Funding Agriculture: Unearthing Africa’s Potential

Alex Muriu in a superhero stance after the conclusion of GIST Tech-I 2013 competition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Alex Muriu in a superhero stance after the conclusion of GIST Tech-I 2013 competition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Alex Mwaura Muriu’s newest venture, Farm Space Africa, strives to address the issue of food shortages in Africa, despite the fact that 70% of the continent’s employment comes from agriculture. Farmers across the region currently struggle to expand their businesses due to a lack of funding. Farmspace Africa aims to fill this funding void and help boost the agricultural industry in Africa.

Farmspace Africa is a mobile application where urban middle to upper class individuals, investment groups, and other investors can provide crowd source loans and investments to small agricultural businesses and farmers. The mobile platform allows the service to be widely accessible by farmers and investors alike, while its crowd funding nature is also intended to dilute risk. Alex, 27, hopes this brand of micro-finance will propel Africa’s economies into a future of prosperity.

Growing up in Kenya, Alex draws inspiration from his mother, a small business owner who has been working and raising her children for 30 years. He says her perseverance and courage to venture into unknown territories motivates him. He has founded, and is currently running, two other tech startups.

Farm Space Africa received an Honorable Mention Award at GIST Tech-I 2013, during the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Malaysia. When asked to describe his experience with GIST, Alex said: “One word: ‘Amazing.’ [Our mentor] Kia Davis is widely read and has greatly helped us refocus our efforts on the right things. The GIST Tech Connects have also been quite useful in helping us maneuver these murky startup waters.”

Mobile Games People Love

Daniel Okalany

Daniel Okalany

Daniel Okalany is a 24-year-old Ugandan technophile who loves creating and fixing. While between jobs, he began designing mobile games, a passion that eventually became Kola Studios, a mobile game development firm currently offering four apps in the Google Play Store.

Daniel’s expertise includes programming, network management, application development, server deployment, and maintenance. Prior to Kola Studios, he worked as a systems engineer, software engineer, and a web designer for a number of Ugandan tech companies and says he wasn’t serious about game development until he became a finalist in a competition held by Google.

Africa has a rich tradition of games that have been played for generations in various societies across the continent, however few of these games exist on the mobile platform. Kola Studios creates and promotes mobile games based on physical games that come from the African tradition such as Matatu, originating in Uganda, and Karata, originating from Kenya. Matatu is its most popular game, a two player card game that has logged nearly 10,000 downloads and counting. Revenue is generated through integrated ads. As the Lead Programmer for Kola Studios, Daniel says his priority is creating a product that people want.

Kola Studios participated at the 2013 GIST Startup Boot Camp in Dar Salaam in Tanzania where they earned fourth place. Daniel says he looks forward to meeting other global entrepreneurs so he can learn from them and their experiences and gain exposure in the fast moving tech industry.

Event Planning for Community Building


Frans Yuwono pitching at the GIST Startup Boot Camp Indonesia 2014

Frans Setio Yuwono, 33, would describe himself as a community minded individual. He speaks four languages fluently and has been immersed in both eastern and western cultures. He has a degree in computer science and has recently started his first tech startup, Wakuwakuw.

The idea came during his tenure as President of the Surabaya Rotary club where he attempted to improve community public relations, fundraising, and collaboration. Wakuwakuw is a platform he developed to empower communities with promotion and management tools such as personalized webpages, community sharing, collaboration channel, event planning, regular meetups, newsletter and fundraising. Ultimately, he hopes it will become a one-stop-shop solution for all community  organizers.

Under his management, the club was elected as the best Rotary Club in the World by Rotary International in 2012 (in the 10-25 members category), competing against 12,000 Rotary Clubs worldwide. It was awarded a prestigious President Citation by Rotary International. Although he no longer acts as the club’s President, the Surabaya Rotary chapter continues to utilize Wakuwakuw’s services regularly.

Frans aims to take 10% of the $120 million per year in market potential to Indonesia within the next five years. He said that at first, Wakuwakuw’s biggest challenge was product differentiation with existing Facebook groups and large community management services like

Frans and his startup received an honorable mention at the 2014 GIST Startup Boot Camp in Jakarta, Indonesia.  Before he attended GIST, he was only thinking about expanding into the Indonesian market, but the competition changed his outlook. “GIST has taught me to think more about global customers,” he said, “and how to reanalyze our product and what is important when building a startup”.

