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African Start-Ups Boosted By Google Launchpad Accelerator

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Google Launchpad Accelerator is a six-month acceleration program designed to rapidly accelerate the best start-ups from emerging markets. The program starts with a two-week all-expense-paid program in the Launchpad space in San Francisco.

The start-ups face an unrelenting barrage of mentorship sessions, presentations from Googlers and mentors, and topics spanning from goal-setting to artificial intelligence.

I had the chance to be one of the mentors for these start-ups, being in daily contact and observing their progress. The air in the Launchpad space is filled with the wanting to learn new things. The start-ups are picked as the best from their region and immediately subject to questioning everything about their business. The first two days are the most brutal; as a mentor I could see some of the start-ups being deconstructed and having to start again from the beginning.

The one thing that separates all the start-ups in Launchpad from all the others is their drive to solve problems and learn new things. By the third and fourth day of the first week, the teams are already adjusting their strategies and measurable improvements can be seen.

What’s clear from the whole experience is that start-ups, around the whole world, face similar challenges. The camaraderie and connection you see among the start-ups stems from the entrepreneurs being very similar people.

Launchpad is primarily a two-week onsite activity in San Francisco and the following half year support. Launchpad is not asking for any equity in the start-ups. Other accelerator programs, such as Y Combinator and 500 Startups, are longer-term programs which focus on getting investment after going through the acceleration process and connects the start-ups with more external partners. Launchpad picks the best start-ups from emerging markets with existing traction and functioning product and tries to expose them to the Silicon Valley approach as well as the access to Google directly.

What The Google CEO’s Visit To Nigeria Means For Africa

For African start-ups, this is invaluable.

“The biggest struggle for our business is in getting the resources needed for business success – people, finances, and enabling infrastructure,” says Lanre Oyedotun, Co-Founder and CEO of Delivery Science, the start-up that developed FieldInsight, an app that helps organizations obtain data, visibility, and control over everything going on in the field.

“It’s a big struggle to build the right partnerships needed to start and grow the business. When you’re small, it’s quite difficult to partner with bigger organizations,” says Shola Akinlade, Co-Founder and CEO of Paystack, which helps businesses accept payments, from all channels, from their customers.

Organizations don’t get much bigger than Google.

“Google is an iconic company and it has managed to build a reputation for solid technology tools and infrastructure, while maintaining world-class people operations. No organization in the world epitomizes scale more than Google. We want to learn how Google did that, how they managed rapid scaling and how we can apply those lessons to our organization,” says Iyinioluwa Aboyeji, the Managing Director and CEO of Flutterwave, a technology and infrastructure platform for processing payments across Africa.

A large proportion of Africa’s recent economic growth comes from investment in technology. Tech start-ups are important for the development of the continent.

“By 2025 Africa will have 800 million people below the age of 25. Humanity is faced with a potential catastrophe of epic proportions unless they receive adequate capacity development,” says Adetunji Adegbesan, the Founder and CEO of Gidi Mobile, a start-up that uses mastery learning to connect Africans to economic opportunity at scale.

How Tech Can Close The Gap In Africa

To help Africans make the most of this economic opportunity is JUMO, the largest scale, lowest cost financial services platform for emerging markets.

“In the emerging markets, the vast majority of people have no access to good financial choices. We are creating access at an unprecedented rate. We help people to borrow and save at the lowest price and with products that help them improve their lives. JUMO is a multi-bank marketplace where banks compete to give customer the best deal on their phone using only behavioral data,” says Andrew Watkins-Ball, the CEO and Founder of JUMO.

“Launchpad is an incredible opportunity to work with hugely experienced people from a broad array of disciplines, helping us to solve the big challenges that we are experiencing as we scale our company. We are being given incredible access to the Valley eco-system of investors, large businesses and potential mentors. It is great to connect with start-ups from all over the world that are solving really big problems,” says Watkins-Ball.

