Africa-based startups take part in Silicon Valley Girl Effect Accelerator

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Nine Africa-focused startups took part last month in the Girl Effect Accelerator programme organised by the Nike Foundation and Unreasonable Group, dedicated to supporting high-impact entrepreneurs to positively benefit millions of girls living in poverty.

The two-week programme took place just outside the Bay Area in San Francisco, bringing together 10 companies positioned to impact the lives of millions of adolescent girls living in poverty with world-class mentors, strategic financing, and access to a global support network.

The startups then pitched to Silicon Valley investors on November 12.

Nine Africa-focused companies took part, including Kenya’s Bridge International, the world’s largest and fastest growing chain of schools, Eco-Fuel Africa, which converts agricultural waste into clean, inexpensive, cooking fuel, Embrace, which empowers mothers who are unable to access traditional healthcare, and mobile education app Eneza.

The others were solar light manufacturer Greenlight Planet, Nigerian mobile payments service Paga, Off-Grid Electric, which uses mobile phones for a pay-as-you-go service for electricity, Soko, which gives disadvantaged women and girl artisans in Africa the ability to sell directly to international customers through their mobile phones, and Zoona, the number one mobile money operator in Zambia.

“Today, less than two cents of every international development dollar goes to girls – the very people who could do most to end poverty,” said Shaifali Puri, executive director of global innovation at the Nike Foundation.

“We aren’t working with your typical Silicon Valley startup in this programme,” said Daniel Epstein, who directed the Girl Effect Accelerator and is the founder of the Unreasonable Institute and Unreasonable Group.

“The 10 selected ventures currently operate in over 30 countries and averaged over US$2 million in revenue last year off of customers living on less than US$2 a day.”

Epstein said the programme had hedged its bets on true “black swans”, startups with significant market traction and working in the fastest emerging markets.

During the programme, the entrepreneurs met with 20 renowned mentors including Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva.org, George Kembel, founder of the Stanford d.school, Seth Godin, serial entrepreneur and author, and Paul Polak, who has uplifted over 20 million people from poverty.

“Today there are over 250 million girls living in poverty. The realities they confront are inconceivable to most of us, but when we have talked to them about their hopes, dreams and goals, we have learned that they are not simply victims of poverty. Instead, we, like them, believe that when empowered to reach their potential, they can play a crucial role in solving the toughest problems facing the world,” said Puri.

“But while every year more than US$120 billion is spent in international development assistance, the system has yet to produce the game-changing results we all desire for girls. The Girl Effect Accelerator is designed to bring new problem solvers to the table and support ventures that are locally driven, aid-independent, financially sustainable, and can help adolescent girls to reach their potential.”

Epstein said the Unreasonable Institute believed entrepreneurship could be leveraged as a tool to tackle global poverty.

Julie Markham, director of special operations at Unreasonable Group, said the programme had been a success and would likely take place again.

“From the programme, the most beneficial aspect was the fact that the companies were connected to their own ‘peers’ who they were able to learn from and become a strong community,” she said.

“We believe there is huge potential to be a bridge to connect these fast moving companies so they can accelerate their progress in the world. While we can’t make any guarantees for a continued programme, we will continue to measure and monitor the impact and we have a strong hope to run it again.”

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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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