Twelve startups in East Africa aim to scale their ventures to collectively improve the lives of twelve million people.
Working across diverse industries—agriculture, health, transportation, energy, water and financial inclusion—they have bold visions, but face tough odds. The Unreasonable East Africa Institute, based in Kampala, Uganda, exists to give them an “unreasonable advantage” to tackle the region’s most pressing problems. With 78 percent of the Ugandan population under 30 years of age, the emerging private sector—built by these companies—stands to benefit a youthful nation primed to engage with new and innovative ways of living.
Their businesses are creating new economies which builds hope for a bright future in the face of all the obstacles that we currently face. Tweet This Quote
“While we still face many challenges in East Africa, these entrepreneurs are piloting and implementing models to tackle these challenges head on,” says Joachim Ewechu, CEO and Co-Founder of Unreasonable East Africa. “Their businesses are creating new economies which builds hope for a bright future in the face of all the obstacles that we currently face.”
Kate Hanford, COO at Unreasonable East Africa, shares with us the Unreasonable East Africa fellows—four from Uganda, six from Kenya and one from Tanzania and South Sudan—to keep your eyes on in 2015:
President Obama this week declared the South-Sudan civil war a matter of national security. To make matters worse, according to the Ministry of Health, there are only around 120 medical doctors serving nearly nine million people in South Sudan, the third fastest growing population in the world.
Developing South Sudan’s health care system by training students to become doctors. Tweet This Quote
But amidst the turmoil, including upcoming elections and lack of a proper health care system, Lou Louis Koboji, Lokiri Peter, and the team at Kajo-Keji Health Training Institute have found an accelerated way to train students to become doctors at one fifth of the cost of traditional medical-training programs in the region. They’ve already trained 60 doctors and they’re looking to expand operations.
Up to three of every five medicines sold by a pharmacy in Africa are fake; malaria tablets, tuberculosis medications, even oral contraceptives cannot be trusted. Because of unreliable medicine, an estimated 100 thousand Africans die every year.
Helping East African pharmaceutical companies access high-quality medications through tech Tweet This Quote
Miti Health is working to combat this in Kenya and Tanzania by providing pharmacies with software that tracks their business and who gives them good medication. They’ve already signed up 15 chemist shops, and are growing quickly.
Almost 75 percent of Kenyans—nearly 34 million people—are farmers. However, five percent of those farmers monopolize over 80 percent of the fruit and vegetable sales. The majority struggle to form advantageous relationships with markets to sell their goods.
Empowering Kenyan smallholder fruit and vegetable farmers by linking them to profitable urban markets. Tweet This Quote
Ojay Greene enables more of these farmers to earn a living by linking them to profitable urban markets. In less than six months, they have increased the incomes of 30 farmers by 40%. Because of their network of smallholder farmers, Ojay Greene has the capacity to produce through the year giving them a competitive advantage when negotiating with large supermarket chains. To date, they have contracts with 5 supermarket chains solidifying their position in the market.
Aryodi Bee Farm trains beekeepers in modern beekeeping, which is less environmentally harmful than traditional practices and up to three times more profitable. After the upfront investment, beekeeping is low-cost and high-production, allowing farmers to earn a sustainable living wage.
Using beekeeping and honey production to increase Ugandan smallholder incomes Tweet This Quote
To increase their impact, Aryodi also includes mentoring, entrepreneurship development and business skills training. With over 1,850 farmers trained, and 45 percent of these farmers now earning their living from honey production, Aryodi is on it’s way to transforming the beekeeping industry in Uganda, where 80 percent of the population are low-income subsistence farmers.
Over 75 percent of rural Ugandans travel by walking. Bicycles Against Poverty (BAP) gives people living in remote villages more control over their time and lives with lease-to-own bicycles. These bicycles provide transportation in crucial matters like reaching a health clinic or getting goods to a market to sell.
Linking rural Ugandan populations to goods, services, and additional revenue sources through lease-to-own bicycles. Tweet This Quote
Bicycles increase income by at least 30 percent in Uganda and market attendance triples after owning a bicycle due to more access and time efficiency. To date, BAP has sold over 1,000 bicycles generating an estimated $90,000 of extra income for the farmers who ride them.
More than 60 percent of Kenyans—about 5.4 million households—have no access to electricity, and depend on disappearing fossil fuels for light.
Delivering renewable energy technologies to off-grid areas in Kenya through sustainable last-mile enterprises. Tweet This Quote
Skynotch Energy Africa is an energy solution provider to off-grid markets. Skynotch goes beyond delivering technology—they provide a more encompassing solution: connection to the market through information, incentives, investment and implementation support. A linkage to financing enables customers to afford the high upfront cost of solar products.
