How to make the perfect DEMO Africa 2015 application

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For the second year in a row, DEMO Africa is taking place in Lagos, Nigeria this September. Thinking of applying for your startup to take part? Read on to find out how to hone the perfect application and blow the judges away.

First thing’s first. Applications for DEMO Africa are open until the end of May, after which startups have the chance of being selected to be one of the 30 companies that will be invited to pitch on the DEMO Africa stage in September.

This year’s selection process promises to be more competitive than ever before, with executive producer Harry Hare saying the number of applications has increased each year since the first DEMO Africa event was held in Nairobi, Kenya in 2012.

So how do you earn the chance to launch your startup at DEMO Africa? Here’s how to impress the twelve judges.

Do you qualify?

Before you even start your application, make sure you qualify. Technology startups from all over Africa are welcome to apply in the following categories: Agriculture, Health, Education, Manufacturing and Retail, Media and Entertainment, Communication, Transport and Logistics, Energy, Finance and Banking, Water and Sanitation, and Waste Management and Recycling.

Fit into one of those? Good. But also be aware of the kind of startups the judges don’t want to hear from. If your product is already public distribution, either as a launched product or as a highly publicised beta test, DEMO Africa is not for you. The judges will only consider products at the prototype stage that will be launching for the first time if selected to pitch in Lago. Upgrades to an existing product are also unwelcome, as are any products entering an already saturated market category with little market differentiation, or products that have been widely covered by tech and business media.

Fit the bill? OK, read on.

Solve a real problem, innovation is key

No shocks here. The DEMO Africa judges will be looking for startups that have an innovative solution to a real problem. The working theory of the selection process is that for a company or product to be successful, it must be solving a real problem. If your startup’s products or services can solve people’s “pain points”, you have a higher likelihood of success both with your DEMO application and generally in building your business.

If the solution is innovative, it becomes even more attractive. Innovation here may refer to something that has been done differently. The ultimate qualification is the ability of the innovation to change or impact the marketplace into which it’s introduced or create a new market.

Can you scale?

The DEMO Africa judges aren’t looking for localised solutions or startups that fix only specific problems in small areas. They will be interested to hear if your solution or product has the potential to scale, geographically or otherwise. How big can your startup be? Can it be a national solution? Regional? Continental? Global? Think about how big it could possibly be, and convince the judges of this. Could it also scale in terms of new services or offshoots? Think as wide as you can.

Numbers are crucial to this. How many users could your solution potentially target? How does this translate into downloads, signups, pageviews? How does that translate into revenues? How much will you earn in year one? How much will you earn? You then be able to defend those numbers if quizzed on them. This all comes back to the viability of  your business model. Do your numbers make sense?

Are you ready for investment?

Part of the point of pitching at DEMO Africa is putting yourself out there to potential investors, many of whom will be in the audience or reading about the event through the plethora of publications that will report on it. Is your startup in its current state able to absorb an investment? This means, even though you haven’t launched yet, it will need to be registered and have a bank account as a bare minimum.

It isn’t just about your legal and financial status, however. Is your management team investor-ready? You as CEO may be a very attractive proposition to investors, but you can’t do it alone. Who is handling marketing? Who takes care of the accounts? Who handles the tech? Your business plan is only half the battle, you must convince the judges – and potential investors, should your application be a success – that you have a team capable of executing that plan.

Make sure you have a working product

The DEMO Africa judges don’t want solutions that are already in the market, but they do want you to be able to demonstrate what your product can do. For this, it needs to be completed, not just looking good on paper. A working prototype is the only way to woo the judges and win your place in Lagos in September. As the DEMO Africa team says – “show us, don’t tell us”.

Think your startup fits the bill? Then get applying, and come say hello to Disrupt Africa in Lagos in a few months time. Good luck!

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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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