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Mobile apps developers battle it out at annual competion in Kenya

posted 6 Jun 2012, 09:18 by Mpelembe   [ updated 6 Jun 2012, 09:18 ]

East Africa's emerging crop of young and smart mobile innovations developers took part in this year's edition of Pivot East -- the region's premier app conference where participants meet, share ideas and pitch to win 10,000 US dollars.

Technology enthusiasts converged in Nairobi, Kenya on Tuesday (June 05), for a regional mobile apps developer and investor conference known as Pivot East.

The two day event, which culminates in a competition for best app, saw 25 finalists presenting their ideas to judges and potential investors in a bid to win 10,000 US dollars.

Contestants from Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi and South Sudan entered the competition and were amongst the finalists who also got to mingle with investors, telecoms operators and other industry players.

With the launch of 'm:lab East Africa' two years ago, a facility for mobile entrepreneurship training, incubation and applications testing in Nairobi, the region has earned a growing reputation for being a breeding ground for mobile innovation.

The conference and competition aims at consolidating and showcasing the region's progress in mobile and technology innovation, as well as funding technology startups with high growth potential.

Despite Rwanda being a new player in the ICT sector, with the launch of the country's first iHills last month, an ICT entrepreneur network and soon to be incubator, the country was represented by two companies that managed to make it to the finals.

One of them was Sail Ltd Company run by five students who created 'Get-it app', an innovation that helps people in Kigali and other major cities in Rwanda to find the best restaurants on the go.

As a predominantly agricultural based economy, Rwanda aims to transform into a knowledge based economy using in part, ICT.

"In Rwanda, we want to make a knowledge based economy, so by that we want to put more effort into building knowledge rather than cultivating the land. Which is not bad but still we want to make it more profitable, so we are investing a lot in ICT, we are investing a lot in application development, so this is just the beginning of the beginning," said Get-it app co founder, Jessie Gakwandi.

Gakwandi said that even if her team does not win the competition, they have already been approached by investors who are interested in partnering with them.

From Uganda, entrepreneurial duo Billy Kay and Gilbert Rutatiina presented the 'Easy Order app', an SMS based ordering and supply chain management application that simplifies the way customers order for goods from manufacturers and distributors.

Despite having a successful company under their belt, Kay says the biggest challenge has been to convince potential users that their innovation is viable, efficient and cost saving.

"The challenges that we had were not financial they were more of making clients believe that it can work, making the client believe that he can change his whole process because this will change his whole supply chain management mechanism," Kay said.

Easy order is already up and running, with one client so far in Tanzania and the app founders hope to attract more companies in the region.

One of the Pivot East Judges, Mbwana Alliy who is also an investor said funding the app developers' start ups should go hand in hand with providing leadership skills through mentorship.

"We had a lot of talk about home based financing, but it typically it's talked about people who had actually never funded a start-up before, or haven't done angel investing. Governments do their grants, that's what they know how to do, and that helps. Late state venture companies do loans bigger than a million but they don't do that early - so they have a voice but really they don't understand how to actually evaluate the startup. So what I am working on in Savannah Fund is try to address that gap but it's not just the money, it's actually mentor-driven, so I am connecting the founders of YouTube, Yelp, PayPal, MySpace, BitTorrent, all these great start-up founders to these companies. And they bring a lot of value, not just the money," he said

The conference ends on Wednesday (June 06) with the launch of the Savannah Fund, a program focused on finding and investing in East Africa's highest potential pre-revenue tech start ups.