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OceanHub Africa, Cape Town-based Ocean-Impact Catalyser Disrupting the Growing Blue Economy in Africa

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Oceanhub Africa Team

OceanHub Africa, founded by Alexis Grosskopf and Stéphanie Canac is an organisation based in Cape-Town, South Africa that aims to accelerate the development and adoption of ocean-minded innovations, to unleash the power of African ocean innovators and place Cape Town at the forefront of a more sustainable ocean economy. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Alexis and Stéphanie shared their journey and vision to be the movement that inspires more ocean-conscious entrepreneurs and form the tribe that demonstrates the commercial viability of an ocean-minded economy. Excerpt.

 

OceanHub Africa OHA and problem its solving:

OceanHub Africa was launched in July 2019. It is a non-profit ocean-impact catalyst initiative, supporting ocean-impact ventures in Africa through online acceleration programs and leading an international ocean-minded ecosystem. The organisation is a response to pressing ocean challenges. Having realised that there were B2C organisations in the ocean impact space raising people’s awareness and shifting individual behaviours, some B2G organisations lobbying policy-makers to regulate for ocean conservation, but limited to no B2B organisations helping ocean businesses reduce their impact and support their transition towards a sustainable ocean economy (or Blue Economy).

This, combined with the fact that Cape Town – where OHA was initially launched- sits virtually at the crossroads of three oceans, has good business and entrepreneurship support, strong Marine Science universities and an appeal for sustainable development. It appeared highly relevant to launch OHA.

Set milestones, achievements and impact:

Our mission is to inspire and assist innovative impact start-ups and nurture an environmentally conscious and profitable economy that would effectively mitigate the oceans’ over exploitation, pollution as well as the effects of global warming on the oceans. The first acceleration programme was successfully completed in 2020 despite the challenges and saw 6 startups of different stages (prototyping to growth stage), technologies (digital and hardware) and industries (aquaculture/fisheries, shipping/ship-building, marine renewables/biotechnologies, coastal tourism/ocean-sports, awareness/education) graduating during the Ocean Innovation Africa Summit in Nov 2020.

Our second cohort started earlier in April with 6 new promising African-based, ocean-minded, impact-for-profit innovative businesses.

OHA is supported by a range of partners such as WWF, Mission Blue, 1% for the planet, Dassault Systèmes, Amazon, Sigfox, the V&A Waterfront, French and African Diplomacies, and International Universities. It is a founding partner of the 1000 Ocean Startups coalition to accelerate Ocean Impact Innovation, bringing together the global ecosystem of incubators, accelerators, competitions, matching platforms and VCs supporting startups for ocean impact. Our objective is to scale at least 1000 transformative startups by the end of the Ocean Decade to restore ocean health and achieve SDG14.

Challenges:

Oceans are a common good which means that we need all stakeholders onboard to achieve and sustain our impact. Bringing organisations together and setting common objectives has proven challenging at times but that was the reason for launching Ocean Innovation Africa, a platform bringing authorities, universities/research centres, investors/entrepreneurs, foundations/NPOs and ocean industries together with the objectives to  inspire more entrepreneurs, entice more private investors and catalyse more partnerships, and ultimately to accelerate the development and adoption of new sustainable technologies and policies to place the African continent at the forefront of a decidedly more sustainable ocean economy.

Funding:

Self-funded from the start, we are client-funded through consultancy projects and success fees on fund raises or commercial contracts for the startups we accelerate. That being said, we are looking for funding to support our growth.

COVID-19, business and survival strategy:

Initially, OHA was supposed to be an in-person program – enabled by the support of the V&A Waterfront. But our first cohort started in April 2020 when lockdowns were gradually placing our global economy on hold. We had to pivot in a matter of weeks to a fully online, more localised (SA) program and review our financing model. Indeed, regarding the latter, we had hoped to raise marketing and open innovation sponsorships from corporations to finance our activities but these two budgets were frozen in the face of the uncertain future of the then recent outbreak.

At that stage, we started our first consulting project – thanks to the support and trust of our partners, in particular the V&A Waterfront and WWF South Africa.

