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Innovation Hub

Interview: Qualcomm execs on mentorship for African startups

Qualcomm Technology VP for Engineering, Sudeepto Roy, and Elizabeth Migwalla, VP for Government Affairs, join Connecting Africa for an interview about Qualcomm's Make in Africa Mentorship Program.

Ten startups from across Africa were chosen for the inaugural seven-month mentorship program, part of the Qualcomm Africa Innovation Platform announced in December 2022.

The startups – based in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Rwanda – were selected from a pool of over 550 applicants from 34 African countries.

Roy and Migwalla spoke about the types of innovations they are hoping the program will help to create and how important diversity is in Africa's startup ecosystem. Roy said Qualcomm sought out women entrepreneurs to encourage them to apply for the program to improve gender balance.

"About 20% of startups [globally] are headed by women, but the amount of VC funding [for women-led startups] is in the pathetic single digits. Yet, if you go and look at small and medium enterprises, more than half are run by women. This is something that drives Qualcomm," Roy told Connecting Africa.

The selected startups are developing innovative products in clean energy, agricultural technology, computing for education, geospatial predictive analysis, medical technologies and innovations utilizing electric vehicles. Several startups also feature women in prominent leadership roles.

The Qualcomm executives also discuss how valuable the role of mentorship is in the process of building a successful innovation company and how the program has been designed to add to the continued growth of the continent's technology startup ecosystem.

"We realized that it's well and good to have adopters of technology on the continent but given where things are going with 5G being a platform that enables innovation and with Africa's young population, that youth dividend fits in very well with the capabilities that 5G can enable. We thought that if we could convert that into innovators and inventors, because remember they're the future consumers, that interface would create the kind of effect we've seen in other regions," added Migwalla.

"We believe that startups based in Africa are best placed to identify uniquely African problems that can be solved through end-to-end systems solutions and new business models," she said.

The shortlisted companies and their technology solutions are:

  • Ecorich Solutions patented organic composting in Kenya

  • Fixbot Vehicle diagnostics and inspection via OBD dongle in Nigeria

  • Karaa e-Bike tracking, charging, retrofit and rentals in Uganda

  • Maotronics Systems Limited IOT-enabled precision agriculture in Nigeria

  • Microfuse Affordable plugin computers for the education sector in Uganda

  • Neural Labs Africa Deep learning and computer vision for healthcare diagnosis in Kenya and Senegal

  • OneTouch Diagnostics Diabetes patch and monitoring system in Nigeria

  • QuadLoop Leveraging e-waste for solar e-lanterns and battery storage in Nigeria.

  • SLS Energy Recycled lead-cell battery storage banks in Rwanda

  • SolarTaxi Electric vehicle (EV) taxi and fleet management in Ghana

    — Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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