Connecting Africa is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.


Hot startup of the month: Ethiopia's BeBlocky

Article Image
Ethiopian startup BeBlocky is trying to make learning to code easier and more accessible for young people, by turning it into a game.

BeBlocky, which rolled out its first version last year and recently released its fourth update, is a "gamified" learning app for children between the ages of seven and 14. Simply put, the app presents coding concepts in graphical puzzle-style programming blocks, which users "drag and drop" to help Blockys, a friendly robot, solve a range of puzzles.

Kids learn the basics of programming like sequencing, loops, conditionals, functions and variables, going through 100 challenging levels that help them build a good foundation. As they finish each level they are rewarded with virtual coins, which they can later use to buy new Blockys.

"At BeBlocky, we believe coding is the new literacy. Just as reading and writing help us comprehend the world we live in, the same holds true for coding as part of the current digital age," said the startup,s founder and CEO, Nathan Damtew.

"Coding was thought to be a difficult task in the past, unimaginable for many and far-fetched for most. Now is the time to take it to the forefront and make it accessible for everyone."

Damtew has done this by making learning to code more interactive and fun. BeBlocky leverages augmented reality technology to bring the entire game environment to the real world.

BeBlocky rolled out its first version in 2019 and has now released its fourth update.
BeBlocky rolled out its first version in 2019 and has now released its fourth update.

"As kids work on their puzzles, they can go around the game environment to have a better look at the puzzles and experience a new learning way," Damtew said.

The idea for BeBlocky stems from when Damtew went to college in 2014, and realized that most of his colleagues had trouble programming a simple "Hello World" app. While he had at least been introduced to programming in high school, for most it was a new experience.

"Later, I saw my cousins – who were only ten at that time – playing a popular game called Clash of Clans. I had always thought that game was complicated but I was amazed how they seemed to be doing well and enjoying it," he said, realizing that if kids could understand a game as complicated as Clash of Clans, then they could also understand basic programming.

Thus, BeBlocky was born, built to address a very serious problem.

"In a continent where nations are racing to build a digital economy, Africa suffers from a shortage of developers – the architects of this digital economy," Damtew said, citing figures that say that over the next two decades, machine learning, robots and automation will replace about 47% of current jobs.

"There is a growing understanding around the world that knowing how to program is essential, especially for younger generations. Coding is an invaluable skill that not enough Africans in the workforce master. With less than 1% of African children leaving school with basic knowledge of coding, it will take us way longer to catch up," Damtew explained.

BeBlocky is doing its bit to address this from a young age, and Damtew said it fits nicely into a growing segment that is teaching Africans of various ages to code, alongside the likes of Andela, Decagon and Gebeya, the latter also from Ethiopia.

"In a continent where the population exceeds 1.2 billion, and with an alarming birth rate, I believe there are not enough companies working to address the issue we are trying to solve," he said.

BeBlocky founder and CEO Nathan Damtew.
BeBlocky founder and CEO Nathan Damtew.

Coding for all
Key to success is ensuring the app is available to as many people as possible. BeBlocky was built to be accessible and affordable, and is available on the widely used Android platform. It is small in size, doesn't take much data to download, and works fully offline. It offers a free subscription for a single user, and has subsequent special volume pricing packages for multiple users, starting at US$2 per month.

"This allows us to reach as many beneficiaries as possible and address the issue on a large scale," Damtew added.

The app has already been downloaded 10,000 times, mostly in Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.

"Seeing our app downloaded everywhere and people reaching out to us to give us their feedback, and asking us when the iOS version will be available, made us feel like we're heading the right way," he said. "We've improved a lot of features based on our users' feedback and we're working on a lot of amazing features to give the children the best experience when learning to code using our app."

The startup has taken on a small amount of pre-seed capital so far, but is looking out for investors to join a seed round to help it grow. Damtew has big ambitions.

"We started off primarily targeting the African continent. We have also seen an uptick in users from countries such as India, the US, UK, and a few other European countries," he said.

"This has helped us understand that BeBlocky is a good fit for the rest of the world and not just Africa. As we expand, we have been considering an all-inclusive platform that also relates to the Western countries."

African uniqueness
Jennifer Otieno is founder of a host of ed-tech ventures in East Africa, and now heads up Education Design Unlimited (EDU), a consulting firm that helps education organizations worldwide create greater impact through data-driven research and design.

She says BeBlocky is "standing on the shoulders" of early ed-tech giants like Globaloria, founded in 2006 and acquired in 2017, and MIT's Scratch, first publicly released in 2007, in bringing fun learn-to-code apps to kids. Yet it is distinctly Africa-focused.