On current projects:

We are currently accelerating 6 startups from Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania and South Africa, as well as continuing our support in the form of an Alumni Program to our first cohort of 6 (all South African startups). In parallel, we are delivering on a couple of consulting projects to promote and support coastal community projects in the South West Indian Ocean region, as well as another one on plastic pollution.

Finally, we are working on setting up an African Ocean Impact Fund – but still a long way to go.

Ocean economy development in Africa:

Oceans are the life support of our planet. They drive our climate, provide food and water to all living things, and connect our continents. The annual value of the global Ocean’s Economy (formal and informal) is estimated at $2.5 trillion and is expected to grow substantially, doubling by 2030. However, our societies are already generating tremendous stress and strain onto these ecosystems and this vast untapped economic potential needs to be addressed in a radically more sustainable manner. We believe it is down to businesses to implement that change and up us to promote more Oceans-conscious innovative businesses: innovations led by science, technology and entrepreneurship will provide the necessary leverage points to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), at the right pace and scale.

Africa offers a particularly high potential in terms of Blue Economy developments, paving the way to ocean community-based resource management and offering an ideal ground to test and scale impact innovation. Africa’s ocean economy – three times the size of its landmass – is on top of the continent’s political agenda and seen to be a major contributor to continental transformation and growth of industries such as fisheries and aquaculture, marine renewables and bio-technologies, boat building and shipping, coastal tourism and ocean-sports, etc. The development of the Blue Economy is an immensely important first step towards creating Sustainable Development pathways and this is what OceanHub Africa (OHA) and the Ocean Innovation Africa event (OIA) do.

The future for OHA:

Growing our network of partners in African coastal cities to support our pan-African growth and impact. And of course, setting up our accelerator fund.

 

F O U N D E R S   B I O G R A P H P Y

Alexis Grosskopf is the co-founder and CEO of OceanHub Africa. His desire to build this startup incubator, specializing in technologies that have a positive impact on the ocean, was born out of his entrepreneurial and technological skills, his determination to tackle issues related to environmental protection and his identification of a real need to develop solutions that support blue growth.

Alexis holds a degree in mechanical engineering, business management and environmental engineering from the Universities of King’s College and Imperial College in London. His career has revolved around the themes of innovation and sustainable development, starting with research on solar hydrogen production, then moving on to consulting in environmental engineering and management at Bureau Veritas before joining Bouygues Construction as head of Research, Development and Innovation in the renovation sector.

His activity then turned towards the development of innovations through entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship. In 2017, he moved to South Africa to take charge of the activities of the French South African Tech Labs, an incubator with social impact in the field of information technology, before diving into the oceans with OceanHub Africa in 2019.

Stéphanie Canac is the co-founder of OceanHub Africa. Stéphanie co-created and implemented the acceleration program (content, tools, partnerships, mentors, application and selection process, etc.) and she has a mentoring role with accelerated startups. She participates in consolidating the local and global ecosystem, having in particular co-created the first international coalition of entrepreneurial support organizations focusing on ocean impact innovation (incubators / accelerators and VC funds) and representing the initiative in front of various institutions, such as the United Nations.

Stéphanie has former experience as portfolio manager at Silvertree Holdings, Cape-Town based VC fund (1.5 yr), supporting management teams on strategic decisions, setting up/ scaling operations and raising funds and as strategy consultant at A.T. Kearney (3 yrs), working across industries on strategic, operational and organizational projects as well as strategic due-diligences. She is a graduate from a MSc in Economics and Strategy for Business from Imperial College London and from a Master in Corporate Finance from Dauphine university in Paris.

 

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Trueflutter – Matchmaking App for singles of African descent: Interview with Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye

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Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye

Trueflutter is a matchmaking app built for single Africans on the continent and in diaspora, in search of committed, fulfilling relationships. An online community of Single Africans in search of something real, make genuine and authentic connections. The App takes you beyond surface appearances with the use of audio bios to hear what a person sounds like and what’s important to them even before you connect. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola speaks with Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye on his experience growing a Matchmaking brand, successes and challenges in Africa. Excerpt.

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself, business and the gap it’s filling?

