Startup Profile : mNotify

There’s nothing so frustrating as rushing along to a meeting, having specifically carved that time out in your hectic schedule, just to happen upon an empty room and discover the hard way that the time, or place, of the engagement has been changed. Typical. But then again, we’ve all been on the other side of the rope as well. Where last minute circumstances require us to change something about an event and lose half our attendance because we just can’t contact them all to let them know a switch has been made. There has to be a better way to do it!

This kind of miscommunication is exactly the issue that mNotify seeks to address. mNotify is an SMS application focusing on increasing communication between to parties. Sound a bit dry? Put it into practice. Say you’re a graduate schools professor who has had to postpone class for a funeral. No need to post a note on your door and hope all your students will see it as they stroll into class the day of. You can contact all of your students with one simple click, and they in turn will appreciate knowing that they don’t have to get to class before they’ve crawled out of bed or braved the 45-minute tro-tro ride to campus. Everyone is much happier! And much more productive with their time.

Or perhaps you are terrible with schedules, as many of us are! How much easier would it be to have your phone simply buzz in your pocket reminding you or the next meeting at your office, the next exam for your course, the next event for your club or organization? These seemingly small but in fact extremely important interactions are the business of Godwin Amefia, co-founder of mNotify with Ronald Tagoe.

Godwin and Ronald attended Kwame Nkrumah University School of Technology (KNUST) as computer science students. mNotify was born from a poorly attended, though extremely useful, symposium organized by Mobile Web Ghana in 2011. “Most people didn’t know about it because it was only advertised on the schools website which most students don’t visit often,” Godwin explained. As he and his co-founder began to look deeper into the issue, they found it was merely one level of a large issue. “Students miss exams papers due to change in venue, or time which they are not aware off. Some also copy the wrong timetable. Advertisers paste poster all around on trees, wall, doors etc.”

Ronald Tagoe (left) and Godwin Amefia (right), co-founders of Mnotify

In true entrepreneurial fashion, Godwin decided to solve the related problems with one easy to use application. Within the pilot month in 2011, the application already had 1,500 subscribers. Clearly a very serious need was being met in an innovative and productive way.

As Godwin and mNotify dive into the growth portion of their business, the best advice he has to offer is regarding production creation and customer involvement. “Talk to the customer fist before you start development,” Godwin suggested. “Don’t spend too much time trying to perfect the product. Release a minimum viable product (MVP) and your customers will help you perfect it.”

While mNotify such successes and his overwhelming enrollment and being named a semi-finalist for the GIST Tech competition in 2012, Godwin also ran into some tempting challenges along the way. At a time when the company desperately need startup capital, a handy investor offered a large investment. The catch? That investor would be made a majority shareholder. Godwin turned the offer down. “You might see the future of your company how big it will become,” he commented, “but the investor doesn’t see it that way. His focus is not long term and growing your business, but quick return on his investment, which might kill the company.”

mNotify was able to make it by without the investment, and is on its way to success. Catering to schools, churches, businesses, politicians, event planners and even individuals, mNotify’s broad client base and customer-based development approach only increase its potential. Already an inspiration, students and businessmen alike should look forward to the day when mNotify achieves its mission, when posters as a communication method, wasting our trees and clogging our bulletin boards and doorframes, will be a thing of the past.

 

Madeline Vellturo

Startup Profile : Fresh 233

This piece is the part of a series of posts featuring the work of inspiring people we met in the process of preparing the first report on the Startup ecosystem in Ghana. Startup Profiles will be included in the final document we are looking forward to share with Investors and Policy-makers at global events such as DEMO Africa and Angel Fair South Africa. If you are a startup founder, make sure to participate and get a chance to be featured in this blog and/or the report by taking this survey.

Ghana has some of the freshest food around. Vegetables, fruits and grains grown right in the region are beautifully crafted by husbands, wives and children alike into tasty dishes known the world over. Ghana is proud of its fresh produce, but this lack of preservatives also means that it is important to buy the ingredients fresh and use them quickly. Ghana is proud to be developing quickly into an economic force to be reckoned with, but there is an unfortunate disconnect between the demands of traditional cooking and the busy schedule of some of the newest and most innovative professional fields.

