African innovation catches investor attention African innovation catches investor attention

African innovation catches investor attention

    NHK International News Division Correspondent
    Foreign money has been flowing into Africa in recent years. Investment has jumped fourfold in four years. In countries like Kenya, the rapid development of telecom technology is giving rise to creative ideas and investment opportunities.

    Kenyan entrepreneur Abdulaziz Omar originally wanted to become a civil servant. He passed his exams, but missed out on his dream job because the post office couldn't get the letter of acceptance to him in time.

    In Kenya, where residential addresses are few, getting your mail isn't always easy. People can rent post-office boxes to receive letters or parcels, but those boxes are expensive and in short supply.

    So Abdulaziz came up with an idea. Almost everyone in the country has a mobile phone. Even in the savanna grasslands where there's no running water or electricity, people have solar panels to charge mobile phones equipped with GPS or other tracking systems.
    He created a service called MPost that allows people to track deliveries and receive them wherever they happen to be.

    Kenyan entrepreneur Abdulaziz Omar is creating new cell phone-based services.

    "Necessity is the mother of innovation," says Abdulaziz "Failing to get that job inspired me to do this."

    MPost quickly caught the eye of Japanese investor Takuma Terakubo, who backed it with 100,000 dollars.

    Kenyan postal service "Mpost" allows cell phone users to receive parcels wherever they are.

    The Kenyan government is throwing its weight behind MPost as a way to improve the country's mail service. Around 40,000 users have signed up so far.

    Terakubo says the idea has huge potential for Kenya. "Improving distribution can have an enormous impact, accelerating an economy," he says.

    Terakubo's investment business was inspired by his student days when he visited a developing country. He says he was impressed by local entrepreneurs trying to make things more convenient in people's daily lives. He thought people like that could transform the world.

    Japanese investor Takuma Terakubo talks with Kenyan entrepreneurs.

    Last year he launched a venture capital firm specializing in Africa. He takes funding from Japanese firms and invests in promising African entrepreneurs.

    Terakubo now wants to link the postal service in Kenya with other businesses. MPost has created a new potential for online retailing in Kenya, and Terakubo currently has his eye on a company that wants to supply gas to households.

    Gas isn't piped into homes in Kenya. People need to go to petrol stations to fill up tanks with the fuel.

    The company Terakubo is looking at wants to take orders for tanks via the web, and deliver to people's homes.

    Japan's Honda Motor also sees great potential in Kenya. If demand for delivery services increases, so will the market for their motorbikes.
    Honda's executives are looking at ways to allow people to start jobs that require wheels, even if they don't have the funds to buy a bike. One idea is to offer the bikes on credit, and deduct money from their earnings.

    A Honda Motor representative sees growth potential in the motorbike market.

    Terakubo says Japanese companies have been behind the curve when it comes to investing in Africa, but he sees the continent as a land of opportunity.

    "I think our company can find opportunities there, and if we can find solutions that work in Africa, we can acquire the knowhow to tackle challenges anywhere in the world," he says.

    The old model of developed countries helping Africa may be giving way to a new paradigm, where African is the innovator that attracts international attention and capital.