RLabs CatchUp selected to pilot solution by BBC development studio

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Cape Town-based RLabs CatchUp has been selected from 12 teams to take part in a six-month pilot stage as part of the BBC development studio challenge, which took place in April.

Disrupt Africa reported in March BBC Connected Studio and BBC World Service would hold a development studio in conjunction with RLabs in Cape Town, in order to generate ideas and explore technologies for new ways of BBC audio content reaching African audiences.

The Cape Town initiative followed a successful initiation of the project in Nairobi, Kenya, last month, where two teams were picked to have their solutions for helping the BBC World Service connect with digital audiences piloted. The development studios are based around social platforms, specifically the use of chat apps.

The selected idea from RLabs is based on a simple digital widget that can be easily placed on websites, allowing a user to hear short clips of BBC audio content without distraction. It was picked by the judges based on its cost efficiency and simple navigation.

Team leader Kurt Appolis told Disrupt Africa the team had focused on bringing down the cost of data for people accessing BBC audio content.

“Many of the technologies at the moment are taking too much data and in Africa we are really data conscious. We thought about how we could make this solution so it is data friendly give you access to this content,” he said.

“We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The two-day event really took a lot out of us but it really was magnificent. The BBC guys were very professional, and the team was always on hand to help.”

Fellow team leader Christine Taphel said the success was indicative of the kind of innovation being promoted by RLabs within township communities, particularly through its two Youth Cafes, which have received more than 20,000 visits since they were launched last year.

“A lot of the young people have kind of given up on life and you can’t really blame them for that. The poverty level is very high. So what the Youth Cafes do is they offer help on how to develop yourself, develop your personal development skills, leadership skills, entrepreneurship skills,” she said.

The BBC World Service group digital development editor and judging panellist Dmitry Shishkin said RLabs CatchUp offered a “very simple and elegant solution” he hopes will lead to an increase of digital consumption of BBC audio.

“We recently had a very rewarding experience with a BBC hackathon in Nairobi, where two ideas were selected to be built into a prototype. Reaching out to the local tech scenes to drive innovation on our behalf is one way of complementing our renewed digital investment into covering Africa better,” he said.

Head of BBC Connected Studio Adrian Woolard said the team had been impressed by the enthusiasm of the participating teams and the breadth and variety of their ideas.

“We are now exploring ways of developing those concepts into innovative services that will help grow the BBC World Service audience across Africa,” he said.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent’s most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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