Africa50 unveiled the winners of the first edition of its Innovation Challenge, which aimed at sourcing innovative solutions, to help increase access to reliable and affordable internet connectivity in under-served areas across Africa.
The announcement was made during an interactive session dedicated to the Innovation Challenge, organized in partnership with Informa, at the ongoing Africa Tech Festival.
Poa! Internet, a Kenya-based Internet Services Provider providing wireless high-speed broadband to homes and SMEs in low income and semi-rural areas, emerged as the winner of the innovation challenge. Poa will receive $100,000 dollars as prize money and will be added to Africa50’s investment pipeline. Poa will be considered for a potential investment, subject to Africa50’s due diligence process and Poa’s fit with Africa50’s investment criteria. If an investment is approved, Africa50 will seek to launch a pilot program in Rwanda to test the solution’s business model in a rural context and demonstrate its viability to be scaled across the continent.
The project would then be rolled-out in Rwanda as the pilot country, with the intention to scale up to other African countries.
Rwanda-based ARED Group received a Special Recognition Award for its solution, Shiriki Hub. It is a solar-powered kiosk which has a mobile router that provides connectivity and allows offline functionality. The company will receive a $50,000 cash prize for its efforts to increase the adoption of internet connectivity in rural areas, through the provision of digital services, tailored to the needs of local communities.
Speaking during the session, Special Advisor to Africa50 CEO, Carole Wainaina congratulated the two entities and added, “When we initiated the Innovation Challenge in 2019, we were aware of the importance of ICT as a driver of sustainable development in Africa. We believe that solving the continent’s key infrastructure development challenges provides tremendous investment opportunities and it requires new kinds of innovative collaborative approaches that leverage technology”.
The Africa50 Innovation Challenge was launched in 2019 after a global sourcing campaign, attracting 673 solutions, of which 80% were from Africa. The solutions were assessed on their innovativeness, scalability, modularity, sustainability, and readiness. After a thorough assessment process involving 33 experts and technical advisors, Poa! Internet and Shiriki Hub were selected among seven finalists who were announced in July 2020.
Tuesday’s virtual announcement ceremony of the winners was preceded by a panel discussion organized by Africa50 themed “Investing in Digital Infrastructure for Africa’s Economic Growth”. It featured Alain Ebobissé, CEO, Africa50; Paula Ingabire, Minister of ICT and Innovation, Rwanda; Lacina Kone, CEO, Smart Africa and Funke Opeke, Chief Executive Officer, Main One. The panelists highlighted ways to leverage innovative financial models to fund and expand Africa’s digital infrastructure, to support the continent’s growth and post-COVID recovery, while building its resilience to future crisis.
All finalists and participants are now part of a rich ecosystem of stakeholders Africa50 seeks to foster to help address Africa’s last-mile internet connectivity challenges.