Africa has many problems to solve and, with the help of Launchpad, these start-ups are doing their bit to provide some of the solutions. – Written by Jan Beránek, Google Launchpad mentor 

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Health

Surge Of Smartphone Apps Promise Coronavirus Tracking, But Raise Privacy Concerns

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Topline: A pan-European team of researchers announced Wednesday their plan to release a smartphone app that would notify users if they’ve been exposed to someone infected with coronavirus, the latest example of tech-driven coronavirus solutions that have also raised concerns about user privacy.

  • A European project called Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing is working toward releasing a coronavirus tracing app in the next week that would use anonymous Bluetooth technology to track when a smartphone comes in close range with another, so if a user were to test positive for coronavirus those at risk of infection could be notified.
  • Contact tracing, or determining people who may have been exposed to someone with a virus, is an established aspect of pandemic control and was used effectively to tackle coronavirus in countries like China, Singapore and South Korea in the form of smartphone tracking.
  • University of Oxford researchers and the U.K. government are working on a similar project— but unlike other smartphone tracking systems, the British version in development would be based on voluntary participation and bet on citizens inputting their information out of a sense of civic duty.
  • The U.S. government is in talks with companies like Facebook FB and Google GOOGL and other tech companies about tracking if users are social distancing using large amounts of anonymous, aggregated location data— this information is less precise, and more likely to anticipate outbreaks rather than pinpoint individuals who have been exposed to the virus.
  • 1.5 million Israelis have voluntarily downloaded a mobile app that alerts users if they’ve come into contact with someone with coronavirus— but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has still ordered that potential coronavirus carriers have their phones monitored, a controversial move the government says is necessary, as the 17% of the population using the app is not enough to fight off the pandemic.  
  • Moscow , on a city-wide lockdown since Monday, announced Wednesday that a new phone app that will officials to track the movements of people diagnosed with coronavirus in the capital city would be launched on Thursday, saying the government will lend a smartphone to anyone unable to download the app.

Crucial quote: “We’re exploring ways that aggregated anonymized location information could help in the fight against [coronavirus]. One example could be helping health authorities determine the impact of social distancing, similar to the way we show popular restaurant times and traffic patterns in Google Maps ,” Google spokesman Johnny Luu told the The Washington Post. He made sure to note it “would not involve sharing data about any individual’s location, movement, or contacts.”

Key background: Private and public entities alike are looking for ways to fight off coronavirus as the pandemic continues. On Wednesday, there were more than 900,000 confirmed cases worldwide and nearly 50,000 deaths.Officials told The New York Times NYT that The National Health Service, Britain’s centralized national health system, is trusted by citizens— and paired with the strong data privacy laws in place, said they think people would agree to join the effort to share their private information to help trace infections. However, American tech firms are reported to still be skeptical about sharing substantial data with the U.S. government ever since Edward Snowden revealed the NSA was collecting information from the firms clandestinely. 

Surprising fact: The information tech companies have access to data that sheds light on Americans’ behavior in light of the coronavirus pandemic. According to a Facebook analysis, restaurant visits fell about 80% in Italy and 70% in Spain— while Americans only stopped eating out at a rate of 31%.

Carlie Porterfield, Forbes Staff, Business

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Apple Is Donating 9 Million Masks To Combat The Coronavirus

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Topline: Apple will donate 9 million N95 protective masks to combat the coronavirus, Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday, making Apple one of several California tech companies pitching in as hospitals across the country report a shortage of protective gear.

  • Pence thanked Apple for agreeing to donate 9 million N95 respirator masks to healthcare facilities across the country during a press briefing on Tuesday.
  • Pence’s remarks come after Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted over the weekend the company was “working to help source supplies for healthcare providers fighting COVID-19” and “donating millions of masks for health professionals in the US and Europe,” but did not offer more specifics.
  • N95 respirators are masks that form a protective seal around a wearer’s mouth, filtering  out at least 95% of particles in the air, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which makes them necessary to protect healthcare workers from being exposed to the disease from patients.
  • Facebook has also said it is donating its stockpile of 720,000 masks purchased during the California wildfires last year, which degraded the air quality in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes asking if all of the donated masks were stockpiled because of the wildfires or if the company got them from somewhere else.

