Microsoft announced yesterday (26 June) that it will award seed grants of an undisclosed amount to six innovative African businesses via it’s Affordable Access Initiative (AAI) which aims to create academic and economic opportunities for startups to deliver internet and energy access to rural communities. Official announcement: https://www.microsoft.com/africa/4afrika/affordable-access-fund.aspx

AAI seed grants empower startups to offer internet, energy access to rural communities
The seed initiative focuses on startups using alternative broadcasting methods including last-mile internet access technologies such as TV white space. Other areas that AAI is focusing on include energy access for off-grid communities and Internet of Things (IoT) for agriculture.

Six African startups receive Microsoft’s Affordable Access Initiative seed grants
Six African startups receive Microsoft’s Affordable Access Initiative seed grants

Microsoft’s Affordable Access Initiative aims to democratize access to the Internet through grants, commercial partnerships, connecting new leaders and community engagement. Grant recipients are already addressing a range of challenges that take advantage of last-mile access technologies such as TV white spaces, and their business models also demonstrate the ability to scale up and be market-sustained. Grant recipients are based across five continents in 11 countries: Argentina, Botswana, India, Indonesia, Malawi, Nigeria, Philippines, Rwanda, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States. In addition to financial support, grant recipients will have access to the following:
• A global network connecting social enterprises with peers and mentors to develop and share best practices
• Participation in annual immersive summits and monthly virtual touchpoints, alongside ongoing support from Microsoft’s Research and Development team.

Recipients will also receive hundreds of free training classes and other technical content through the Microsoft BizSpark programme and get development and testing software that famous Microsoft suite products viz. Azure, Windows, Visual Studio, Office & SQL Server. In addition recipients will also receive mentorship and access to the company’s extensive network of entrepreneurs.

The recipients for the AAI initiative are:

  • Kukua Weather Services — Is a Ugandan social enterprise which aims to help farmers better utilise information on the weather to improve their crops. The grant will help Kukua conduct an impact study in Uganda to further develop its app, delivery channels, products and to scale up
  • Solaris Offgrid — This Tanzanian energy startup uses a pay-as-you-go platform to assist communities in getting affordable access to energies
  • Standard Microgrid — Standard Microgrid is a Zambian startup which uses microgrid solar packages together with IoT home sensors. The seed grant will help the company roll out of 150 units in Zambia
  • SunCulture — SunCulture is an agricultural startup based in Kenya helping smallholder farmers to improve their crop yields using solar-powered irrigation systems. The funding by Microsoft will help the startup to expand its current irrigation systems by adding sensors, camera technology and drones
  • VisionNet — VisionNet provides rural university students in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with good internet access. The seed grant will help increase VisionNet’s hotspot coverage and WiFi services, as well as assist its employees with training and capacity building focusing on women in scienceAlex Okuonzi Bahati, the founder of VisionNet’s Pocket Cyber Cafes, said the idea for his solution was motivated by the high cost of internet access in the country – “The internet was so expensive and considered to be a luxury.” he said. “I had to pay $1 to have access to the internet for 15 minutes, which was not enough time to perform my assignments.”
  • WrightGrid — WrightGrid is a startup from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which designs, develops, manufactures and deploys solar-powered phone charging and WiFi stations in public spaces. The AAI seed grant will assist WrightGrid in deploying 15 solar powered phone charging stations

Update:

Microsoft has released a new list of African startups selected by the AAI initiative. More information about their solutions and Microsoft’s commitment to affordable access can be found at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/affordable-access-initiative/home.

Power Solutions
African Renewable Energy Distributor (Rwanda) (A. R. E. D.)
New Sun Road (Uganda)

Hardware Solutions
Zaya Learning Labs (India)

Connectivity Solutions
AirJaldi (India)
Axiom Technologies (United States)
C3: Communications Consulting Centre (Malawi)
Ekovolt (Nigeria)
Wi-Fi Interactive Network (Philippines)

Application Solutions
Kelase (Indonesia)
Movivo (United Kingdom)
Tambero.com (Argentina)
• VistaBotswana (Botswana)

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