Africa's talking incubator for software engineers

Africa’s Talking, a pan-African API platform, is working on an entrepreneur in residence incubator for software engineers under its AT Labs arm. This was revealed by Graham Muhanga, who is leading AT Labs, on his visit to Uganda two weeks ago.

“Some clients come and tell us, ‘give us a solution’, [but] we don’t want to build [solutions],” Graham said. Adding that “we don’t build client-facing applications.” The company is, thus, deciding to partner with software engineers to address that.

Though, the company had pointed it out as one of the projects they would double down on after raising $8.6 million from IFC and Orange Digital Ventures earlier this year. Though, it was referred to as Africa’s Talking Studio.

“AT studio is a space where we take in brilliant engineers and support them as they build tech products. They will sit with us in our office and we will provide them with support and mentorship,” wrote Africa’s Talking on their blog.

The program will see Africa’s Talking partner with a client to identify a local problem.

“There is a process where we identify a local challenge with our partners,” Graham said. They then pair the challenge with the engineers(s) that have the necessary skills to solve it. Though, they will focus on using local engineers for each country.

“In Africa, the first thing we learned is that if you are in Uganda, hire Ugandans. If you are in Kenya, hire Kenyans,” Graham noted. “You will not see a Kenyan software engineer building a Ugandan solution.”

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To join, engineers can apply to join the AT Labs without having any problem they are looking to solve in mind. However, those who also have developed MVPs to a problem they have identified can also apply.

Entrepreneurs in the incubation program will get a salary and access to all the day to day needs from Africa’s Talking.

“[We’ll] pay them a salary, hire for them, give them legal, give them business development, give them accountants and give them an office,” said Graham. “The only thing they do is to build that idea.”

Currently, AT Labs is only in Nairobi and under what you may call a probation phase with a focus on only six sectors. These are; Entertainment, Health, IoT and Fabrication, Payments, Infrastructure as a Service (cloud/hosting) and Education.

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The companies currently under the program are; Duara (hosting), Alika (Entertainment), Fablab (makers space), Breastkids (teaching kids to code), Focus Mobile (customer management platform) and more.

In exchange for the support to entrepreneurs, Africa’s Talking takes a stake in each venture. “We take between 20% to 40% of these companies because we are giving you everything,” Graham pointed out.

Though, the program will be rolled out in countries where Africa’s Talking operates. Though, solutions that are scalable beyond their local market will, of course, be scaled into more countries where Africa’s Talking operates.

Founded in 2010 in Nairobi, Africa’s Talking currently operates in 10 African countries. According to Graham’s estimate, this number will likely triple to over 29 by close of 2019. The company is also integrated with a total of 25 telecom companies across Africa.

It is thus looking to use the above as a value proposition to attract the engineers who want to start startups. The other value proposition is the ability of the ventures developed under AT Labs to leverage the ecosystem.

“We are building an ecosystem [and] want all the companies that come into the ecosystem to leverage from each other,” Graham pointed out. “For example, if you are building a hosting company, then all these companies can host on your platform.”

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