Hope you’re doing well.
As you may have noticed, there was no newsletter last month. I was dealing with COVID, my first time, and was going through a tough patch so couldn’t get to finishing the draft. Thanks to everyone who checked in!
Since the last issue, Super Display won the Welcome To Nigeria Challenge.
In case you missed it, here’s June’s newsletter.
Many people have joined this newsletter since I wrote the piece about transporting tomatoes. At the heart of the issue is cold storage and transportation, which is not a trivial endeavour. In the past two years, however, thanks to the pandemic and the need to transport vaccines, there has been an acceleration of innovation in the space.
Using different technologies, companies like GRICD and Drop Access have developed portable devices that can transport medicines in urban and rural areas, and have received funding to expand their products to new areas. On the other hand, companies like KoolBoks (fridges for offgrid homes using a PAYGo model), ColdHubs & SokoFresh (cold storage rooms located in markets) have expanded their tech with new partners.
Side note: I enjoyed listening to Norah Magero, the co-founder of Drop Access, talk about her company’s product (the Vaccibox) on the Engineering Matters podcast. I think you would too.
There is a harder problem though: long distance, large size cold transport at an affordable price point. The technologies that work for moving the medicines are not very efficient at large sizes and those that work for large storage in markets don’t account for transport. The price point at the moment only works for mid-length distances i.e. a hotel in Victoria Island, Lagos can pay for tomatoes to be delivered from Mile 12 (about 26km).
Bringing the price point down could be achieved by finding a way to reduce the operating cost of such transport vehicles, whether this is by engineering design (the ability to switch storage units between vehicles or hybrid power sources of vehicle power and storage unit power) or something else. I think there’s a huge opportunity there.
The write-off ratio of consumers using PAYGo services has increased during the pandemic (doubling from 7% to 14% according to GOGLA), but the business model as a whole is still responsible for driving adoption of solar home technologies on the continent. With millions of homes still unconnected from affordable power, there is an opportunity for improvements on the current model.
While SigFox (the IOT startup that built a wireless networking network) filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, it’s operations in South Africa unraveled much earlier. Last week, a number of investors announced that they were buying into the holding company in the country with the intent to run an ‘open-access’ network that individuals — compared to corporate customers who are the current users — would be able to use.
Investment into life sciences tech companies on the continent is still slow, but startups like The Pathology Network buoyed by the pandemic give an indication into what is possible in this space.
Corine Ouattara is deploying Pass Mousso, a device for retrieving personal health information. [Cote D’Ivoire]
Peter Retief is building a biometric identity and medical learning system. [South Africa]
Next Wear Tech is developing testing devices for breast cancer. [Nigeria]
The Africa Open Science Hardware (AfricaOSH) Summit holds this year in Yaoundé, Cameroon from the 29th of September to the 1st of October. Applications are currently open to present sessions on the theme “Growing the Do-It-Yourself & Do-It-Together (DIY/DIT) Culture for Community Transformation: a focus on Open Health.”
Egypt’s Information Technology and Industry Development Agency (ITIDA) is seeking a Senior Program Manager for their Egypt Makes Electronics initiative.
Arm and The Cortex Hub are receiving applications for the second cohort of the Embedded Learning Challenge from young engineers interested in embedded systems development living in Rwanda, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria.
In Kenya, Synnefa produces automation tools for smart agriculture. Their flagship product, FarmShield, processes information from sensors embedded on farms and in greenhouses that control drip irrigation kits, greenhouse air conditioning, as well as offer alerts on low soil nutrient levels.
Side note: Synnefa (formerly known as Illuminum Greenhouses) started out as a greenhouse construction company about seven years ago, then added a drip irrigation kit business, before slowly growing into an IOT company offering multiple services first by white-labelling then making their own devices. I think that’s a great way to enter a space while retaining your initial clientele, if you know anyone doing this, please let me know.
I’m happy to share that Hardware Things’ second zine is titled No Tracking and will be released on September 1, 2022. This edition explores the supply chain intricacies that African hardware entrepreneurs manage as part of their product development, and how they are adapting.
Contributing to this edition are:
An excerpt from the zine will be published later this month, focusing on a number of agriculture hardware startups across the continent and how they’ve managed their supply chain systems differently.
I’m thankful for all the feedback from last year’s zine Outside Influence and I hope you will support me by getting a copy of No Tracking. I’ve enjoyed writing about supply chain issues relating to hardware product development on the continent for a while now. There are two ways to get a copy of the zine: by signing up for a membership to get a physical copy in high quality newsprint sent to you, or by pre-ordering the electronic version. Enjoy the full preview of the zine at the link below.
Until next time,
Join us for this month’s Community Chat on August 18!