Côte D’Ivoire announces MEST Africa Challenge Country winner!

Written by Brandason, Strategic Communications Firm for the MEST Africa Challenge.

This year is the first time that the MEST Africa Challenge has dedicated an entire week to the country finals of each participating country (there are 9 of them). With each passing week, it’s becoming abundantly clear that the additional prep time afforded the finalists of each country has resulted in a stellar ensemble of Africa’s best and brightest tech startups, and Ivory Coast was no exception.

As the standard for the competition, each startup has four minutes to pitch followed by another four-minute question and answer session with the judges. For Côte D’Ivoire, the competition was graced with the presence of four panelists who had the singular but most daunting task of selecting the ultimate winner live, right after the final pitch was presented.

On the panel, we had return judge, and one of MEST Africa’s very own, Lundie Strom, Head of Community; Issam Chleuh, Director of BD at Mastercard and ImpactHub West Africa Board Member; Mark Ihimoyan, MasterCard Director of Business Development — Middle East & Africa and Elena Haba, Head of Acceleration at EWB Ventures. To see full judge bios, click here.

The judging criteria are based on a variety of different elements which included value proposition, impact, size of the target market, customer identification, revenue model, competitor analysis, growth strategy, traction-to-date and expertise of the founding team, and a host of other metrics.

Starting the line-up was Moja Ride, a mobility and payment platform in Abidjan trying to solve the issue of urban poverty. Jean Claude, their co-founder, and CEO began his pitch with a synopsis of the problem they’re trying to solve. He painted a picture of a typical millennial salaried worker who has to travel 2.5hours for a 25km commute to work, which also costs her 70% of her paycheck. A scenario that is likely to affect 1.5 billion Africans in 15 years. He explained that the challenge is further worsened by inefficiencies in the public transportation system, where 85% of the sector is informal.

Moja’s Ride’s solution is to first measure demand and supply through their payment system and empower drivers to make better and more informed decisions through empirical data. Drivers use a single app, which allows them to accept payments from a card (issued by Moja ride to passengers) or QR code. The driver can also use his transaction history to apply for a loan service from the bank.

His pitch was followed by the Q&A session, where judge Lundie Strom asked of Moja Ride’s traction to date. Jean explained that they had a drastic setback due to COVID-19 but were working on getting back on track. Issam, another judge, wanted to understand if their cards could be used for other financial transactions other than paying for rides. ‘That is the plan, and that’s the logic behind it.’ answered Jean Claude. ‘It’s something that we are working toward.’ Elena Haba, the third judge, was more curious about how much it cost to get a card. To this, Jean answered that it was about $2, which is their price point for production as well. They weren’t looking to make a profit on the cards, from the getgo as they believed the dividend from customers actively using the card would more than make up for it.

Africa Handmade, pitched next, represented by their CEO and co-founder, George Daman. The motivation to start Africa Handmade evolved from the co-founders’ experiences traveling abroad. According to George, they noticed that African crafts are sold at expensive prices, yet, the ones benefiting from the sales are the intermediaries while the craftsmen struggle to survive. COVID-19 has made this even harder as with a reduction in tourism, many artisans are struggling to make ends meet. Africa Handmade provides a platform that puts the craftsman directly in touch with the potential buyer. Their multi-vendor website, mobile application, shipment by an international carrier, digital training for sellers, and customer and vendor support make it easy for local artisans to increase their business and earn fair wages.

At the end of George’s pitch, Elena Haba wanted to know how Africa Handmade is evaluating the market interest in the purchase of African art. George explained that he lived in Tunisia and Egypt, and had seen what traditional art is sold for versus what it is being sold for in Cote D’Ivoire. So from both personal experience and research, he is sure there is a ready and viable market for his business. Elena followed up with a question on how secure their payment portals are. George answered that they were working with mobile companies through API’s to make it easy for vendors to collect payment on sales made through mobile money is easier for most vendors.

Lundie Strom asked about the logistics of getting goods sold online delivered to the customer, to which they responded by saying that they are working on partnerships with an international carrier to make deliveries safe and secure no matter the location of the buyer in the world.

Tutoo+ was the third to pitch their business to the judges and audience. ‘There is overwhelming evidence to show that the shift in workforce demand is already on the way and the turn to robotics, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things is no longer fiction’, began Amenan Sidiki, Tutoo+’s Chief Business Development officer enthusiastically.

Tutoo+ is a solution meant to address the increased availability of jobs in the ICT sector predicted to happen in the next few years in Africa, as Francophone Africa is not adapting its educational model fast enough to accommodate the shift in dynamics.

Their innovative e-learning platform with an offline version provides a disruptive education on cutting-edge technologies & entrepreneurial skills in Francophone Africa. Simply put, they are digitally re-orienting today’s youth to prepare for tomorrow.

Following her pitch, Mark Ihimoyan wanted to know how they made money. The answer was two-fold; online subscriptions and in-person training events. As a side, she added that, through donor support and funding, they do also offer training for free to the less fortunate who can’t afford to pay for the lessons.

Guanxi investment went next. They believe that leveraging disruptive technologies can dramatically improve financial inclusion and contribute to improving lives and communities. As such, they are revolutionizing the financial industry by enabling everyone to have access to it.

Their aim is to solve two immediate problems:

a. Financial service providers who lack the technological expertise to distribute services online.

b. Individuals and corporations who do not find adequate financial solutions suited for their needs.

