Recently incubator manager Africa Funded, together with VIA Water, a program hosted by UNESCO-IHE and funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, initiated the VIA Water Innovation Challenge, an intense six week accelerator taking 8 innovative startups from 4 countries in Africa to a pilot proposal stage. The program yielded a cohort of innovative entrepreneurs. Two startups from the program already secured funding. All entrepreneurs are ready for next steps.
The Challenge was open to entrepreneurs from Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda and South Sudan. The selected pioneers who joined the accelerator program included Patrick Apoya and Elliot Abra (SkyFox, Ghana), Dickson Ochieng Otieno (Sanivation, Kenya), Nafisatu Ahmed (Ghana), Kevin Maina Mureithi (Trace Group, Kenya), Isaac Monney (Ghana), Peter Chege Gichuku (Hydroponics Africa Ltd, Kenya), Maurice Abayo, Luc Einstein Ngend Ngend& Philippe Kwitonda (Indogobe Smart Water Ltd, Rwanda) and Sebastiao Inacio Famba (Tree4Clean.life, Mozambique). Two startups, Sanivation and Trace Group, secured investments after the VIA Water Innovation Challenge. All entrepreneurs are ready for next steps.
Saskia Reus-Makkink, founder of Africa Funded comments: “This program aims at supporting pioneers in Africa to develop sound models. For entrepreneurs in Africa access to knowledge, expertise and funding is even more challenging than for entrepreneurs in developing countries. Additionally, funders struggle with sourcing and selecting most promising concepts due to cultural differences and lack of local network. This program addressed all these issues.”
Trace Group and Sanivation Funded
Trace Group provides waste collection services in Nakuru (Kenya) since 2012. They are looking into matching the solid waste problem in Kenya with the high demand for construction materials and reducing water pollution issues, during the 6 week VIA Water Innovation Challenge we supported them in developing a sound pilot plan to validate and finetune their business model to transform waste into construction materials. “Saskia is a spot on business adviser,” says Kevin Mureithi of Trace Group, Kenya. “We needed to develop our technical innovation into a viable business and she has exceeded our expectations by not only offering critical business tips but by also connecting us to a vast network of partners and successful entrepreneurs who we keep learning from. She takes her mentoring sessions seriously and will push founders to innovatively think of how best to launch their business.” The founder received support of Sophie van den Berg, senior advisor at WASTE who has in-depth knowledge and expertise about the recycling sector in developing countries. Kevin commented: “I worked with Sophie who was very instrumental in supporting my work and she went out of her way to give feedback to my proposal and seek external partners in the plastic recycling sector in Netherlands for support.”
Sanivation is currently delivering household sanitation services to urbanizing communities. They install container-based toilets inside people's homes for free, charge a monthly subscription for waste collection, and transform collected waste into charcoal briquettes. Sanivation was supported in developing a service model providing their services to landlords and rose farms. This could provide tremendous scaling opportunities for increasing access to safe sanitation services in Africa. Waste water experts Jan Spit and Henock Afsaw provided the entrepreneur with expertise related to waste water treatment.
“I loved the fact that the program's experts were fully committed in offering support, even on weekends” adds Dickson Ochieng of Sanivation. “We also never missed any single weekly session, and the feedback from the experts was ever helpful.” He adds the programme really helped him developing a business model and business proposal. “The content was well resourced and rich with knowledge with huge learning opportunities.”
The total programconsisted of a six-week virtual track, in which the entrepreneurs participated in workshops and received individual coaching sessions. Africa Funded, together with partners Aqua for All and WASTE supported the pioneers in identifying the best approach to take their idea forward, and to produce sound proposals for the VIA Water Fund.
All in all the VIA Water Challenge program was a great success. In addition to the results of the actual acceleration program, the call filled the pipeline of the VIA Water Fund with project ideas from 75 in a year to 150 in just six weeks time.
The plans of other entrepreneurs are now being screened by funders. Also the entrepreneurs who did not secure funding yet were very enthusiastic about the VIA Water Online Innovation Challenge. Isaac Monney (Ghana) explains: “We are in so many cases discouraged to start our own businesses. Having someone to listen to you and guide you to improve your business idea no matter how weird it may seem at the beginning is a great opportunity”. He stresses we should not give up on people's ideas so easily: “Give people the chance to test, probably fail and improve their ideas. That's how all great inventors succeed. The program provided me with unparalleled and requisite support to fine tune my ideas, develop a business proposal and learn from other budding entrepreneurs. This is exactly what young entrepreneurs in Africa need.”