on how to approach certain elements of this tech, particularly cryptocurrencies. We look forward to working with the government to formulate frameworks around how to approach crypto trading, tokenizing assets and building Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAO's),” says Mr Deya adding that he would like to see more startups using blockchain.

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