Ghana Announces MEST Africa Challenge Country Final Winner

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

In one of the most competitive country finals yet, Ghana brought excitement, energy, and a ton of diversity to the fifth country finals of the MEST Africa Challenge. Presenting ten very unique businesses, each finalist had four minutes to pitch to the judges and justify their solution.

On the deciding panel were Sewu-Steve Tawia, Angel Investor — VBAN Accra Angels; Kwaku Owusu, Business Development Advisor — Shell Foundation; Katjana Kammin, Head of Portfolio — MEST and Sam Green, Venture Partner — MEST.

They accessed each startup based on a variety of factors including 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.

With four minutes on the clock, Aiscarecrow Technologies kicked off the competition with a rather unusual concept. The startup offers a modern take on the scarecrow method of scaring away pests from farm crops by using an advanced predator bird drone.

According to co-founder Mary Aboagye, ‘Farmers lose about 20% of their produce to birds and pests each season despite the fact that they spend up to10 hours daily shouting and banging metals together to scare the birds away. Some resort to using chemicals that are dangerous for the environment and the consumers. Even worse, children are often deployed to their parent’s farms to scare off the birds instead of being present in school.’

Aiscarecrow’s solution is built on the science-supported reasoning of birds’ fear of larger, more predatory birds. Their Hitech AI bird flies into the mist of pests and scares them away from farmlands, helping farmers cut losses by 90–95%. Aiscarecrow also offers a rent-out service for small scale farmers who can not purchase a personal drone.

At the end of their pitch, Judge Kwaku asked about the competitiveness of their solution, to which Aiscarecrow responded that although there are other methods available, they were the only tech company with this specific design in the form of a bird’s natural predator, which makes them very competitive.

Next up was Acyst Technology Company, represented by their CEO and co-Founder Steven Osei. They’re tackling issues in the transportation sector, specifically, payment options available to passengers and drivers. They aim to change the negative perception associated with public transport with their app, ‘Troski’, which allows passengers to go cashless when paying for their transportation.

Given that 42 million people make return trips daily, Steven expressed how large the available market is and the opportunities for growth it represents. Currently, they offer payment services to bus drivers and car owners and have 250 drivers signed on.

During the Q&A session, Judge Kwaku asked what they are doing differently to secure drivers since similar services haven’t been well accepted so far? Acyst replied that they give the drivers full control over the money they earn electronically and this is something that they greatly appreciate and keeps them on the platform.

Co-founder and CEO of Sustainable Energy Technologies Limited (Setech), Owusu, began his pitch by sharing his personal experience with power outages in Ghana for the first fifteen years of his life. Having had a first-hand experience of how dangerous candles and firewood in poorly ventilated kitchens can be, he now seeks to offer a safer solution.

Setech offers affordable clean energy solutions for people in rural and periurban areas. They compliment the service with easy payment options using mobile, an online store, and payment plans for those who can’t afford the full payment upfront. Among their numerous solutions is a cooking stove that doubles as a power source for electricity.

The fourth company to pitch was Soil Solutions, an Agritech company providing farmers with a “Do it yourself, Soil test kit”. They built their solution on the fact that smallholder farmers in Ghana rarely have access to affordable soil nutrient analysis tools, contributing to poor decisions on crop selection and fertilizer usage.

Moses, co-founder, and CEO of Soil Solutions explained that the main focus of the kit is to give farmers the capability of testing their soil themselves and help them make informed decisions. ‘The kit is intuitive and easy to use; all the farmer has to do is shake the soil with a nutrient reagent indicator chemical for 3 minutes and compare the color change in the test tube to a chart to determine the nutrient level’.

Not leaving the farmers hanging on discovering any issues with their soil nutrient levels, they’ve gone a step further to create an app that can recommend the next step to take based on the results of the test.

When answering a follow-up question on their competitive advantage, Moses explained that compared to their competitors who carry out soil testing for thousands of cedis, theirs is only 25 cedis which is very affordable. He added that they were already in partnership with a fertilizer company that uses their data to produce the right blend of fertilizers for the best farm produce.

‘The average worker in Ghana has to deal quite a bit of morning hustle with getting public transportation to work and therein lies our solution — we want to make daily work transits a joy in Ghana’, began co-founder of Stabus, Isidore. ‘Stabus connects workers to private buses for their morning and evening rides through an app.’

Since its launch, Stabus has received great feedback from clients who prefer their services because of comfort and punctuality. In the near future, they’re hoping to expand into cargo transportation as trade increases in Ghana.

Ending their pitch within the 4-minute mark, Judge Sewu-Steve was curious about their revenue pre-COVID and what their 3-year projection looked like? In response, Isidore said that they had had a steady revenue pre-COVID but it had taken a dive when the pandemic hit. Once this season passes, they would be able to provide a more accurate projection for the next few years.

Oxengen’s pitch began with a reflection on the life of Farida Bedwei, a renowned Software Architect living with Cerebral Palsy. Admiring her achievements, Benjamin, the co-founder of Oxengen, questioned if others in her shoes would have the opportunity to go as far as she did.