"Their addition of augmented reality features and locally relevant characters makes this app unique and attractive to the new generation of African children and youth," Otieno said.

It is also addressing a willing market. East African governments are beginning to acknowledge the importance of digital literacy, and adding this to their curricula, while the COVID-19 pandemic has also been beneficial in the sense that it has created a "forcing mechanism" and elevated the importance of ed-tech into the broader education narrative.

"We're yet to see how things will evolve post-COVID, but our hope is that the public system and parents will now be willing to make the investments needed to fully embrace ed-tech," added Otieno.

BeBlocky leverages augmented reality technology to bring the game environment into the real world.
BeBlocky leverages augmented reality technology to bring the game environment into the real world.

Platforms like BeBlocky are extremely important, she said, as they create an opportunity for "anytime, anywhere" learning that is not restricted to a classroom.

Damtew believes that technology is reshaping all areas of our life, and hopes BeBlocky can play a major role in equipping children with builder skills, such as thinking, prototyping and programming, while leveraging their imaginations and creativity.

"These skills are vital for them to become innovators and creators no matter what discipline they choose to pursue. Computational thinking will soon permeate every field, so understanding computational logic and learning how to program at an early age will arm kids with the tools they'll need to succeed in the near future," Damtew said.

"I believe digital literacy is the great equalizer. Technology will continue to be a driving force in education. We at BeBlocky believe that we can enable kids to change their economic trajectory, by providing them with the skills that will one day help them in acquiring the best tech jobs possible."

Related posts:

— Tom Jackson, co-founder of Disrupt Africa, special to Connecting Africa

Innovation hub


Hot startup of the month: South Africa's Zoie Health

This month's hot startup is South African digital women's health clinic Zoie Health – a digital app that focuses on family planning, fertility and maternity care.


Orange Côte d'Ivoire launches 5G lab in Abidjan

Pan-African telecoms operator, Orange, has launched a 5G lab in Côte d'Ivoire in anticipation of its 5G network rollout in 2023.

More Innovation hub

Partner perspectives

5G is lighting up the future of North Africa
By Chris Meng, VP of Huawei Northern Africa Carrier Business Department

The moving target that is telecoms fraud
By Clémentine Fournier, Regional VP Sales, Africa, BICS

How mobile operators in Africa can address signalling threats and secure the network
By Katia Gonzalez, Head of Fraud and Security at BICS

All Partner Perspectives

Africa Tech Perspectives


Women in Tech: Spotlight on inclusivity with Digital Council Africa's Juanita Clark

Digital Council Africa founder and CEO, Juanita Clark, talks to Connecting Africa as part of our Women's Month series about her career and what needs to be done to make the tech industry intentionally inclusive.


Women in Tech: Spotlight on legal tech with Life.file's Sinal Govender

Life.file co-founder, Sinal Govender, talks to Connecting Africa as part of our Women's Month series about her career and how we can encourage more young girls to enter the legal tech field.


Digital inclusion as a catalyst for economic empowerment: Mastercard's Imelda Ngunzu

Mastercard's Imelda Ngunzu talks to Connecting Africa about how digital payment solutions and mobile money are transforming the lives of small business owners, women and marginalized groups in East Africa.

More AfricaCom perspectives

Latest video

More videos

Industry announcements

More Industry announcements

Guest Perspectives


Omdia View: July 2022

By Omdia Analysts

Kenya and Zambia move towards 5G with new spectrum allocations while Tunisie Telecom plans to shut down its 3G network - that and more in this month's Omdia View.


Omdia View: June 2022

By Omdia Analysts

5G was the major news trend across Africa in June, as Orange became the first operator to launch 5G in Réunion and operators in Senegal accelerated their 5G plans despite spectrum delays.

More Guest Perspectives

Upcoming events

Africa Tech Festival
November 7-11, 2022
CTICC, Cape Town
More Upcoming events

Archived webinars

Africa Green ICT: Lighting Up a Sustainable Continent

The ICT industry is the leading industry in the commitment to carbon neutrality, whose focus has shifted from setting ambitious targets to taking initiatives. The push for zero-carbon and for green energy development, it isn't just about CSR – it's also good for sustainable business.

The path to sustainable development requires green energy. Governments are looking at potential policy approaches to make green energy more widely available and affordable. Without sustainable energy, there will be no digital transformation and no chance of making Africa more economically competitive in the post-pandemic era.

Africa Green ICT Webinar 2022 will bring together ICT industry leaders and senior industrial analysts to provide insight, best practices and key learnings on how to achieve zero-carbon targets and practice green development in Africa.

More Webinars

Sponsored video

More videos

Flash poll

All polls

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign Up