Three South African startups chosen for Seedcamp week

Cognician, GetAGreatBoss and iSigned pack their bags for London

Seedcamp, the European micro seed fund that focuses on early stage startups has announced that it has selected three South African technology-startups to attend ‘Seedcamp Week’ in London from the 13th till the 17th of September.

South Africa has secured three of the twenty three available places at Seedcamp week from the more than 600 teams that have applied over the year. The Seedcamp finalists 2010 include a wide selection of teams from 16 different countries, active in more than 19 cities.

The South African startups were identified from the 11 startups who were selected to attend the mini Seedcamp week that was held in conjunction with the inaugural Tech4Africa conference, which brought both a prestigious and sought after line-up of international speakers from the world’s most respected web startups to South African shores.

The three chosen startups will now be facing tighter competition since they will be competing with a much stronger field of startups for a possible 50,000 Euro investment from Seedcamp along with the connection to next generation developers and entrepreneurs from a network of over 400 top-tier industry mentors.

“The South African startups we’ve chosen have unique and original products and offerings,” says Reshma Sohoni, CEO of Seedcamp. The 3 selected startups include:

Cognician describes itself as the ‘original thinking guide’ – a software application that automates complex intellectual tasks by asking you a range of intelligent, thought-provoking questions.

GetAGreatBoss pride themselves on enabling great managers to showcase their management strength in order to attract talent and boost their own careers.

iSigned on the other hand, offers secure, permanent online storage, management and sharing for legal and other important documents. It’s the ideal tool for individuals and businesses that want to store wills, legal agreements, investment records and share them with other parties securely.

“We do believe that all three of these companies have the potential to go up against a group of international startups for their place in the sun,” she says.

Sohoni says that choosing from the field of the 11 startups was a difficult task, since Seedcamp was extremely impressed by the quality of ideas presented during the one-day workshop and that each company has the right kind of founder, displaying the perfect combination between hunger and ambition.

Overall Sohoni says Seedcamp would like this event to be the first of many and sees South Africa as a great entry-point into the African continent.

“Africa has some of the smartest minds in the world and there’s a ton of potential here,” she adds.

“It‘s a continent we would definitely like to remain involved in,” she concludes.

Africa: problem or opportunity?

In his article “Why does being in Africa make you untrustworthy?“, Erik Hersman points out to the fact that Africans are generally suspects by default to the eyes of global corporations, which often put the continent off their radar.

Africa could be a continent of contrasts, but with lots of potentiality too. If only the world stopped making easy generalizations and looked closer to realize that.

One of the key factors for any business is to assess and be real about the context and the market in which operates. Thus, more accurate solutions can be provided to address specific needs, what improves the chance of success. If the context is problematic, that means there are needs to be fulfilled, and therefore that could be seen as an opportunity.

Tech4Africa_Ushahidi_Conference_Technology_AfricaAn example of this could be Hersman’s own enterprise, Ushahidi, a website that was initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008, and which now it has become a platform with global reach.

Ushahidi is a world-class technology service, but owes its roots to providing a solution to the very African need of transparency, which turns out to be a global issue.
The organization’s technology is open source, and it is often used by Internet writer Clay Shirky as an example of a successful crowdsourcing movement.

Other entrepreneurs and businesses are also working to provide services tied up to specific regional socio-cultural and economic facts, as were seen at Tech4Africa 2010. Services like PesaPal (a mobile payments company in Nairobi, Kenya) or mPedigree (allows consumers to verify with a free text message if their medicines are safe), are proving to be on the right track when addressing local needs via the most used and available technology in their target markets.

Many other startup services in Africa are choosing to use SMS as their trading platform, among other things, due to the scarce Internet connectivity and the broader use of the cell phone in many areas of the continent. And companies are focusing on that too, such is the case of Zain Nigeria, which is offering its customers access to Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo via SMS.

Nevertheless, whether focused on local, regional or global needs, African technology startups and companies must build their products based on the highest standards, and for that it’s important to keep in touch with the world’s latest developments and practices, if the continent wants to get into the world’s radar and export its innovative products or play globally.

All in all, one of the ways to bootstrap Africa to the spotlight might be what the aforementioned African organizations are already doing; which is, as Erik Hersman put it in his article: “to come up with our own business solutions that work here first, and then interact with other global systems.”

Do you agree this could be a solution? Should Africans see the problems or the opportunities?

Photo courtesy of @whiteafrican via Flickr/Creative Commons