Washington — The three winning teams in the Apps4Africa 2012 Business Challenge accepted their awards at a March 6 event sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda. They urged fellow innovators to keep up their efforts to find ways of using new technologies to boost Africa's economic development.
Nearly 300 applicants from 27 countries participated in the third Apps4Africa competition. To win a $10,000 prize, they were asked to develop sustainable, technology-based solutions to address youth unemployment on the continent.
One winner, Titus Mawano from Uganda, developed Ffene, a low-cost business management platform that will allow businesses to reduce the overhead costs of administrative tasks and free up resources for growth initiatives. The platform can be used for accounting, customer relationship management, product management and generation of reports.
At the awards ceremony, Mawano advised audience members to "think from the ground up" and develop original ideas. "Do something," he said. "You can't sit there and hope ideas just happen."
He also said innovators need to have a support system when trying to develop an application "because society has not yet understood the tech business."
Francis Onwumere, Opeyemi Obembe and Ernest Ojeh from Nigeria created a project management and business collaboration tool called Prowork that will help businesses assign tasks and track project status in real time through the Web, SMS and mobile technology.
Accepting the award on behalf of his team, Onwumere advised that in innovation, failure is very important because "you'll learn from it."
Ghana's William Edem Senyo and Heather Cochran developed the crowdsourcing platform SliceBiz, which has created a framework to help middle-class investors in Africa put their money into high-growth startup companies with proven potential to give a high return on their investment.
Speaking in Kampala, Senyo said creating connections between innovators and investors is more about "the movement" than the money. "It's about opening new doors for society," he said.
U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Scott DeLisi encouraged more women to get involved in technology and to join the Apps4Africa competition.
In his remarks at the awards ceremony, he said Ugandans need jobs, but they should not be waiting for their government or others to create them.
"Ugandans -- indeed, all of us -- must move forward by thinking outside the box. Part of the thinking has to involve using technology to drive change," DeLisi said.
Speaking in a U.S. Embassy Kampala podcast March 7, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Michael Pelletier said the Apps4Africa contest takes advantage of the huge potential of young Africans to adapt new technologies and use "new tools to solve some really old challenges and old problems" standing in the way of Africa's development.
"It's also a way to reach out without, sometimes, the expense or the capital investment in infrastructure, where you can reach out across the country outside of the capitals to reach rural populations, to reach secondary cities where there is so much energy and so much potential," he said.
New technologies can help entrepreneurs market their businesses beyond nearby audiences and local communities to reach a broader range of potential customers and find ways to provide services that are more environmentally sustainable, such as using renewable energy sources to lower oil and carbon-based energy costs, he said.
"New media, technology, innovation really give us an opportunity to help Africa leapfrog right over some of the challenges that they face and become real leaders in the world," Pelletier said.
The Apps4Africa contest was created by Appfrica International and the U.S. State Department and is sponsored by the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs in partnership with private-sector and nongovernmental organizations.
Started in 2009, Apps4Africa has provided a competitive funding program for African innovators, startups and businesses. Applications are judged based on sustainability, scalability and profitability, in addition to their social impact.
The program targets successful startups and entrepreneurs to create enough jobs to maintain Africa's current trend of a growing middle class and to use technology to solve societal problems.