Hope you’re doing well.
Today is three years since I started writing this newsletter, and in thinking about the time since I would love to learn what you look forward to reading in these letters. So, please reply. I’m looking forward to reading from you.
In case you missed it, here’s last month’s newsletter.
Building hardware is difficult anywhere, but there are particular things about developing on the African continent that are unique. One big issue is just how difficult it is to get parts shipped to where you are, but there are countless more.
I’m starting a series called Lessons Learnt, publishing stories about hardware startups on the continent that have now gone under. The idea is to learn from these post mortems and have an insider walk through how it played out. Many technical people are reluctant to write but love to read about other people, I think if you have knowledge that other people can learn from you should share it.
The first in the series is on GRIT Systems. Founded in 2013 and incubated in CcHUB, GRIT tried to tackle that most Nigerian of problems: electricity. The company developed a monitoring system that tracked power usage across multiple generation sources (solar, grid, generators).
David Adebiyi was GRIT’s Hardware Engineering Lead and left the company before it shut down. He walks us through the company’s culture, how much he enjoyed it, and what they probably should not have done.
If you know a story that would be a great fit for this series, please let me know.
Fewer outfits have invested more in hardware companies working on the continent than Factor[e] Ventures, so their insights are always great to read. Their Principal in Kenya, Jit Bhattacharya, writes about the commercial viability challenges that minigrids on the continent face: the median household consumes only 3.5 kWh per month so there is a need to stimulate demand. I particularly enjoyed the historical perspective he presented, offering lessons from the US rural electrification strategy from the 1930s.
Complement that article with a perspective from Jeff Schnurr, who leads Jaza (a battery-swap company in Tanzania) and is a newsletter subscriber, writes about the “energy ladder myth,” and highlights how consumers always go for reliability in the end.
The past month saw two companies that I’ve profiled here raise significant funding. HearX, in South Africa, who develop hearing loss measurement products and a line of earphones, raised $8.3M led by Bose Ventures (the venture arm of that BOSE). gnuGrid, in Uganda, also raised $250K. They produce a hardware (and software) B2B product that helps solar companies with data analytics and after-sales support.
Nzambi Matee developed a process to recycle plastic waste into bricks for construction. [Kenya]
A new shaft system for rescuing miners from 3,000m belowground by Mines Rescue Services. [South Africa]
WeFly is building an interesting mix of robots and drones to support agronomy services. [Cote D’Ivoire]
The Innovation Showcase (ISHOW) of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers is receiving applications for their India, US, and Kenya stops.
Deadline: March 9.
In Kenya, Solar E-Cycles builds cycles that can carry medium-sized payloads powered by solar panels. Their products have seen interesting applications from last mile delivery to eco-tourism.
Until next time,