Enter Fresh233 (formerly known as Green Coast Foods), the answer to the prayers of the modern day man (or woman!) who wants to have it all: the big job, the busy social life, and the traditional, or not-so-traditional, home cooked meal. Fresh233 is an online shopping service that delivers local produce and other goods to your doorstep! With an abundance of such rich and flavorful natural ingredients, it’s a wonder this idea wasn’t developed sooner.

fresh233

The masterminds behind making this idea a reality are Akwasi Tagoe, a KNUST graduate with a degree in Agriculture, and his two friends holding Electrical Engineering BScs from the same university, Kwaku Donkor, and Koby Nkrumah, CEO. The latter has been working with Huawei and has tech knowledge in e-commerce while Tagoe’s work with Avnash Industries took him to various farming communities in Ghana and helped him to identify the gap between the producer and the modern day consumer. “I saw the wastage of food produce due to lack of market or poor pricing of goods by middle-men,” he recounted.

Not only does Fresh233 provide a service to consumers, but it also helps connect local farmers with the market they are looking to target, and provides additional technical support to those in the field. Akwasi Tagoe is doubly inspired to work twice as hard with the platforms dual beneficiaries. “I’m motivated by the fact that not only does Fresh233 provide a service to consumers, but it also helps connect local farmers with the market they are looking to target, and provides additional technical support to those in the field.”

His first foray into the field of agrobusiness came through his Agro-advocacy group for graduates and youth, an online platform titled Graduates in Agriculture, or GRADiA. “It started as a blog,” Akwasi told us, “then I saw an opportunity on the impact it could have if it was a fully functional group.” GRADiA’s vision is to is to create a platform for graduates, students and young entrepreneurs in agriculture to identify potential avenues for growth and development in order to improve upon the value chain system in Ghana and Africa at large.

The Fresh 233 team at your service : Akwasi, Kwaku & Koby (from left to right)

GRADiA and Fresh233 compliment each other perfectly, and as they grow, they can only grow together. They demonstrate Tagoes passion and drive for creating an agricultural and food revolution in Ghana. According to him, passion is indeed the most important element in any entrepreneurial venture: “I think for most entrepreneurs the passion that keeps us going is deeper than we think.”

Akwasi Tagoe describes the innovation landscape in Ghana as very bright. “It’s like a new breed of Ghanaians are rising who want to solve problems and have an impact on the society,” he annotated. In the face of such inspiring ideas as Fresh233, who can help but agree? Just like the produce it sells, Fresh233 is homegrown, connecting rural farmers with an ever-growing and crucial urban consumer population, and with hard work and touch of luck, the immense potential and sustainability of his innovative concept will see Fresh233 through to long term success. No preservatives needed.

Madeline Vellturo

NB : Fresh233 will launch its web platform soon but you can already use their service by Phone.

Startup Profile : Kuzima

This piece is the first of a series of posts featuring the work of inspiring people we met in the process of preparing the first report on the Startup ecosystem in Ghana. Startup Profiles will be included in the final document we are looking forward to share with Investors and Policy-makers at global events such as DEMO Africa  and Angel Fair South Africa. If you are a startup founder, make sure to participate and get a chance to be featured in this blog and/or the report by taking this survey.

Kuzima

Have you ever been so frustrated by poor customer service that you want to rip out your hair and strangle a pillow just to have something to take your frustrations out on? We’ve all been there, haven’t we? And the worst part is knowing that no matter how much we vent, it won’t do any good. The company at fault isn’t going to hear us.

When a young Ghanaian woman’s mobile service provider failed her for the ‘ump-teenth’ time, local entrepreneur Michael Ocansey was thrilled to be able to point her towards Kuzima, a service that allowed her frustrations to be heard. “You should have seen the spark on her face just by knowing there was a place she could vent her frustrations,” Ocansey said, citing the incident as one of highest moments in his young company’s history. “It was very comforting for me to know that people have a need of the service.”

Kuzima.com, the product of Kuzima Ltd, is an online platform for users like you or I to help promote quality customer service by praising companies that provide the general public with services. Kuzima provides two services: a means for consumers to voice their opinions, good and bad, about the customer service they experience from different companies, and a means for corporates to protect their brand by making them aware of what their customers are saying and giving them the opportunity to respond.

Ocansey began Kuzima in 2011, after having worked as a web developer for ten years at various companies. He left behind his typical ‘8-to-5’ position and began Kursor Solutions, his own software development company. Along the way, he felt the need for a forum like Kuzima developing in his mind. “The idea of giving customers a platform for expressing their dissatisfaction came was born out of frustrations I had personally as a customer dealing with so many service providers,” he said in an interview with SliceBiz’s research associate Thomas Prud’homme.