Dare: My name is Dare Olatoye, I’m the co-founder of Trueflutter which is a matchmaking app for Africans on the continent and in diaspora

Alaba: What’s the inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for Trueflutter?

Dare: My sister got married for the first time when she was 47 years old. She met a great guy and they have a beautiful family. The interesting thing is that the person she married lived just 15 minutes away from her and had also been searching for a partner for many years.

Thinking about that, I realized this was a problem that technology could solve, which is why my brother and I set out to build Trueflutter.

Our vision is to provide a platform where single Africans can easily connect with highly compatible partners.

Alaba: What makes your brand USP stand out and how has the market responded to your products?

Dare: The major challenge people have with online dating is that most of the profiles have sparse or superficial information. Our platform helps you get a much deeper insight into a potential match with the use of Audio Bios and responses to carefully thought out prompts.

Alaba: How long has Trueflutter been in business?

Dare: We launched the MVP in September 2018 and had over 15,000 users sign up. That helped us gain valuable user insight which we built into the current version that was launched in January 2021.

Alaba: What are the key initiatives for the success of the business and great accomplishments?

Dare: To us success simply boils down to assembling a great team at Trueflutter and building a great community around the product. This means the most important thing we can do is listen to our users and ensure our product continues to evolve based on their feedback.

Alaba: Kindly share your most difficult moment in business and what did you learn?

Dare: Our founding team has always been very goal driven and when we set targets, we drive ourselves incredibly hard to achieve them. We had set a goal to launch the new platform on January 8th 2021 and had all our promotional partners ready to go.

However we experienced a serious setback in timelines with our development and ideally should have postponed the launch date, but we literally worked 18 hour days to still meet the timeline.

Unfortunately we launched prematurely, with quite a number of bugs on the platform. We have since resolved these but that premature launch meant we lost many of the early adopters of the platform. The major lesson is that it’s okay to release a product that is not yet perfect, with the caveat that users know it is still on beta (just like what Clubhouse did). Public launch dates should only be set when the platform has been stress tested by thousands of users and you know the user experience will be flawless.

Alaba: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Trueflutter’s growth and/or the user experience?

Dare: I think online dating is one of those few industries that thrived because of the pandemic. We saw an 820% spike in activity on our platform and a 270% increase in organic downloads. Our voice and video call features are also now used by more people with duration of calls at an all time high.

Alaba: What’s your favourite feature of the App so far?

Dare: Hands down it’s the Audio Bio feature, which also lets you reply with a voice note to users you like. People don’t actually realize how much your voice says about you, and when they listen to someone’s audio bio, it helps them easily decide whether or not they want to connect.

Alaba: Where do you see your brand in the next 5 years?

Dare: As the primary platform where single Africans on the continent and in diaspora meet.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Dare: I am incredibly proud to see what my peers on the continent are doing. Despite the challenges of funding and infrastructure, we are beating the odds to build incredible products that are solving real problems. And the rest of the world is sitting up to take notice.

Alaba: Finally, what advice would you give entrepreneurs and investors in your industry?

Dare: To entrepreneurs, I would say every challenge is teaching you something. Every investor that walks away from your pitch meeting without investing, does so for a reason and if you find out why, it will make you better prepared for the next pitch.

Every customer that leaves a bad review is communicating a problem that thousands of other users are also experiencing, so you shouldn’t take it personal but embrace the feedback with gratitude.

For investors looking at the online dating space, few people realize how profitable it could be until they start diving into the numbers. But they also need to realize that it’s a long game, and like most consumer tech products, needs to be approached from the perspective of a long term investment. Trueflutter has been very fortunate to attract these kinds of investors.

 

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Prudence Ramotso: The South African entrepreneur who turned her love for shoes into a brand

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Prudence Ramotso, Founder and CEO of PRUDENT (Source: Prudence Ramotso)

Prudence Ramotso is a South African young lady who is passionate about fashion and envisioned a different kind of a brand that cares about customers and offer high quality products services. She decided to follow her dreams by creating the brand PRUDENT. A brand with designs inspired by African names, Prudent Shoes is a South African Shoe Brand established in 2019 and manufactured by one of the best and finest stylish shoe makers in Italy. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Prudence shares her entrepreneurship journey, the gap her brand is filling in the industry and the future. Excerpt.

