AI is here. Where is Africa?
AI in Africa is taking its first steps
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Hey there! Welcome to this edition of Tech Safari.
It feels like we had our heads down and were staying inside in Q3 - getting settled into Nairobi.
For the rest of the year Tech Safari is very much outside. We launched our Nairobi Mixer (and filled up 200 spots in a day 😅).
And this week we announced our partnership with Latitude59 - the trailblazing Estonian festival at the center of Estonia’s tech ecosystem.
Now, you might be thinking - why would an African media company partner with an Estonian festival?
Well, they’re coming to Kenya - and Tech Safari will be their official host in Nairobi 🇰🇪
We have put together an incredible lineup of speakers and a series of great events and parties to celebrate our tech ecosystem in Nairobi.
The lineup is incoming! Grab your tickets here (with a sweet 20% Tech Safari discount) here: https://shorturl.at/bDLR5
And if you want to partner with us, shoot me an email.
Alright - let’s dive into the edition!
AI is Here, But Where is Africa?
Remember when AI seemed like science fiction straight out of The Matrix?
In 2023, AI is not just on movie screens.
It’s right here with us.
Stable Diffusion’s take on Artificial intelligence in Africa
The global market for AI is growing at about 32% to 42% every year.
And by 2030, AI could contribute $15.7 trillion to the global economy.
But what even is AI?
Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is like teaching computers to be smart.
It's about making software and algorithms that let machines do things that usually require human brainpower.
AI makes computers smarter by programming them to:
Learn from data.
Figure out patterns.
Process different languages.
And make decisions from all this - just like us humans.
Thanks to AI, you can chat with customer support bots, brainstorm ideas with Chat GPT, or ask Alexa to find the nearest gas station.
So yes, AI is a level up when it comes to global technological advancements.
But where is Africa in all this?
While Africa’s AI ecosystem is still a baby, it’s taking its first steps.
And soon, it will run with the big kids.
Across different sectors, AI is reaching out to Africa, promising to make things easier.
And the continent’s problem solvers are going all in using AI to tackle Africa’s hardest problems and spur economic growth.
While we can't put an exact number on Africa's AI market yet, there are signs that it’s getting bigger.
Currently, Africa has over 2,400 AI companies.
They’re spread out across different sectors like health, agriculture, education, and insurance.
We’re starting to see this already.
The biggest startup acquisition on the continent is not a fintech.
It’s a deep tech startup from Tunisia.
In January, Tunisia-born Instadeep gave Africa its biggest startup acquisition yet.
And Instadeep has quite the story
They started as a scrappy web design service, pitching to companies to build their websites.
But in 2017, Beguir had a lightbulb moment: AI could fix some industrial challenges that had been around for centuries.
And so they pivoted to AI.
Today, from their scrappy beginnings of two laptops and $2000, they’re Africa’s biggest AI success story.
What did they do?
Instadeep builds AI solutions for enterprises.
And some of their projects blew my mind:
In 2021, they launched Deep Chain, an AI platform that helps scientists create proteins for new medicines, getting those meds to people quicker.
Last year, they joined forces with BioNTech to create an Early Warning System (EWS) using AI. This smart system detected over 90% of life-threatening coronavirus variants, two months ahead of everyone else.
But why is Instadeep so special?
These guys pulled an AI startup from the desert city of Tataouine, Tunisia.
And they built solutions for deep tech leaders like Google and BioNTech.
Their success truly validates Africa’s AI potential.
And now, they are doubling down on Africa.
Instadeep is setting up an AI research hub for Africa in Kigali, Rwanda.
Some of Instadeep’s solutions, given some love, attention, and context across the continent, could make a big difference in Africa.
Think about it: AI-powered Early Warning Systems could step in to help with Africa's medical equipment shortage.
And AI’s impact in Africa isn’t limited to health. Agriculture is set to see major shifts thanks to AI, too.
Agriculture meets AI
In Cameroon, this AI smartphone app is a sidekick that helps farmers rescue their sick crops.
A farmer snaps a video of a diseased crop using the Agrix Tech app.
Then behind the scenes, the app uses machine learning to analyze the video and read out tips to nurse the crop back to health.
Now, is a farm the coolest spot to put fancy AI to the test?
You may think not.
But agriculture is the largest employer in Africa.
More than half the population in low-income African countries farms.
These farmers rely on low-tech methods and rainfall to grow their crops. This leaves their crops vulnerable to pests, diseases, and climate change.
Living from harvest to harvest, one bad season can have a huge impact on their livelihoods.
Startups like Agrix Tech use AI to help farmers control weeds and crop pests, improving their produce.
But Agrix Tech is not all about farm management.
They work with partners to bundle more products for farmers, including financing, insurance, and market access.
And the best part?
The app talks and understands local languages, like Pidgin, Wolof, Fang, and French.
This means that everyone, literate or not, can use it.
But there’s more to AI in Africa.
Down in South Africa, a dynamic duo has built an AI-powered learning buddy that sits on WhatsApp and helps students study without textbooks.
Africa’s ChatGPT for Education
In his final year of high school, Dacod’s class of 70 didn’t have access to textbooks, but Dacod could download study materials online on his computer.
But as it happened, the problem wasn't limited to his school alone.
And when WhatsApp opened its API to the public, Foondamate was born.
Using AI, Foondamate can send you study resources based on your subjects.
You just ask Foondamate your study questions on WhatsApp, and it shoots out an answer.
And when they launched their video demo, they had 40,000 users within weeks. Downloads grew across Africa - starting in South Africa. Then Nigeria, then Kenya.
And soon, users popped up in Indonesia, Columbia, and India.
By the end of the 2022 year, they had hit 1 million users with no signs of slowing down.
As more and more people in Africa embrace smartphones and the internet, solutions like Foondamate can truly transform education.
And this is exciting because Africa is bursting with young minds eager to learn.
While Africa's AI engine is starting to hum, there's still some runway ahead the AI really takes off.
There’s still not enough data to power homegrown AI models.
Internet access is not where we need it to be.
And we need more AI talent to put the continent on the global AI map.
That’s where remote learning, intelligent tutoring systems, and tech communities are stepping up to build our talent pipeline.
Zindi, for instance, is building Africa’s biggest AI and data science community.
Zindi teams up with companies to find problems that AI can tackle.
They turn these into fun challenges for their community, complete with cool prizes up for grabs.
By collecting data on competition performance and teamwork, Zindi is vetting talent for companies looking for African analysts, data scientists, and AI engineers.
It’s a clever way to spot and nurture talent and build a community around AI.
Instadeep, Foondamate and Agrix Tech are just the start of Africa’s AI boom.
What other exciting startups are using AI to solve Africa’s toughest problems? Let me know here.
And that's a wrap for this week!
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