By Wendy Lung
If you ask people what they see as challenges in the venture capital environment in Africa, you will hear a few common themes: the lack of seed and early stage capital, the need for mentoring and knowledge transfer, the need for greater global networking, and the lack of exit opportunities.
While these genuine challenges exist, there is much to be excited about in the growth of venture in Africa and how VCs are addressing these challenges.
I had the chance to catch up with Mbwana Alliy when he was visiting San Francisco last month. Mbwana is the Managing Director of Savannah Fund, a seed capital fund specializing in early stage high growth technology startups in sub-Saharan Africa. Based in Nairobi, Savannah Fund has a unique model of combining venture capital with mentor networks both in the region and from Silicon Valley via an accelerator program. Continue Reading »
IBM Watson is famous for its escapades on the Jeopardy! TV quiz show. IBM has been collaborating with oncologists to leverage the question-answering technology in deciding on the best medical treatments for individual patients. And, in recent months, IBM has been engaging with businesses to put Watson to work in banks, retail stores, and corporate offices. IBM Researchers have their own ideas–featured in the 5in5 predictions. But it’s clear that there will be no end of uses for cognitive computing technologies like Watson that can learn, reason and interact with humans in ways that are more natural to us.
That’s where you come in. As a scientist, an engineer, a marketer, or an entrepreneur, your skills and ideas will be essential for inventing the new era. For consumers of technology, social networking gives you a seat at the table where the future is being designed. Your voices will shape the thinking of technologists and the services they offer to you. Continue Reading »
Software people don’t just code, it’s a problem solving mindset. The proof is in the cloud. Every part of the IT infrastructure has moved to the cloud because software people have made it reliable, scalable, and secure.
Jeff Lawson, who developed “software people” chops at Amazon, StubHub and others, saw an opportunity to move one of the few remaining industries to the cloud: telecommunications, where installing boxes in closets, and upgrading them every 10 years is still the norm.
In 2008, he and co-founder Evan Cooke started Twilio – a solution that took the communications out of the closet and onto the cloud for others to create new and innovative services. The Smarter Planet blog caught up with Lawson recently to get his views on scaling audio and video on the cloud, its impact on the industry, and innovation. Continue Reading »
By Michael Karasick
As a computer scientist and director of one of IBM’s global research laboratories, I find it fascinating to trace the repeated patterns in the history of computing. Typically, the Next Big Thing spends years in incubation, either as military initiatives (the first electronic computers), consumer phenomena (the PC) or science projects (the World Wide Web). But, ultimately, these advances are adopted by business enterprises, where they’re deployed at massive scale to make organizations more efficient and effective—and, ultimately, to drive growth and dynamism in the global economy. Continue Reading »
By Steve Hamm
Picture yourself entering a popular e-commerce Web site or opening a mobile shopping app and being greeted immediately by a virtual shopping assistant that’s every bit as helpful as the best clerk you ever met in a brick-and-mortar store. Actually, better. This assistant knows everything there is to know about the store’s merchandise and the situations in which it’s used. But it’s also the ultimate personal shopper. It knows who you are and what you like, and it learns more from interacting with you and presents you choices in a visually engaging way.
That’s just the kind of experience that Fluid Inc., a San Francisco-based digital commerce company, plans on offering through its many e-commerce clients, starting with TheNorthFace.com.The technology underlying the service is IBM Watson, which created a splash two years ago when it defeated two grand-champions on the TV quiz show Jeopardy! Embedded within e-commerce Web sites, Watson has the potential to transform the online shopping experience.“Watson is a turning point in technology,” says Brooke Aguilar, vice-president for Fluid’s Watson application strategy. “It shows how consumers will engage with computers in the future.” Continue Reading »
By Steve Hamm
Charity Wayua grew up in rural Kenya and did not use a computer till she was 17. Through hard work, Charity excelled academically and landed a scholarship from the Zawadi Africa Education Fund, which provides support for disadvantaged African women pursuing university educations. She got her undergraduate degree from Xavier University and a PhD in chemistry from Purdue University, both in the United States. Now she’s back in Africa—a fresh hire at the newly opened IBM Research lab in Nairobi.
She always planned on returning home after completing her studies. “I wanted to come back to be part of creating solutions for the continent, doing work that would make a difference for people here,” she says. Continue Reading »
By Claudia Fan Munce
Starting a business is no easy task. According to even the most optimistic studies, three out of every four startups fail, equaling only a 25 percent success rate. To combat these odds, entrepreneurs must search for new ways to gain a competitive edge, network with the right people (foster make-or-break relationships with them), and most importantly, raise funds.
Because they themselves have learned what it takes to succeed, corporations are quickly becoming an important support system for entrepreneurs. According to the National Venture Capital Association, in the first half of 2013, corporate VCs invested an estimated $1.38 billion in 303 deals. Since launching in 2010, IBM’s Global Entrepreneur Program has helped startups through mentorship and partnership rather than direct funding—a unique approach compared to other large organizations. Continue Reading »
By Takreem El-Tohamy
There’s a wonderful word in Swahili that I think expresses one of the imperatives for the future of Africa. The word is “harambee.” It means pulling together, collaborating and supporting each other. I believe that one of the key factors in the ability of African countries to create sustainable and equitable economic growth will be the emergence of innovation ecosystems. Harambee perfectly captures an essential element of such ecosystems—the ability of institutions and individuals to pull together and build a mutually supportive environment.
Innovation ecosystems are complex organisms that are difficult to create yet tremendously powerful when they work. Think Silicon Valley. They require a melding of all of the capabilities of governments, businesses, financiers, universities, and individuals. Together, these organizations and individuals provide the web of support that makes it easier for startups to launch and grow quickly, and for established companies to innovate more aggressively. With that kind of support, African entrepreneurs and businesses will find it easier to produce new products and services, or even create whole new industries. You can think of an innovation ecosystem as a collective intelligence—harnessed for the good of society. Continue Reading »