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself and your brand?

Prudence: My name is Prudence Ramotso, I was born and raised in the Vaal (Sebokeng). I love shoes and fashion , I am ambitious and goal driven. I realized there was a gap in the South African female footwear when I was shopping around for shoes back in 2016, my entrepreneurial spirit couldn’t let this to rest. After my research in 2019 PRUDENT shoes was born, we offer what was missing in the market which is good quality shoes at affordable prices and shoes that have characters from the African names that are engraved on the outsoles.

Alaba: What inspired you to go into entrepreneurship and start Prudent?

Prudence: The rate of unemployment in South Africa increases daily and knowing that I have the ability to make a difference and create jobs in the future inspires me everyday. I took my love and passion for shoes and turned it into a brand that fills the gap in the female footwear industry. It started in my bedroom on my cell phone. I left my full time job as a financial advisor for an insurance company and gave birth to PRUDENT shoes in 2019 and I never looked back again.

Alaba: What makes your brand USP stand out and how has the market responded to your products?

Prudence: Our shoes are made of high quality material and attention to details (better workmanship). Our insoles are glued and stitched on, with our unique style names engraved on the outsoles. Like the brand name says PRUDENT, you take prudent steps when walking in our shoes, which means taking careful and calculated steps you think for the future.

The market response is very good, customers are happy with the quality and saying the shoes make them comfortable. Most customers say the shoes speak to them laughing.

Alaba: Any challenges so far since you launched early this year?

Prudence: The challenges we have is reaching a big scale of the market and getting the brand out there.

Alaba: In what way do you think the South African government can support entrepreneurs?

Prudence: Government must encourage localism, encouraging customers to “buy local” is a pillar of regional development strategies. There are products that are not manufactured in South Africa due to lack of suppliers, however they are South African brands and they make us a competitive country. Also, the government should give small businesses a real advantage in procurement policies and the process must be clear, protective and accessible to all small businesses.

Alaba: Where do you see your brand in 5 years?

Prudence: I see my brand growing and being the trusted female footwear brand in South Africa and in 10 year recognized globally. Also, as a brand helping fight the high rate of unemployment.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Prudence: Being an African entrepreneur feels amazing at the same time is hard and exciting. We are 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies as Africa and the ease of doing business in Africa is improving to an extent that a good number of countries including South Africa, Ghana, Mauritius and Tunisia now outperform China, India, Brazil and Russia, we can say our future is bright as AFRICAN entrepreneurs.

Alaba: A little piece of advice to young and budding entrepreneurs out there?

Prudence: Believe in yourself and your dreams, it is true your network is your networth. Be persistent and never give up, start where you are with what you have and go for it. If you can imagine it , you can do it!

 

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Babusi Nyoni, the Zimbabwean Powering Africa’s Digital Health Economy with Sila Health

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Babusi Nyoni is the co-founder and CEO of Sila Health, a global social enterprise that helps people everywhere access healthcare on any mobile device. Sila Health provides last-mile health care access across Africa using chat platforms and machine learning, creating comprehensive datasets to advance regional healthcare. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Babusi shared the Sila Health journey and the vision to provide healthcare access to Africa’s most economically vulnerable. Excerpt.

 

How It Started

I started Sila Health in 2019 as an AI-powered health service after my mother fell ill in the Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo. Complications related to a relatively manageable condition (megaloblastic anemia) had gone misdiagnosed several times in the city’s under-resourced public health institutions, nearly costing her life until she sought private care.

Unfortunately her story is one of many across Africa where doctor-patient ratios are an average 1:5000 and low income levels mean quality healthcare is out of reach for many even as the continent’s internet growth and mobile payment adoption rates continue to outstrip the world. I saw an opportunity to connect millions of uninsured patients to healthcare providers on existing chat apps while helping them manage and find information on easily treatable conditions instantly on our platform just as my mother does.

Today we help thousands of Africans and their governments affordably bridge health gaps at scale and we are connecting the continent’s growing telemedicine industry to its first billion customers.

