Kenyan SIM-swapping startup Chura is one of four African finalists that will compete for the Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, the winner of which will be awarded the grand prize of GBP25,000 (US$38,000) at a ceremony in Cape Town on June 1.
The startup allows subscribers with more than one phone to leap from one network to another, through the transfer of airtime between SIMs and the purchase of one network’s airtime using the mobile money service of another.
Samuel Wangui and the rest of his team will now compete for the prize, which was established to highlight the importance of engineering in improving quality of life, economic development and to celebrate innovation, and is Africa’s biggest award for engineering innovation, alongside three other African finalists.
The finalists – each of which will receive at least GBP10,000 (US$15,000) – were chosen after entries from 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa were narrowed down to 12, with the entrepreneurs going through six months of business training and mentoring from the Academy.
Wangui said the mentoring taught him to make decisions based on data from customers rather than just intuition.
“We’ve learnt a lot about marketing, and to sell our services better. We’ve achieved good growth despite limited capital and benefited a lot from the media attention around the Africa Prize,” he said.
The other finalists are Dr Askwar Hilonga from Tanzania, who has developed a low-cost sustainable water filtration system; Ernst Pretorius from South Africa for a fence-mounted security system which warns owners of fires or intruders; and Musenga Silwawa and his team from Zambia for their spot fertiliser applicator, an agricultural solution for small-scale farmers.
Malcolm Brinded, chair of the Africa Prize judging panel, said: “Engineering is vitally important to social and economic development across Africa and internationally. Following six months of training and money-can’t-buy mentoring from engineering and business leaders, all 12 entrepreneurs involved have benefited enormously from the prize, with the four finalists showing particular promise.”