Use tech to address Africa’s inequality

Tech can address Africa’s inequality

Telkom exec belives tech can bridge digital divide.

Sunday, Nov 19th

SA's Lumkani to compete in global startup competition

SA's Lumkani to compete in global startup competition.

On February 04 South Africa's entrepreneurial spirit will be put to the test as a home-grown startup Lumkani faces off against 35 global fledgling businesses to secure $500K equity investment at the Seedstars World Final competition in Geneva.

Lumkani is an ICT focused startup co-founded by David Gluckman. The company was established to address the challenge of shack/ slum fires in urban informal settlements.

To this end, the company developed an early warning system based on detectors that are designed to use heat detection rather than smoke detection to sense fire. The system uses rate-of-rise temperature technology and is based on functionality which includes a community-wide alert. This helps to mitigate the risk of fires spreading through densely populated urban areas.

The offering has captured the attention of global scouts. In 2014 Seedstars hosted local competitions in 36 countries to find the best locally-grown startups.

Lumkani won the South African competition held in Cape Town in July and, as a result, is now joining 35 other hopefuls at the global finals, all vying for a sizeable chunk of equity investment.

It is not an opportunity Gluckman takes lightly. "Our market is large and spread over many provinces and countries. We need to consider in many of our markets how our technology can scale and be applied and who is the financier of the system, if different from the beneficiary in many cases."

However, to woo investors and stand any chance of securing support, a startup has to have a strong business case and an offering that is sustainable and viable for target markets.

Lumkani has used its triumph in Cape Town to solidify implementation and rollout. "We have communities full of devices with smart technology giving us alerts to every fire that takes place. In two incidents we have already prevented the spread of fire which qualifies our social impact."

"We used the win to prove that we are 'investable', we can scale and be profitable while at the same time create social impact,"

Startups in Africa

Gluckman says the startup scene in Africa is growing, with examples like Zoona and Off-grid demonstrating the calibre of businesses emerging on the continent.

He believes many entrepreneurs and innovators from developed markets view Africa as one of the last frontiers of growth. Government must do more to create and help establish ecosystems of innovation and design says Gluckman. "I think the African investor climate needs to improve in general.

"I can't comment on a few years back, but I do know that investors are more risk-averse (possibly justifiably) because the spirit of this kind of investing is not as mature as it is in the US for example. I know that there is money out there in SA and there are individuals and companies who will readily invest, I think there is a network failure that we are seeing, where the right projects aren't meeting the right investors. But if the business model is strong enough, you can find investment in South Africa."

Agility, resourcefulness and resilience are traits that define a true entrepreneur he continues.

Gluckman dispels the notion that Africa has the legacy of having to withstand tough conditions and therefore arguably more resilient – to him the traits mentioned above are common to all determined entrepreneurs, irrespective of location.

"I think that African entrepreneurs don't expect (rightfully) to be invested in or acquired as readily as those in developed markets tend to be, which may have a different way in which the organisations start-up and stay-up."

Looking ahead at the competition, entrepreneurs behind Lumkani plan on "staying true to who we are and what we do, but, at the same time, show the significant opportunity Lumkani can offer the world."

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