The Problem

Africa’s digital health infrastructure is not built to scale as millions struggle with accessing basic health and medical care through traditional methods. Currently online health advice is inaccessible to most of the region’s inhabitants as many online health-solutions are data-heavy and are not built with the context of the African user in mind while players in the healthcare ecosystem lack the real-time data insights needed to contain the spread of preventable diseases.

Additionally, Africa’s telemedicine industry is growing at a slower rate than its global counterparts. Many surveyed telemedicine platforms struggle with recruiting quality patients due to the high costs of acquisition. Existing patient management platforms lack the features needed to provide comprehensive and scalable patient aftercare.

The Solution

The Sila Health user-facing product is a chatbot that enables individuals in low income countries with limited access to healthcare and the internet to instantly obtain health advice that can help them significantly improve their health. If the automated interaction proves insufficient a user can make an appointment with a trained healthcare services  provider via phone. Our services require very little internet data, therefore are accessible to our target group and our integrated COVID-19 module that helps people see if they show symptoms of being infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Our chatbot is accessible via Facebook chat, WhatsApp and SMS. These platforms are very popular among our target groups and are accessible on the lowest data plan tiers. By having our product accessible via these platforms the user is able to have access to medical information with very little internet data costs. Other medical chatbots require expensive app-downloads and are generally inaccessible to users with low-incomes. Our product is built for low to middle income households first, and for that reason has gained significant  popularity with a 5/5 star rating and over 50% month over month growth. 

Data Product

Sila Trends, our data product, enables NGOs and governments to obtain real-time data on reported symptoms in the areas they preside over. Where currently health data is hard and expensive to access, our tool enables our clients to: 

  1. Quickly recognize breakouts of infectious diseases, which is crucial for a quick and informed response. 
  2. Follow general health trends real-time to better evaluate health policy. Understand what works and what doesn’t.
  3. Predict the future demand for health equipment and medication by locale.

Telemedicine Product

Lifeline, our data product, helps telemedicine platforms struggling with acquiring quality users by handling the triage process on WhatsApp, Messenger and SMS and referring only high-intent users to partners. Lifeline provides doctors with critical context on a patient’s history including their profile, reported symptoms and triage result. We also provide environmental context on common symptoms in the patient’s location powered by our analytics product, Sila Trends. This saves your practice time and money. Lifeline helps practices across Africa achieve the following

  1. Increase practice revenue by 12% 
  2. Reduce administrative costs by 30% 
  3. Increase quality of care by 5% through improving outcomes.

Prepaid Cover Product

HealthPass is a prepaid product that allows Africans living in the diaspora to pay for and provide world-class healthcare for their loved ones back home. Smarter than medical aid, fulfilled by verified healthcare practitioners, HealthPass members enjoy pharmacy perks, free delivery and more; all from less than the price of a Netflix subscription.

Benefits include: 

  1. Guaranteed medical & dental cover, members can explore a world of benefits with the HealthPass network of verified providers.
  2. A virtual pharmacy wallet that enables sponsors to automatically manage and pay for prescribed medications at no extra cost.
  3. Free country-wide prescription delivery for all members with medicine delivered directly to each doorstep.

B I O G R A P H Y 

Babusi Nyoni is the co-founder and CEO of Sila Health, a global social enterprise that helps people everywhere access healthcare on any mobile device. He uses emerging technology to develop sustainable solutions for communities in the global South. He founded Sila Health after identifying an opportunity for artificial intelligence to fill the institutional voids created by poor healthcare systems in developing economies. Babusi has a strong passion for new ideas that will change the lives of those around him and is a firm believer that African innovation will shape the technological zeitgeist worldwide.

Other Current Responsibilities;

His is an Innovation Consultant to UNHCR (Switzerland); helps drive innovation to assist and protect millions of refugees, returnees, internally displaced and stateless people. Technology Advisory Board Member at Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (UK); He advises the UK-based global foundation on Artificial Intelligence implementation at scale. Technology Advisory Board Member at UNDP Africa Leading the 4th Industrial Revolution Technical Advisory Group(UK); he provides technical advice and guidance for the Africa Leading 4IR portfolio of activities.

 

 

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