Chief critic: Teddy Schleifer, a reporter at Recode, wrote that health systems shouldn’t rely on the generosity of big tech companies to make up for the failures of the federal government. 

“But there is a risk in relying on corporate philanthropy—rather than the government—in solving this problem. For starters, it depends on the voluntary generosity of these companies to deal with an unprecedented emergency, an altruism that could vanish at any time,” he wrote.

Crucial quote: “And I spoke today, and the president spoke last week, with Tim Cook of Apple. And at this moment in time Apple went to their store houses and is donating 9 million N95 masks to healthcare facilities all across the country and to the national stockpile,” Pence said.

Key background: Apple is one of several California tech companies to give away N95 masks. In addition to Facebook, Salesforce, Tesla and IBM have also announced mask donations.

News peg: Doctors and nurses are sounding the alarm that they don’t have enough masks to protect healthcare workers. Not only does inadequate protective gear put important frontline health workers at risk, public health experts say, any situation endangering medical personnel may only further depletes the U.S. health system which already doesn’t have enough capacity to handle a surge in cases. State officials in New York and Illinois have criticized President Donald Trump for not stepping in to force companies to manufacture masks or allocate masks from private companies to ensure that states don’t outbid each other for the same supplies.

Rachel Sandler, Forbes Staff, Breaking News

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Technology

Video Games Are Being Played At Record Levels As The Coronavirus Keeps People Indoors

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Topline: With school closures, mandatory work-from-home policies and lockdowns taking place in the U.S. as a result of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, gaming has seen higher engagement, especially over this past weekend.

  • Steam, the most popular digital PC gaming marketplace, reached new heights Sunday, drawing a record 20,313,451 concurrent users to the 16-year-old service, according to third-party database SteamDB.
  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, released by Steam-owner Valve in 2012, seems to be the top beneficiary of the increased engagement, breaking it’s all-time peak on Sunday with 1,023,2290 concurrent players, topping its previous peak last month by a million, which itself beat the record set in April 2016.
  • Like other esports, CS:GO has had to cancel events due to the virus, particularly the Intel Extreme Masters in Katowice earlier this month, though its peak viewership reached over a million, making it one of the most watched tournaments in the esports’ history.
  • Activision Blizzard’s new free-to-play battle royale spinoff Call of Duty: Warzone, launched March 10 on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, is also likely benefiting, drawing in a staggering 15 million in three days, besting the record 10 million in three days by last year’s battle royale sensation Apex Legends.
  • These new heights follows similar effects of the virus on China and Italy: Telecom Italia’s CEO told Bloomberg it saw a 70% increase in traffic over its landline network, with Fortnite playing a significant part, while Chinese live-streaming service Douyu experienced increased viewership of the country’s most popular games, according to market analyst Niko Partners.
  • While gaming was considered “recession proof” during the 2008 market crash, stocks aren’t immune to the current historic drops: software developers like Activision Blizzard are facing a 9% decrease in price year-to-date, while hardware companies that rely on Chinese manufacturing like Nintendo are seeing bigger drops of 24%.

What To Watch For: If these records keep rising as the closings and lockdowns continue. Arriving this week is Nintendo’s long-awaited Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Switch console, a relaxing “life-simulator” that’s set to have a big day with many fans not-so-jokingly asking Nintendo to launch early.

Surprising Fact: Plague Inc., a game that tasks players in creating a virus that wipes out humanity, surged in popularity late January, becoming the top-paid game on the Chinese app store at one point, but the game has now been removed in China at the direction of the government.

Further Reading: So You’re Suddenly Working From Home And Want To Try Gaming? Here’s How To Get Started.

Matt Perez, Forbes Staff, Innovation


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