Yield Uganda Ltd. believes that smallholder farmers occupy an increasingly important place in global food trade. As demand for food increases and supply becomes more erratic, the opportunities for smallholders should increase. However, the global food industry increasingly demands security of supply, high quality standards, traceability and assurances of sustainability that can be hard for smallholders to ensure.
Integrating Ugandan smallholder farmers into formalized, transparent and fair global and local food markets Tweet This Quote
Yield Uganda works closely with smallholder farmers to produce reliable volumes of high-quality food products so they can better access local and international markets. Creating this formalized, transparent production model in an otherwise chaotic operating environment, allows Yield Uganda to ensure reliable volumes of high quality produce. Yield currently works with 500 farmers for niche products and approximately 4,000 farmers for commodity products.
In Kenya, only four percent of the 21 million working population are insured by their employers. iNuka pap is a HR application that allows employees to access instant micro-credit on their mobile wallet that is fully deductible from their salary at HR level.
Enabling Kenyan companies to offer microinsurance and instant micro-credit to their employees through an HR application Tweet This Quote
While most other suppliers of these loans charge much higher interest rates—leading to long-term indebtedness—iNuka’s platform enables employers to also insure or provide access to insurance for their workers together with their families for as low as $ 0.03 a day. iNuka Pap makes commission from insurance underwriters and earns an interest on the micro-loans.
Each year more than one million mothers give birth in Kenya; 46 percent of these births are not within a hospital setting, endangering the life of the mother and the child. Toto Health enables mothers to detect early growth abnormalities from conception to five years of age by information delivered with text messages.
Mobile technology transforming family health in Sub-Saharan Africa by educating mothers via SMS Tweet This Quote
One unique feature offers a two-way communication system where parents can interact with their panel of doctors for expert advice. They have managed to reduce maternal mortality from 31 out of 100 to 18 in one sub-county of Kenya.
Small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) in Africa, responsible for 65 percent of new jobs created per year, have no access to a recruiting solution that is local, fast, and delivers qualified candidates. Commonly, qualified applicants miss out on job opportunities due to lack of practice in presenting their professional strengths and their skills to employer or do not learn of opportunities.
Connecting youth in Kenya to jobs with a social, SMS-based platform and helping companies grow with an easy recruiting portal Tweet This Quote
DUMA gives SMEs the recruiting tools they need through network recruiting (preserving trust through referral- based job matching), accessibility (not limited by Internet access), and quality control (through customizable screening tests). DUMA’s mobile-based technology helps job seekers create CVs, receive relevant job alerts, and take sector-specific screening tests. Duma offers a solution for the 24 million unemployed youth in Kenya. They have hired for over 250 SMEs with a 90 percent placement rate and have matched over 2000 people to jobs in Kenya—screening over 7000 people.
Smallholder farmers have a very hard time making a sustainable income due to the small amount of crops and limited bargaining power combined with low profit margins.
Creating additional income channels for Tanzanian smallholder farmers through production of sustainably sourced, all-natural food flavors Tweet This Quote
Natural Extracts Industries (NEI) gives smallholder farmers extra income by purchasing high-value cash crops—mainly vanilla—in Tanzania. In turn, NEI produces all-natural food flavors and sells them in global food markets. The farmers they buy from are also trained in agricultural best practices, including the use of natural bio-pesticides and composts. They have purchased over $60,000 of product from 1000 smallholder farmers.
Water solutions in Uganda are based on ineffective business models and unreliable funding sources. SPOUTS manufactures and supplies an affordable ceramic water filter that is made with local resources and materials easily found in Uganda.
Providing clean drinking water in Uganda by locally manufacturing affordable and effective ceramic water filters Tweet This Quote
The SPOUTS filter is affordable, easy to use and maintain and most importantly reduces the spread of waterborne diseases. The biggest advantage SPOUTS filters have over other household filter products is the low price. Since founding in 2012, SPOUTS has sold over 400 filters through 3 NGO partners and have installed a large-scale filter in a public institution, giving approximately 3,500 people access to clean drinking water.
Like last year’s class, these twelve startups entering the Unreasonable East Africa Institute this summer are receiving world-class mentorship, investor connections, and the tools needed to take their projects to the next level—impacting millions of people in the region. But these are global issues, and global issues require global support. To support them, check out the Unreasonable Marketplace—a crowdfunding platform through which the public can learn more and donate. With public support, these selected Unreasonable fellows will get a chance to maximize their growth potential by gaining access to Unreasonable’s resources and lifelong network without having to pay a dime themselves.
* Editor’s note: Yield Uganda is joining the class of 2016.