I believe new ideas evolve from combining existing pieces of information and adding them up to something new. Impact Go’s idea emerged from reading newspapers and from my fascination about two megatrends in Africa.
On one hand, ever since Africa has been connected to the internet, there is a wave of innovation running across the continent. It is lead by young entrepreneurs who tackle their countries’ challenges. Quite likely most of them work in one of the 300 tech hubs spread all over the contintent. Africa has become a continent where future is hammered out on a daily basis. In 2017 around 200 startups raised US$ 170m. Compared to Israel (US$ 5b in 2017) this is still little but it’s an appreciable improvement to 2016 and it proves that Africa’s digital revolution has begun. Impact Go believes that Europe and Africa could create win-win-situations by creating more opportunities for cooperations and partnerships with these digital pioneers.
On the other hand, every second person in Africa owns a cellphone – even in remote areas. They don’t need formal bank accounts anymore because they use their cellphones to send and receive money via SMS-like services (e.g. mPesa). Estimations claim that 200.000 individuals have been lifted out of poverty in Kenya since mPesa’s roll-out in 2007. Above all this leap-frogging banking innovation serves as a means to create new business models for startups. Our startup partner Jamii Africa is just one of many which leverages on mobile money.
With these two big opportunities in mind, my degree in development studies and my genuine interest for new trends and technologies, I called my colleagues from TEDxVienna. We decided to scout startups in Africa which offer social impact services via cellphones. I immediately started to get in touch with several tech hubs in order to get introduced to startups. (Big thanks to the former TED Speaker Juliana Rotich for giving first shots!) We had quickly found four startups: Eneza Education and Totohealth from Kenya, Safer Mom from Nigeria and Jamii Africa from Tanzania. After the first skype call we were more than excited: Each one of them was willing to cooperate with us.
We then did a market survey with around 200 participants in Austria. It proved that European donors liked Jamii Africa’s healthcare cause the most. In addition an old friend of mine and experienced startup founder told me: “It’s more important to let go of some ideas than trying to implement all of them at once.” So for now we are focusing only on Jamii Africa. One of Jamii Africa’s big advantages is its distribution partnership with the mobile network operator Vodacom Tanzania with around 12m customers – that’s 6 times the population of Vienna in Austria (Tanzania’s total population accounted for 60m in 2017).
At the Seedstars Summit 2017 in Lausanne, Switzerland, I finally met with Mrs. Lilian Makoi in person after having had many e-meetings with her and her team via Skype. She is the CEO and founder of Jamii Africa. We had a final conversation and then decided to give our cooperation a go, an Impact Go. So far everything is working just fine, except the fact that it’s us, the Austrian team, who is always lagging behind the deadlines. I guess this is the burden of bootstrapping your idea. Impact Go relies on the passion and skills of its volunteers who are doing a great job everyday. Still we are quite slow. Keep your fingers crossed that we finally get our product published this year in winter.