MEST Africa Challenge Country finals wrap up in South Africa!

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

This week, after two months of intense competitions, the MEST Africa Challenge finally has its nine Country Finalists for the Grand Finale. The southernmost country in Africa, South Africa, was the last to compete, bringing six startups to the table; Popup Shop Shop, Timber Wizard, CowrieX, Puzzle of my life, My Pregnancy Journey and DizzitUp.

Each startup had four minutes to pitch, followed by another four-minute question and answer session with the judges; Roo Rogers; CEO Founders Factory Africa, Lebo Mokgabudi; Country Manager of Catalyst Fund SA, Nick Allen; Founder Savant and return judge, Ashwin Ravichandran; Managing Director MEST Africa.

The startups were judged based on a variety of different elements including their value proposition, impact, size of their target market, customer identification, revenue model, competitor analysis, growth strategy, traction-to-date, and the expertise of their founding team among others.

The first company to pitch was My Pregnancy Journey, an educational pregnancy app that aims to empower African women with everything they need to know about pregnancy health and parenting.

The founder, Jacqueline, began by explaining the motivation behind the company, ‘ 1 out of 4 women in Africa have a fatal pregnancy outcome, which can be prevented. Some of the factors that hinder smooth childbirth are poor socio-economic conditions, bad health care services, and lack of pregnancy information. My Pregnancy Journey wants to help solve this’.

The app allows the user to personalize its features to track their pregnancy for a small monthly fee. They get access to pregnancy video material, tips for adolescents, and nutrition tips for moms and babies.

During the Q&A, Judge Nick wanted to know more about the difference between similar international apps and the My Pregnancy Journey app. Jacqueline explained that My Pregnancy Journey is specifically designed for African women, and offers medical advice that incorporates local medicines and solutions, which international apps do not offer.

Next was Cowriex, represented by their Founder and team leader Godfrey Kaija. Cowriex is a startup providing an international platform for people to send money to their loved ones effectively and efficiently.

The app also offers solutions such as savings, insurance, microloans, airtime and data purchase, payment of utility bills, and school fees and hopes to be a one-stop-shop for all digital transactions for the unbanked in South Africa.

Following is pitch, Judge Rogers wanted to know how they are able to reach immigrants, who Godfrey had mentioned to be their targeted market. Godfrey answered that the communities have been helpful in spreading the word about their app, and reviews from users make it easy for their target market to trust their platform and sign on.

Providing a free-to-use B2B e-commerce platform for the purchase and sale of timber in South Africa is Timber Wizard. They were represented by their Co-founder, Andrew Pott, who started his pitch with a story of a successful timber business owner, who has no time on his hands to properly manage his business market size.

He mentioned that in such scenarios, what Timber Wizard does is to analyze the specifics of what made the business successful and decide how best to expand its operations. They then create a multi-buyer and multi-seller marketplace to cater to the demand and supply needs of the business.

Timber Wizard deals with both large corporate sawmills and family-owned sawmills and helps sellers handle large numbers of credible buyers while providing free credit insurance cover.

When asked if their platform was different from other sales platforms, Andrew replied that their B2B platform was very different from other sales platforms even by just considering the amount of data provided to clients and the complementary services that they offer.

DizzitUp was the fourth to pitch, led by CEO and Founder, Solofo Rafeno. DizzitUp identified a major issue in Africa where 850million people have poor electricity and 600million people are off the grid and are building a digital infrastructure for funding, deploying, and growing of solar electricity networks around Africa. Their app enables people and businesses to buy or lease digital solar electricity.

Their objective is to reach 2million houses in 5 years and to have 20 million end-users in 10 countries. They are currently in partnership with Airtel, who offers DizzitUp services through their network which they are hoping will push them closer to achieving their objective.

The overarching goal of DizzitUp is to become a super App, offering a plethora of services. Currently, it has the additional functionality of allowing people who have digital solar electricity to buy other devices or appliances and pay over time, or lease out their digital solar electricity systems and earn an extra income.

Presenting a novel concept to the competition in the second round of pitches was Popup Shop Shop, an online marketplace connecting brands to great spaces in shopping centers and high street locations for short or long term rentals.

Popup Shop Shop is trying to solve the problem of brands not being able to access short term retail opportunities, property manager's inability to source a vast range of brands who want to popup, and unproductive retail floors.

The platform is an easy to use tool that simplifies the administration of commercial short term leases and in addition, they offer a suite of tailored shopfitting solutions that make popping up easy.

Offering a virtual space for therapy, Puzzle of my life is the first of its kind in Africa. It was founder by Babara Ayissi, who through her personal experience with depression decided to create a platform that caters to the issue in Africa.

‘There are over 300million Africans suffering from some kind of psychological condition, but can’t access or get help because of stigma and lack of information’, she began. ‘The Puzzle of my life platform provides a gateway to mental health, delivering unlimited text-based counseling from licensed counselors and psychologists.

Puzzle of my life also works with USSD and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, has been offering free counseling sessions from those suffering mentally because of the virus. The platform has over one hundred counselors, with more applying every day and is becoming a respected brand in the industry, helping to overcome the stigma of mental health.

As has been the norm for each country final, the judges left for a private chatroom to deliberate on the winner, while the finalists answered questions in the Q&A chatbox by the audience.

The judges took a while to get back, indicating just how tough the judging process was for this country final. On their return, Judge Nick proceeded to give some overall feedback on the competition and pitches. He mentioned how close the deliberation was, and the fact that they had to break a tie. He also advised the startups to aim to get their key message across within the time limit. Roo Roger encouraged the other five finalists who would not be going onto the finale to not give up and to keep searching for opportunities for growth. Judge Lebo added that it was refreshing to hear the unique pitches and business ideas coming from South Africa and wished each finalist the best on their journey.

Judge Ashwin concluded the feedback session by complementing the South African startups for having the most diverse pitching session in the Mest competition. Although that ended up making the deliberation session a little difficult.

And with that, Popup Shop Shop was announced as the MEST Africa Challenge — South Africa finals winner.

The MEST Africa Challenge, South Africa finals was partnered by Founders factory Africa, Silicon cape, VC4A, Levers In Heels, Movemeback, Klab, Afrilabs, and Briter Bridges. We say thank you for your support in making this event successful.

Microsoft

The MEST Africa Challenge won’t be complete without tech giant Microsoft, who has the lead partner for the competition for the third year running.

Our nine-country winners will now face off in the MEST Africa Challenge Grand Finale on August 12th, 3:00 pm GMT. We’re also introducing the new community choice vote where the audience gets to reward their favorite startup.

Join us live on zoom for the ultimate pitch competition of the year >> bit.ly/30Z1zUk

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