Focusing on the lives of people living with disabilities and how they can get around their limitations, Oxengen provides eco-friendly and affordable mobile devices and walkers.

These devices are specialized, high quality, innovative, and responsive and can be used in rehabilitation.

Bamboo is their main production material, and as an eco-friendly substance which is stable, light, and comfortable, it gives them a competitive edge over their competitors.

When asked about the pricing and affordability of their products during the Q&A, Benjamin explained that a percentage of their sales goes to producing low-cost devices for the less privileged.

Oxengen was hoping to raise funds to build their own maker space which would reduce their overhead costs and allow them to offer more affordable prices for their solutions.

Introducing the potential of artificial intelligence to schools in Ghana was Khalmax Robotics. According to their CEO and founder, Frank Khalid Limann, Africa is trailing far behind the western world by 70years in education and less than 7% of engineering graduates have adequate STEM skills fit for the job market. He started this initiative to empower students by training them to create and build problem-solving robots using electronic waste. Most importantly, they help university graduates fit better in the job market by providing them with transferable and practical technology-based skills.

Khalmax robotics also partners schools to establish robotics clubs where children learn robotics, mobile app development, and coding. Using this method, they’ve trained over 500 students in the last 3 years and now, they are seeking to scale their business.

Frank was excited to add that they managed to double their revenues even during COVID, as most parents were seeking remote learning options for their kids.

Leading the Q&A session, Judge Kwaku commended them on creating a solution for STEM subjects in Ghana but asked him how they generate revenue from it? Frank responded that they had two revenue streams: a. Subscription fees paid by parents for their wards to take up the robotics class and b. The sale of educational robots.

Oniocha Ltd was next, presenting a platform that helps individuals buy, sell, and swap books. COO of Oniocha Ltd and Educationist, Deborah Sakyi, said over 90% of readers in Africa don’t have access to the books they are looking to purchase, and this sadly reflects in our educational system, where teachers and students have to resort to photocopies of original textbooks to study because they are either overly expensive to ship or simply unavailable in Ghana.

Oniocha is improving the literary space in Africa by making access to books quick and easy. They currently have about 8 in-house authors and are in talks with publishing companies to publish and distribute books through their platform.

With an all in one app for farmers, Henson Geodata Technologies has developed an integrated farm management tool that enhances productivity and profitability. Their app is called MyAgro 360, and caters to the all-round needs of a farmer, giving them access to internal and external resources and experts. It also helps farmers plan, monitor, and analyze farm activities, receives localized weather forecasting, and offers advice on best agronomic practices. Their platform also pairs farmers with buyers of farm produce.

Judge Sewu-Steve’s concern was about their competitors, and how they were differentiating themselves on the market. Justin proudly answered that they had gone up against their competitors a few times in other competitions and won, proving that their service was more beneficial and favored on the market.

Last to pitch, but not the least was EdTech Innovations Limited, co-founded by Godwin Fiagor. EdTech is providing educational technology solutions to schools to make teaching, learning, and school management processes easy and adaptable. They want to bridge the knowledge gap, especially in rural areas, and prepare the African child for the future job market.

After the pitching session wrapped up, the judges exit for a private chatroom to deliberate on the winner. While they were away, the finalists answered questions posted in the Q&A chatbox by the audience. This has been a fun introduction to the MEST Africa Challenge since it went virtual and is one that the finalists enjoy as it gives them an opportunity to share more on their business and ideas.

On their return, Judge Katjana Kammin was elected to announce the winner, but not before each judge had the chance to express their individual opinions on the pitches and give feedback on the virtual MEST Africa Challenge experience.

Judge Sewu-Steve commended the quality of the startup pitches which made selecting the final winner a real challenge. He recommended that it’s better to keep presentations of this nature simple and to the point, especially when presenting virtually. He concluded by adding that it was equally important to have a gender-balanced team to show inclusiveness.

Katjana expressed how delighted the judges were to have been a part of the competition which has given them the opportunity to witness the innovativeness of Ghanaian startups in solving the problems they see around them. She also highlighted that it was quite hard for the judges to conclude on the winner because of how diverse and competitive the pitches were.

She stressed the importance of the participants backing up their pitch with numbers indicating their traction and growth as well as future projections.

Finally, after much anticipation, Oniocha Ltd was announced as the winner of the Ghana country finals.

Oniocha Ltd showed their gratitude with a little celebration in their office, filled with smiles and applause. In their celebratory speech, they expressed how grateful they were to be part of the competition, up against such innovative competitors. They thanked the judges for the opportunity and expressed excitement in entering the final stage, joining the MEST incubator, and making good use of the opportunities available to them.

MEST Africa Challenge Partners

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 Ghanaian ecosystem partners Hacklab Foundation, SB Incubator and Ghana Tech Lab as well as key partners, VC4A, Levers In Heels, 250 Startups, Movemeback, Klab, Afrilabs.

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

MEST Africa Challenge: Tanzania

The MEST Africa Challenge goes to Tanzania next week for another exciting country final. Watch live by registering here: https://bit.ly/3cRi09p

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.

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