Innovation season at Google as applications open for Launchpad programme, Google News Initiative

A Kenyan digital banking start-up that focuses on cooperatives grew its user base from 200 to 20,000 in 3-months, after participating in the Google Launchpad Accelerator Africa programme, along with 11 other start-ups across Africa; three of which came from Nigeria. It was not an isolated success story when the third class of the programme graduated last week, and with applications now open, more start-ups can hope to become success stories in a near future.

The Launchpad programme has over the years, assisted start-ups to scale and become competitive to deliver value across the African continent. During the graduation event in Lagos, BusinessDay got to interact with some of the recent success stories, including Kwara, a digital banking platform from Kenya that has seen its user base grow by a 100-fold.

Cynthia Wandia, CEO of Kwara in an interview, said the platform had 200 members on its platform before joining the launchpad programme, and 3 months later, has grown its user base to 20,000. Furthermore, from less than 1,000 loans disbursed in over a year of being in operation, it now currently has 11,000 loans on its platform.

“Some of the experiences from LaunchPad helped us to focus on one product,” said Wandia, CEO of Kwara in an interview. “We had multiple products for which we had ideas, but one key learning was to focus on just one.” Over the three month period, the start-up was able to validate this by bringing onboard a large customer (a cooperative in Kenya), and this, Wandia said was “definitely as a result of putting their attention on the main product,” courtesy of knowledge from the programme.

Kwara provides cooperatives with an affordable platform that can be used to run their daily operations; keep records of members, take deposits, calculating loans and digitizing process of approvals for loans.

The graduating startups now form part of Google Launchpad Accelerator Africa’s alumni along with the 23 startups from Classes 1 and 2 who between them, Google says have created 385 direct jobs and raised over $19-million before, during and after they participated in the programme.

Class 4 will kick off later this year, and see another 10-12 African start-ups complete the three-month acceleration programme. Applications for Class 4 opened on 21 June – and will be open until 26 July.

It would not be out place to say it is currently innovation season at Google, as, apart from the launchpad applications, this week the Google News Initiative also opened for applications in the Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

The Google News Initiative (GNI) Innovation Challenge is now accepting proposals for projects from news organisations of every size to address increasing engagement with readers and/or exploring new business models in any form such as subscriptions, membership programmes, and so on. Traditional publishers, news start-ups and associations that aim to build innovative digital media projects are all eligible to apply. Projects can be highly experimental, but must have well-defined goals and have a significant digital component.

A panel will evaluate the submissions and fund selected projects up to $150 thousand, with funding for up to 70 percent of the total project cost. The funding will be reviewed against several criteria, including a “sharing component” –  for example, a project proposal can include publishing findings or holding a public seminar to encourage applicants to share the knowledge and learnings to others.

Applicants can make project submissions until Monday, September 2 at 23:59 GMT.  More information on eligibility, rules and criteria, and funding will be published on the GNI website. For more information, applicants may reach out directly to the GNI Project team, by emailing meagnichallenge@google.comThe GNI Project Team will also be holding an online town hall webinar session to give further information and to answer questions. This will take place on Wednesday, July 3rd at 10 AM GMT (11 AM London time).



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