In his work with Kuzima, Ocansey has been motivated by three things: the big and genuine issue that the website is trying to address and fix, the idea that one day Kuzima will create thousands of jobs for talented and educated workers, and his passion for his work. “I just love writing code,” he told us.

Mike Ocansey, founder of Kuzima

It is a good thing Ocansey loves the foundation of what he is doing, because it has been a hard battle getting things started and the work is still not over. Ocansey himself cited a number of challenges he has faced in getting Kuzima off the ground. Having faced the lack of affordable co-working space, the challenge of finding the right people, and above all the challenge of finding capital to help scale, Ocansey had some words of advice for budding entrepreneurs. “Start up properly,” he said. “Put structures in place even if its a one man startup, so when you begin to grow things fall into the structure. Accounting needs to be done right from day one.”

Ocansey, and Kuzima, believe in customer driven business. “The customer is everything,” he recounted. “One happy customer is worth more than a million newspaper adds. A happy customer is a gargantuan billboard for your business.” Perhaps this is why Ocansey is so excited by the future of Ghana’s innovation landscape. “A lot more youth are becoming entrepreneurs. There’ll be more competition. To survive one has to be the best. The best is always a good thing for the customer.”

In a space of increasing technology and distance between the provider and the consumer, services like Kuzima become more and more significant. Ocansey’s business is providing people with the opportunity to communicate with those providing their services. Whether your internet service is giving you a headache (I know mine is!) or your caterers show up an hour late having burned the food, Kuzima provides a space for your experiences to be heard. Change begins by giving people a voice.

Madeline Vellturo

Extras :

Kuzima on Facebook

Kuzima on Twitter

Michael’s personal Blog

Building the Startup Ecosystem in West Africa

The following piece was originally published on Startup Weekend’s Blog.

Nothing could have been more helpful for a self-identified ‘serial entrepreneur’ like myself than the opportunity to network with other brilliant, ambitious and successful women at the We Own It Summit this June in London.

Working on the ground in West Africa, I relish the chance to network with other fearless female entrepreneurs. I have always had a passion for startups, and that passion was highly accelerated when I met my current business partner – together we began to build SliceBiz, a tech startup with the vision to support other African startups through mobile- and web-based crowdfunding. The roots of our company come from great initiatives like GEW and Startup Weekend. My co-founder and I pitched the idea at Startup Weekend Accra, and with a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, we won!

Following that initial success, I entered into a whirlwind of opportunities that helped jump-start our crowdfunding concept – a truly viable and impactful company. SliceBiz went on to be one of three recipients of the Apps4Africa grant and has since been ranked as one of the top 20 startups by the World Bank.

community

With a vision to build the West African Startup ecosystem, SliceBiz partnered with Open University of West Africa to open Hub Accra, Ghana’s first twenty-four hour co-working space. This space compliments the work SliceBiz is doing to support African startups by addressing one of the most crucial needs for young businesses in Africa – the need for support for innovators. Hub Accra addresses high youth unemployment rates by nurturing and incubating local innovators and entrepreneurs.

Through my experiences working with entrepreneurs, and as a female entrepreneur myself, I began to experience an additional set of challenges that I noticed were not experienced by my male counterparts. With the support of Alicia Robb The Next Wave Africa was started to support local female entrepreneurs.

This June I was awarded the opportunity to attend the We Own It Summit  in London by Startup Weekend Europe in conjunction with Up Global. I feel so thrilled to see that Up Global work to support entrepreneurs in emerging markets.

I have returned to Accra where the expansion of SliceBiz and Hub Accra are underway. After a beta run in September, SliceBiz will be launching our platform in October with $100,000 of local and Diaspora funding to invest in the very best startups Ghana has to offer. In addition, SliceBiz in undertaking the research and writing of the first comprehensive report on the startup ecosystem in Ghana.

With regards to the Hub, currently a second story is being added where we intend to launch an accelerator program in September. We have launched a fundraiser on Indiegogo for those interested in supporting innovation in West Africa – you can check it out here.

This has been an incredible journey that has grown into a youth movement to build the startup ecosystem in West Africa.  This has only been possible because of organizations like Startup Weekend & Global Entrepreneurship Week, and their belief that innovation and entrepreneurship can indeed change the world!

Heather Cochran, co-founder and COO of SliceBiz (winners of Startup Weekend Accra) & co-founder of Hub-Accra

You can follow Heather @humanitarian01 and Hub-Accra @hubaccra on Twitter.