Google Launchpad and Google Play South Africa were launched in November 2017 to boost African technology start-ups and develop a unique African design aesthetic.

The two initiatives will be based entirely in Africa, including in South Africa, and will offer budding and experienced tech entrepreneurs and designers hands-on and direct access to the Google brain trust, which will help them develop their ideas.

Google Launchpad

The Google Developers Launchpad Africa Space was opened on 13 November in Lagos, Nigeria. It will interact directly with tech entrepreneurs in that country, as well as offer support and software tools to help build sustainable tech business ideas from the rest of Africa.

The Lagos operation is the first of its kind to be established outside the United States. The programme is accepting applications for its first onsite and online courses, beginning in early 2018.

Applications are open to tech start-ups with their own seed funding from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. Those chosen to participate in the three-month programme will receive more than $3-million (R42m at today’s exchange rate) in equity-free support, working space, travel and public relations support, as well as access to Silicon Valley tech business experts over three years.

Google’s sub-Saharan Africa regional manager, Andy Volk, said Google had been looking for ways to get more involved in African tech businesses for a number of years. With an increasingly favourable tech business climate and a surge of unique technology ideas coming out of the continent, the time was right to begin building business relationships.

“Anyone who spends time in the African technology space knows that the continent is home to some exciting innovations,” Volk told IOL News. “[Google’s small-scale engagement with African start-ups so far] has been able to tackle everything from healthcare, education and streamlining e-commerce to improving the food supply chain.”

It was now time, he said, to step that up and open opportunities to more African ideas: “We are looking forward to welcoming the first cohort of innovators for Launchpad Africa and continuing to work together to drive innovation in the African market.”

One example of the Google effect on African tech innovation is the South African start-up Jumo, a financial services platform aimed at emerging markets. The company was the first and so far most successful start-up to go through the Launchpad accelerator.

Company founders and some staff attended an intensive two-week boot camp at Google headquarters in California in July 2017. The two weeks were aimed at building the business and developing tools that would increase its footprint in offering easy-to-use financial services on mobile platforms.

The company received a $50,000 funding boost, and benefits from ongoing support and mentorship.