Needs-based innovation can catapult Africa to the forefront of IoT innovation

BRCK makes accessing the Internet simple and reliable wherever you are. It aims to break the connectivity barrier in Africa, one router at a time.

The BRCK device makes accessing the internet simple and reliable wherever you are. It aims to break the connectivity barrier in Africa, one router at a time.

Twenty-five billion connected devices by 2020 and five billion by the end of 2015; the Gartner projection that makes anyone stop, take a deep breath, and try to imagine the future. From drones that deliver pizza, to roads that repair themselves; the next decade is going to see connected “things” immersed in every aspect of our lives.

As technology companies scramble to monetise on the next big thing; various hurdles become apparent, both all-encompassing and location specific. Amongst this chaos of diagnosis, Africa stands out as a unique situation. On the one hand, the continent as a whole has very poor internet penetration; 26.5% compared to a global average of 42.3% in 2014, according to Internet World Stats.

On the other hand most of the world’s internet networks are not geared to handle machine to machine (M2M) data.

In this lack of infrastructure lies an immense opportunity for a continent to catapult ahead of the game. While governments in Europe and North America try to repurpose existing networks and install incremental add-ons to infrastructure; Africa is presented with a clean slate to put the right infrastructure in place and become the hotbed for IoT (internet of things) related innovation, implementation and investment. The question on everyone’s mind is, will Africa, and indeed Africans, seize the opportunity to power ahead of the rest – or are the obstacles far too difficult to surmount?

There are a number of initiatives in place to get Africa connected and innovation flowing.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched in 2014, a non-profit organisation aiming to provide basic internet to everybody. So far, the organisation has been primarily focused on Africa; with four of eight country-wide launches in the continent. Part of the vision is also to be able to connect basic IoT devices, although not any time soon. The initiative is a visible step in the right direction to get Africa connected.


These hotbeds of focused innovation are integral to any start-up ecosystem, and Africa is no different. With the announcement of the first IoT specific accelerator sponsored by the likes of Intel, Cisco and Deutsche Telekom, the African accelerator scene is truly on its way.

Think is a technology incubator in Kigali and was established in 2014 in Rwanda to identify and support leading tech start-ups seeking to create digital solutions for Africa. In October 2014, it selected its first companies to join the incubator. With a young, dynamic population and significant government investment in the country’s ICT infrastructure, Rwanda provides a unique opportunity as a platform for technology start-ups. Millicom, operating under the Tigo brand in Africa, is the angel investor behind Think and aims to help committed entrepreneurs set up and launch their business.

88mph, powered by Google for Entrepreneurs, is a seed fund and accelerator, investing in early stage web/mobile companies with the ability to scale across sub-Saharan Africa. Their main focus is attracting entrepreneurs, investing seed cash, and bringing start-ups to a point where the business can grow independently, or be adequately evaluated by angels and venture capitalists. It currently operates out of hubs in Nairobi, Cape Town, and Lagos.

Grindstone is powered by Knife Capital and was named the South African Venture Capitalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013 by Acquisition International Magazine. This accelerator focuses on helping SMEs with proven revenue growth to scale effectively. You know a country’s start-up scene is doing well when the need for a post revenue growth stage accelerator is evident and well received.

The start-up scene

IoT start-ups in Africa are still in their infancy. But that said, innovation driven by necessity is flourishing across the continent.

BRCK makes accessing the internet simple and reliable wherever you are. It’s a rugged, cloud-managed, full-featured modem/router with built in fail-overs and programmable general-purpose input/output (GPIO) expansion. If there’s a way for you to connect, BRCK will help you get up, and stay up, no matter where you are. In essence, BRCK is breaking the connectivity barrier in Africa, one router at a time.

Gust Pay is one of the few start-ups operating at the cross section of IoT and fintech. Enhancing the user experience of attended events, this nifty little platform uses Near Field Communication (NFC) wristbands and a mobile app to cut entry queues, improve bar service efficiency, provide real-time analytics and even enable targeted push marketing. When it comes to making a concert all about the performances with none of the fuss, Gust Pay is by far the best all-round solution out there. What’s more exciting is that it is 100% African and they are already making waves outside the continent having been part of the Barclays Accelerator (powered by Techstars) Autumn 2014 cohort in London.

The future of IoT in Africa

As the usefulness of connected devices in overcoming challenges becomes more and more evident; adoption of IoT in Africa is bound to skyrocket. We can already see the impact of simple IoT devices, like self-monitoring irrigation systems and BRCK, and how such devices have the capacity to better the lives of millions. One vision is for Africa to embrace IoT with arms wide open, to get online, get connected and get supercharged.

Kushal Puri is KPMG’s  high growth technology group’s IoT expert.