By Stephen Timm
Digital All Stars is a series of articles which aims to celebrate the best of South African digital. The articles, which will appear on Memeburn and Ventureburn, recognise and celebrate South Africa’s best digital entrepreneurs, business people, advertisers, and media professionals among others.
In this piece we take a look at some interesting African startups involved in developing artificial intelligence (AI) solutions.
South African startup DataProphet last year received a significant investment of an undisclosed amount from Yellowwoods Capital Holdings to expand its international offering. As part of the deal, DataProphet will act as the advanced analytics partner for the group.
The startup, based in Cape Town, has developed various machine-learning interventions, mainly for the finance and insurance sector. It has also added a number of large industrial and fast-moving consumer goods clients, some of which are international clients.
Among the applications the startup has designed are a conversational agent for inquiries and a solution to detect emotion via image which has been integrated into a game for major Japanese publisher Bandai Namco.
Daniel Schwartzkopff (pictured left with co-founder Frans Cronje) says four years on the company has seen it now turning a profit and no longer relying on “burning VC funds”.
The company has 18 employees and Schwartzkopff says their immediate plans include fleshing out its product offering for the conversational agent and expanding overseas sales, primarily in the US (the company already has a sales office in San Francisco).
“It is very cost effective for US businesses to utilise DataProphet as we have a major cost advantage by operating out of SA,” he adds.
Founded in 2011 by Dayne and Ryan Falkenberg (pictured here) and Mark Pederson, the Stellenbosch-based company uses virtual advisors on artificial intelligence platforms to advise sales and technical consultants.
The platform has been adopted by a wide number of large organisations in the banking, insurance, telecommunications, oil & gas, software and electronics sectors. These clients typically have large numbers of staff dealing with sales, service and operations.
Clevva has since its inception been entirely self-funded by the company’s co-founders and directors. At present the company has a team of seven.
The startup has been recognised by a wide range of industry bodies, including being showcased by Gartner in 2015 as one of six African Innovations and selected by Microsoft to be part of its BizSpark programme.
Clevva is looking to expand globally, starting with the UK and Australia and then heading to the US in the next 12 to 18 months.
Founded by Benji Meltzer and James Paterson (pictured left and right, respectively) in 2014, Cape Town based Aerobotics develops AI systems for drones.
The company uses AI to assist farming consultants in South Africa, Australia and the UK to analyse processed maps and extract actionable information to identify problem areas in crops such as wheat, macadamia nuts, citrus and sugar cane. This enables the company to develop variable rate fertilisation application maps and predict the yield of crops.
“We have built technology that goes as far as identifying and classifying individual trees (using computer vision and machine learning) and then additional algorithms that track each of these trees, with a number of metrics per tree (health, biomass, canopy area, etc) over time,” explains Meltzer.
So far, the startup, which has 11 employees and has previously been selected for Startupbootcamp Insurtech accelerator programme in London, has used its own funds to finance operations, but signed a term sheet in March for its first round of funding.
“The tech is at a point now where we’re ready to scale operations and we’re looking to build partnerships with major players in industry. In the future we’d like to explore additional industries that would be interested in this data,” says Meltzer.
Nigerian startup Kudi.ai has developed a chatbot which allows users to make payments and send money to friends and family in Nigeria via messaging. The company is a graduate of the YCombinator Winter 2017 batch.
Pelumi Aboluwarin (pictured above, left with co-founder Yinka Adewale) says the founders began working on Kudi in July last year. “We registered an entity two months after and ran a private beta in December 2016. We launched publicly in January 2017,” says Aboluwarin. The company has seven employees.
The company uses AI to understand user requests, drive conversations, understand user spending habits and prevent fraud. “We developed it in-house using a variety of machine learning techniques,” says Aboluwarin.
The startup has put together a business-to-business solution too, which it is piloting with banks and telecommunication companies.
“After YCombinator we’ve raised additional seed funding from a group of angel investors in the valley and in Nigeria,” says Aboluwarin.
Founded by former equity-derivatives specialist Annabel Dallamore (pictured here) together with Julian Dallamore and Mark Karimov in 2013, Johannesburg startup Stockshop.co.za offers a number of artificial intelligence solutions to financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies.
These include a conversational user interface (a bot in its infancy) that match-makes available financial consultants or brokers with client leads. The startup has also developed a bot interface that completes real-time identity verification checks on behalf of banks and financial institutions in line with requirements under the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA).
The startup has also developed a solution that uses an algorithm that pairs financial behaviour, spending and other data along with emotional cues and provides clients with assistance around financial matters such as payments, administration, rewards, education, analytics and tracking.
It’s also launched a micro-insurance platform in April that is unique to the African market.
In 2013 the company received support from the Seed Engine accelerator and has raised funding from two angel investors and a venture capital fund, for an undisclosed sum. It now has 11 employees.
Nigerian startup Aajoh uses artificial intelligence to help individuals that send a list of their symptoms via text, audio and photographs, to diagnose their medical condition.
The business was started in February last year — by Simi Adejumo (who is the CEO and pictured above), Zuby Onwuta, Vikas Ramachandra, Ike Ilochonwu and Charles Ademola — with an angel investment of $10 000.
The company has two companies and 35 users signed up for its pilot programme. “Our present go-to-market strategy involves getting companies to sign up to the platform as part of staff health benefits,” says Adejumo.
Adejumo said the app won’t replace medical diagnoses but will allow doctors to make the best use of their time by allowing them to focus on the patients that need physical care.
“In frontier markets, there’s a high patient to doctor ratio with Nigeria having a 4000 to one patient-to-doctor ratio, in proper context on the average an individual spends about 20 minutes with a GP, so assuming the population fell ill (all) at once, it would take over 55 days to get care,” he says.
The company’s immediate plans are to grow its pilot programme and then expand to India. “By August we aim to have implemented partnerships with key pharmacies across Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria and increased our user base to 1000.”
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