The purpose of the startup buses is to promote entrepreneurship in Africa. The potential company founders who participated in the project were selected from about 3,000 applicantsStage Image

The purpose of the startup buses is to promote entrepreneurship in Africa. The potential company founders who participated in the project were selected from about 3,000 applicants


East Africa by bus: Business ideas on the road

A startup workshop gets ideas rolling




On the bus heading from Tanzania to Rwanda are 37 young people from Africa, Europe, and the USA. This is not a pleasure trip — it is a startup workshop on wheels that is supported by many companies including EMD. The young people begin their bus trip in Dar es Salaam full of ideas for practical IT applications, and by the time they arrive in Kigali they have drawn up concrete business plans.

  • Fabian-Carlos Guhl from the Berlin-based non-profit organization Ampion
  • Fabian-Carlos Guhl from the Berlin-based non-profit organization Ampion
    © EMD

    The idea for this unusual journey came from the Berlin entrepreneur Fabian-Carlos Guhl. His non-profit organization Ampion organizes bus tours during which business ideas for Africa are born. In this process, the bus is far more than an inexpensive means of transportation. "A bus trip is by its very nature more dynamic than a workshop held in a conference room. Besides, in a bus we can access a variety of markets. We stop in a different country every evening, and we take the participants to a local technology center where they can meet with representatives of local businesses and the IT community," says Guhl to explain this concept.

    Can the participants’ ideas be put into practice? Can they be implemented in different African countries? Is financial backing available? By asking such questions on a daily basis, the participants can improve their concepts and adapt them to market needs.

    Young IT entrepreneurs for Africa

    New ideas are urgently needed on the continent, so it’s a good thing that Africa's market for information and communication technologies is booming. Some 90 percent of the adult population of Africa use mobile phones, and the total number of mobile phone contracts soared from 16.5 million in 2000 to approximately 650 million in 2012. A study conducted by the World Bank in cooperation with the African Development Bank on the use of information and communication technologies in Africa speaks of the "mobile revolution" and points out that these technologies have "the potential to drive entrepreneurship, innovation and economic growth forward."

    “We would like to further improve healthcare in Africa.“

    Alexander Hoffmann
    Project manager at EMD

    This sense of a new beginning can also be felt in the iHub in Nairobi, a meeting point for founders, investors, and other stakeholders on the IT scene. This is where the startup bus arrives after a two-day drive from Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) through rural Africa. Without giving a second glance to the spectacular view of the sunset over Nairobi from the roof terrace, the workshop participants immediately resume the in-depth refinement of their concepts and their discussions of clouds, apps and investor value. That evening the participants, who come from countries as diverse as Poland, Uganda, Lithuania, the USA, and Germany, finally present their ideas to a distinguished jury.

    An app for increasing drug safety

    Before presenting his team's concept to the jury, James Odede, a 23-year-old IT specialist from Kisumu in Kenya, holds up a simple brown paper bag with a handwritten label "Paradol, 3x3." "This is how medicines are sold in Kenya," he says. "There are no information leaflets, no instructions on how and when to take the medicine, and no warnings about side effects." This lack of information has serious consequences: Half of all medicines are taken the wrong way or not at all, and the resulting health problems can lead to an inability to work, hospital stays or serious illnesses. "When I found that out, I was shocked," Odede says.

    A bus for creative young people



  • The bus is not only a means of transportation but also a workplaceEnlarge
  • James Odede and his team from myDawa celebrate winning third placeEnlarge
  • Jury member Alexander Hoffmann (center) is a project manager at EMDEnlarge

    His team would like to increase the safety of medicines for patients in Africa, and their approach to the problem focuses on an item that almost everyone has at hand: the mobile phone. Their aim is to develop an app that a patient can use to call up all the information about the medicines he or she is taking, after a doctor or a pharmacist has created a "health profile" for the patient.
    All of the information in this profile — such as the patient’s age, gender, pregnancy, existing illnesses, and other medicines being taken — are then taken into account in the recommendations regarding a specific medicine. The result is an electronic instruction leaflet, which can even be read aloud to users who are illiterate. The app’s tremendous potential benefits for individual health are already expressed in its name, myDawa — the word dawa means "medicine" in Swahili.

    An award for myDawa

    On the following day, the bus rolls on toward Kigali in Rwanda. This is an exciting day, because all the projects are presented and the three best business ideas will receive awards from the jury in the presence of Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Rwanda’s Minister of Youth and Information Communication Technology. The team from myDawa presents its idea convincingly and receives third place. The jury member Alexander Hoffmann, a project manager at EMD, is happy that this business plan has been honored — the only one, by the way, that was presented with an already programmed prototype. "myDawa has a lot of potential. It is a simple solution for a serious problem — and there’s a huge market for it," he says.




    For EMD, ideas such as this one are important in a growing market that is based on information and communication technologies. “The field of eHealth is very interesting for us because we would like to further improve healthcare in Africa on the basis of a well-functioning infrastructure,” says Alexander Hoffmann. The team from myDawa, at any rate, can count on receiving further support. EMD is offering the project mentoring, regular meetings in Nairobi, and participation in an international network. A festive party on the roof of the kLab in Kigali marks the end of this successful startup tour, which has taken its participants all the way across East Africa.
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