How Guanxi helps is by providing a digital one-stop-shop enabling financial service providers to break down the technological barrier needed to distribute tailor-made services online to individuals and corporations. Their product architecture makes them an amazon for financial services with options ranging from investment, banking, and insurance.

One of the judges wanted to focus more on their competitive analysis, during the Q&A. According to Guanxi, there are no direct competitors that they know of and are currently the only marketplace for financial services currently available.

@Kissi was the first to present a product solely designed for the female trader. They realize that 70% of women work in the informal sector with no assistance or funding, bank accounts, financial planning, and limited access to the market.

To mitigate this, @kissi is providing a financial management application available on web/mobile that allows women to expand their business area, access banking facilities, build business relationships, and access financial management assistance. They are also a virtual marketplace that provides additional visibility and sources of income to women.

@kissi began operations in 2017 and has reached over 5000 women in Abidjan and Togo.

On a mission to offer banking for everyone, everywhere, Panelys Cash, pitched by Alexandra, the CFO, was next to present their ideas to the world.

West Africa alone has 350million adults who are outside of the banking system and although businesses outside the formal sector make up more than 50% of the GDP and more than 60% of employment, these people remain excluded from the financial system. So how do we create a more inclusive financial system?

Panelys Cash believes they have the solution. They are mobilizing funds from two major African financing levers: the Diaspora money transfer and local savings, by allowing users to perform a myriad of transactions across multiple platforms. With Panelys Cash, users can send/receive funds on their card/bank account, pay via mobile money, and access savings and loan services.

They are also committed to generating real social impact and are determined to empower women, young entrepreneurs, and small businesses.

When asked about their traction so far, Alexandra explained that in just one year and with no seed funding at all, they’ve been able to register 2000 active accounts, an incredible feat for a young startup.

Closing the pitching session for the third MESTAfricaChallenge country final was AfrikApps, a startup specializing in the development and deployment of technologies and applications of public utility, with particular access to the social, which was pitched by representative Mr. Stephane.

Their flagship product, Ahiwaaa, is an app that solves the problem of transporting small packages as a priority. It also has its own online marketplace called YAMP, where traders have their individual shops with delivery service available through Ahiwaaa.

Both Ahiwaa and Yamp are designed to be springboards allowing informal activities to function better and transform into formal actors of the economy. AfrikApps closed their presentation with an impressive traction slide; over 50 deliveries a day on average, 15 business clients, and 10 independent parcel transport companies.

And with that, the pitching session came to a close. The judges left for a private chat room to deliberate on the winner while the finalists answered questions from viewers.

On the judges’ return a few minutes later, Delila Kidanu, MEST Africa’s Business Development Manager, and host of the Cote D’Ivoire country finals announced that Elena Haba would be announcing the winner.

Elena Habaproceeded to thank all the finalists for pitching and expressed how great it was as judges to be able to see the quality of the businesses that were put forth. She acknowledged how difficult it is to pitch in a language that is second to them (all finalists pitched in English) combined with the virtual nature of the competition this year.

On their judging process, she intimated that they did use the criteria laid out by the organizers, MEST, but on top of that, also considered the quality of pitch overall, good future potential for growth, as well as who could benefit the most from the MEST Community support and the greater network that MEST has.

With that said, the company that really stood out to them, and therefore deserved to win was Tutoo+. They were impressed with the energy of Amenan Kidiki (who pitched for Tutoo+), which could be felt right through the screen. They also chose Tutoo+ because there is an increasing need for online education solutions for Francophone Africa and theirs is a solution that is bound to make massive strides in improving the industry.

Amenan thanked MEST for the opportunities they are affording young entrepreneurs on the continent and expressed how being one of the country winners is very exciting for her. She confided that after her pitch, she told her team that they were not likely to win, considering all the ideas and businesses they were competing against. She was very impressed especially with Jean Claude and Panelys Cash and was humbled to have been in the competition with them.

For the third time in a row, Microsoft has championed young entrepreneurs in Africa through its partnership with the MEST Africa Challenge. They are joined by Ivorian ecosystem partner Royal Work Club and key partners, VC4A, Levers In Heels, 250 Startups, Movemeback, Klab, Afrilabs.

MEST Africa would like to say a special thank you to all the ecosystem partners that have made the MEST Africa Challenge one of the continent’s biggest pitch competitions.

MEST Africa Challenge: Rwanda

The fun is far from over. The MEST Africa Challenge goes to Rwanda next week. Watch live from home by registering here: https://bit.ly/2BOO6pb

About the MEST Africa Challenge:

Now in its third year, the MEST Africa Challenge is an Africa-wide tech startup pitch competition offering up to $50,000 in equity investment and a chance to join MEST’s incubator and start-up community to talented entrepreneurs as they build and scale successful businesses that add value to African economies. It has become an establishment in the start-up technology industry, giving an unprecedented global platform to hundreds of local tech entrepreneurs in Africa. This year, the Challenge expanded from five markets to nine, embracing early-stage companies in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Sénégal, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania, and providing the opportunity for the Challenge organizers — MEST and lead partner — Microsoft, together with other ecosystem partners the opportunity to support even more startups through funding and resources.

The largest Africa-wide technology entrepreneur training program, internal seed fund, and network of hubs offering incubation for startups: www.meltwater.org