Africa’s technology landscape has shifted so much in the past few decades that I find it quite shocking to realize that a handful of people are largely unaware and ignorant about the technological developments happening in multiple countries on the African continent. If you still think Africa isn’t tech-savvy, you have most likely not been paying attention. Perhaps you’ve been living in space (I sincerely hope not for gravity’s sake!)
The advent of mobile technologies, digital infrastructures, and internet penetration has allowed Africa to leap forward into the present and birth the ability to dream and create the future. While Africa is home to different shallow tech companies and startups, it is also the birthplace of multiple deeptech companies. In my research to create this article, I came across several companies; however, I had to pick my top favorites whom I believe are making fantastic progress in the deeptech space.
From the eyes of a distant observer, Africa appears to be far behind the rest of the world in terms of adoption. While this may seem true to a large extent, this does not tell the true story. Africa, as a continent, like everyone else, deserves to be a part of the global technology conversation. Several industries in Africa are recognizing and rising to the challenge, from the medical industry to the banking sector. While there are crises and numerous issues plaguing the African continent, a few organizations are also working and collaborating to build something tangible future for the African continent. With that in mind, I will share my top picks of deeptech-driven companies that are game-changers at the forefront of the deep technology revolution in Africa and the reasons why.
PS: This opinion piece is purely speculative.
As a Medical Doctor, this has to be my top favorite. There was no other deeptech-focused company on this list that captured my attention more than 54gene. In the African healthcare industry, 54gene captures the essence of integrated deeptech. If you’re wondering why this excites me, here’s what you need to know: Africa's genetic diversity is thought to be the highest of any continent. However, the lack of genomic information for African populations makes it difficult to describe the scope of variety on the continent and provides less insight into the genetic variations that affect susceptibility to diseases. In layman's terms, Africa has been left out of the party for centuries concerning creating tailored medicines and treatments for diseases that affect them based on their gene, lifestyle, and environment. Fortunately, that seems to have come to an end. As the CEO, Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong, states, “equalizing precision medicine for all populations” is the goal for 54gene.
54gene mainly focuses on medication development, molecular diagnostics, and mapping the African genome. What's remarkable about 54gene is its special inclusivity of the African population to ensure that the continent is not left out of the breakthrough precision medical trend, which is critical to the advancement of medicine and the longevity industry.
54gene continually generates different datasets as a health technology platform company to uncover scientific discoveries, improve diagnostic and treatment outcomes in Africa, and build a catalog that analyzes the African genome's countless variations. Their most recent 100K Project aims to develop a resource that provides a comprehensive record of genetic variations in up to 300 ethnolinguistic groups from over 100,000 Nigerian individuals along with core non-communicable disease phenotypes. Eye-catching and mind-blowing, right? I firmly believe the results of this project will be great for the African continent and will aid in the generation of new types of innovative medicines and diagnostics for Africans. Oh yes, and in 2021, they raised 25 million USD in Series B funding, making it a total of over 45 million USD raised, making 54gene one of Africa’s most valuable digital health startups.
2. The Deep Learning Indaba
How about Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning? Yes, Africa has a community for that too.
Deep Learning Indaba is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing machine learning and artificial intelligence in Africa. They have contributed immensely to the rise of AI businesses across the continent. With its week-long program of lectures, practical workshops, and round table discussions on the theory and application of current AI, the Deep Learning Indaba is unique.
One of their projects, the Indaba Grand Challenge, aims to develop a solution for one of the world's most common NTDs (Neglected Tropical Diseases), which affects over 1.5 billion people. The medical community largely overlooks these diseases and focuses on other disorders. This organization aims to ensure that Africans participate and contribute to advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning.
The Deep Learning Indaba is constantly working to construct a sustainable pan-African network of AI knowledge, create local leadership in AI in every country across the continent, and reward excellence in AI research and implementation. They also receive support from world-leading tech companies and businesses such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, and The Rockefeller Foundation, amongst others.
Some of the most outstanding startups were born based on their founders' experiences. RxAll is one of them. Adebayo Alonge, the Founder and CEO, was inspired to start the company after a near-death experience. Adebayo first encountered the dangers of counterfeit medicines when he was 15. He fell into a coma after taking medication to treat his sickness. He needed to ensure that no others suffered the same fate.
Every year, over one million people die from consuming fake medications. In some markets, more than half of the pharmaceuticals are inferior, and consumers have no way of knowing this before using them. Adebayo Alonge, a pharmacist and market development professional with a Yale business degree, is determined to defeat the global threat of counterfeit medications by ensuring that only legitimate drugs reach every FDA, hospital, and pharmacy worldwide.
RxAll is a health-tech platform that provides a digital infrastructure to pharmacies across many countries. The company aims to make high-quality healthcare available by developing cost-effective and scalable tech solutions such as a drug testing platform, pharmacy management software, and invoice financing.
4. FlexFinTx/ FlexID
What if I told you that over half a billion people living on the African continent do not have any form of digital identification? Would you believe it? Well, this is a huge problem, as this provides a vacuum that allows for the perpetuation of a wide range of fraudulent activities. However, FlexFinTx is doing something unique and substantial in the African tech space. This company is enabling these Africans who lack formal identification to create self-sovereign digital identities that will allow them to confirm their identity at any time, even if they do not have access to the internet. This also gives them access to banking, insurance, healthcare, and government services through an interoperable and decentralized network using the FlexID digital identity wallet.
In this way, FlexID is constructing one of Africa's largest decentralized digital identification networks to facilitate financial and healthcare access for over 400 million Africans, among other things.
As a health professional, I just love when technology comes together, acting as a leveler, providing equal opportunities for people living with varying degrees of disability. After a tragic accident while playing football in 2016, one of the founders almost lost his sight. Inspired by this, Vinsighte is a digital health company aiming to help people with visual disabilities live comfortably and more productive lives.
They provide services such as Viri - the ultrasonic guiding aid that help the user move around independently by alerting users to obstacles; Visis - the smart reading glasses that convert texts to audio; and a mobile app that helps diagnose eye disease and provides recommendations to appropriate doctors.
According to the World Health Organization's Global Data Report on Visual Impairment, Africa has 26.2 million visually impaired persons. In addition, it is predicted that 32.7 thousand persons out of every million in Africa are visually impaired, resulting in 6.24 million people in Nigeria. Indeed, Vinsighte is perfectly positioned to make an impactful contribution toward addressing this relevant situation.
I would not want to end this article without mentioning Lazerpay Finance. This blockchain finance startup helps businesses get paid in crypto and withdraw funds instantly to their bank accounts. There is also WellaHealth, a digital health startup that focuses on providing health services to vulnerable populations in Africa through micro health insurance plans and providing health support for common non-communicable diseases such as Malaria.
Now, this is not an exhaustive list, which shows that there are a lot of technological innovations in Africa at the moment. But, if you have ever been in doubt, the best time to invest and support African startups and innovations was yesterday, and the second-best time is today.
To discover more about nonprofits, impact startups, and socially driven companies making a positive change on the continent, check out the Deep Knowledge Philanthropy Dashboard for Africa.
Which of these organizations mentioned above are you most excited about? Do you have other top picks of favorite African deeptech-driven startups to look out for in 2022 and beyond? Share with me in the comments.