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If you run a start-up that’s riding on technology to provide solutions to African problems, you should consider applying for the Launchpad Accelerator for Africa.

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The programme is an initiative of tech giant Google, and is aimed at supporting the most promising African start-ups with mentorship from its engineers and network of professionals, as well as access to its vast technology infrastructure.

Launchpad just concluded its first year, graduating a second cohort of start-ups two weeks ago in Lagos, Nigeria. This class, which ran from late August to November, drew 300 applications from across the 17 countries that are eligible to apply.

Of these, just 11 businesses – two from Kenya, one from Uganda, one from Egypt, one from Ghana, two from South Africa and four from Nigeria – made it through to the programme. They cut across a variety of sectors, including agriculture, e-Commerce, education, finance, insurance and energy.

Altogether, they walked away with $110,000 (Sh11.3 million) in equity-free funding from Google and were connected to 48 mentors from nine countries. Google has set aside $3 million (Sh300 million) for the entire programme.

The programme is now accepting applications for the third cohort. The process takes about 25 minutes and remains open until January next year.

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Hustle spoke to some of the Class 2 founders on how being part of Launchpad impacted their businesses.

PayGo Energy is a Kenyan modern gas company, has built a digital gas distribution platform that enables everyone to cook with gas. PayGo has developed a patented smart meter that locks onto any gas cylinder and allows users to cook with gas, under a pay-as-you-go model for as little as 50 bob per day. “When we came to Google Launchpad, our main aim was to improve our software system. Our software was struggling to support the 300 households, but we now have a highly scalable software system. We use the same architecture that Google uses for services like Gmail, maps and search – services which have more than a billion users. We’ve been able to build in two months what had previously taken us two years.

“Google Launchpad has also helped improve our internal processes – we can now design, plan and execute much more efficiently. We use Google’s own OKR (objectives and key results) system to structure the things we want to do next year and know how we’ll measure achievements. This has streamlined the whole team, so everyone knows what they’re supposed to do, and how what they do on a daily basis impacts the business.”

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Cloud 9xp is a Kenyan business that runs an online marketplace and booking service that helps leisure seekers discover and book experiences across various destinations and categories across Africa.

“It’s been a great experience just to travel to different parts of Africa – we had our three Launchpad bootcamps in Johannesburg and in Lagos. Being in the travel business, it’s been nice to see what other countries have to offer and what others are doing because, ultimately, we’d like to build a pan-African business.

The networks have also been incredible – we’ve met a diverse group of people and got different insights into how people think.

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“Learning about OKR has also been really amazing, and just implementing it in our company has helped us improve our processes. We know now how to measure and track our objectives and results, as they say, you can’t measure what you can’t track. We also have the infrastructure for a scalable company, we can support anything from 10 users to millions of users, thanks to our learning from Google’s expertise.”

EzyAgric is a Ugandan mobile and web app that aims to leverage ICT to digitise the agricultural value chain. It is a one-stop shop for data-driven agro-inputs and services, as well as a centre for financial, production and market information for farmers and agribusinesses. This programme has really helped us match EzyAgric release dates to business objectives. Before, the business would chase after customers who want a product that engineering was not ready to release for at least six months, yet business development was ready to close the deal. This programme has helped us get rid of such misalignments and run EzyAgric as a team, not in silos of individual departments.

“Secondly, Launchpad has helped us with our technology infrastructure. Before, we couldn’t guarantee that we could hold all our farmers and other agribusiness users should we scale. Now, if we got even two million farmers signing up on our platform in a day and with all the information that comes with that, it’s not a burden. We’ve got the capacity to scale.”

Chalkboard Education, a Ghanaian content distribution platform that allows organisations and institutions to host education and training content available to audiences on any mobile devices

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“We’ve learnt better management skills, especially how to manage a diverse team with multiple talents. We now know not to tell people what to do, but tell them what needs to get done so teams innovate around this and come up with their own ideas.

 “We’ve also learnt how to streamline our operations and communicate effectively – we’re no longer just going with the flow. Whatever needs to get done is structured, and we’ve limited work conversations to one channel, so we’re no longer jumping across multiple platforms and struggling to recall certain deadlines, goals or objectives.

“Launchpad also exposed us too various software suggestions to help us overcome any scaling issues, so our servers and back-end are able to handle an influx of content and users. Before, we were developing a product, now we’re developing a company, and one that’s sustainable.

Mintrics is an Egyptian firm that runs a social video analytics platforms that allows users to get detailed insights into their videos, and those of their competitors, on social media

“Learning more about OKRs at Launchpad helped us streamline our internal process. Launchpad also took Mintrics to a whole new level, starting from a new platform design to our progress on artificial intelligence/machine learning algorithms that enabled us to enhance Mintrics Meter’s accuracy that helps publishers improve their current and future productions. We were also able to release the Competitive Leaderboard to help brands and advertisers track their competitors.”  

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