Matching Odd Jobbers with Real Work


Adnan listening intently to a discussion at the GIST Tech-I 2013 finals in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Adnan Zafar is deeply passionate about creating significant social change. He created IdeaCentricity after being inspired by conversations with a variety of low skilled workers expressing the difficulties of finding enough work to make ends meet. An electrician whose daughter topped matriculation couldn’t support her studies; a maid working multiple shifts to release her husband from the clutches of a kiln owner to repay loan used to buy a rickshaw.

With more than 11 years of experience in various large telecommunications, information technology, engineering, and energy sector companies, he developed IdeaCentricity Odd Jobber as a convenient low-skilled labor marketplace. Workers are alerted about opportunities over their mobile devices based on proximity to the service request point, individual skill set, and prior service ratings. Workers respond with bids and are informed once users accept their service offers. Laborers are routinely screened against certain performance benchmarks and provided trainings and tips to improve their service ratings.

Adnan is an Acumen Fellow who holds a Bachelors of Science Honors from Lahore University of Management Sciences. In 2013, Adnan was a finalist in the GIST Tech-I Competition at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Malaysia.

Crowd Sourced Website Testing


Alvin Chai receiving his Honorable Mention award from Jeff Hoffman, Co-Founder of and Co-Founder of ColorJar.

After working as a barrister and then at a website optimization startup, Alvin Chai, 29, encouraged his high school friend to co-found Netizen Testing Limited. Inspired by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, Alvin believes in the importance of team culture. He assembled a group of young and energetic people with whom he loves to work to bring the Netizen concept to life.

Netizen Testing Limited strives to reduce the amount of time and investment required to test website usability and eliminate the need for consultant-run focus groups. By crowd sourcing their testers, Netizen Testing Limited provides quick and affordable on-demand testing solutions to their clients.

They offer to website owners a series of videos depicting ordinary users sharing their thoughts aloud while using the website. As clients watch and listen to user response and behaviors they can identifying exactly when and why visitors leave the website. Clients also receive written summaries of the testers’ critiques.

Netizen Testing Limited’s customers are primarily enterprises that rely on websites and mobile applications to generate sales, sales leads, or some form of online conversion relevant to their businesses. Alvin says he regularly attends digital marketing exhibitions to connect with potential new clients.

Netizen Testing Limited was a participant of the GIST Boot Camp in Malaysia and a recipient of the People’s Choice Award at the GIST Tech-I 2013 finals, held at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES).

“I found that our clients do not only want testing results but also value added service such as analysis on the results,” Alvin said. “We have seen a positive outcome and revenue has increased tenfold in 2013. Personally, I am thankful for the help and friendship I have received from GIST.”

Delivering Larger Data Storage Capacity


Nizar Ben Neji in a deep discussion at the GIST Tech-I 2013 competition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Nizar Ben Neji, 33, has more than eight years of experience in the information technology industry as a computer engineer. A year ago, he started Smarter++ from the concept that smarter consumers need smarter ways of communicating. Smarter++ offers two business to consumer (B2C) products: QR++ codes and a SmartCatalog.

QR++ offers larger data storage capacity for audio, video, images, and text without internet access. This product is ideal for storing readable data and multimedia items used for marketing and B2C relationships.

SmartCatalog is an interactive PDF catalogue that allows customers to build their own catalogs without a designer and with only a basic set of computer skills. Ultimately, he hopes the services will allow businesses take on more customers and drive more sales while Smarter++ stays ahead of its competition by consistently providing new and unique technological concepts.

Nizar said that many successes and failures, no matter how insignificant, contributed to his overall success. Smarter++ was a participant at the GIST Tech-I 2013 competition finals at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Malaysia. “The GIST mentorship was very rewarding and valuable,” he said. “The CRDF Global team showed a lot of competency and professionalism.” His other hobbies and interests include woodworking, origami, and miniature car collecting.

The of Indonesia


Natali Ardianto pitching for the win at the GIST Tech-I competition in Dubai.

Natali Ardianto, 34, has been interested in technology since he was in fourth grade and learning code programs since middle school. As chairman of the computer club at his highschool, he also joined the Indonesia Computer Olympic Team.

Natali now supports his full-time career as an entrepreneur with 20 years of programming experience and three successful internet startups. His most recent project,, is a website that allows users to book flights, trains, and hotels, as well as order concert and movie tickets, all in one integrated portal; a web service common in many countries, but almost unheard of in Indonesia., has become a worldwide success. Along with winning the 2012 GIST Tech-I Competition, also won first place at the BUBU Awards in 2013, Teklom Indigo Fellowship Award in 2012, and the ASEAN ICT Awards that same year. Natali’s site has been featured by Marketing Magazine, Bloomberg, and Businessweek among others.

Natali says he believes in the wisdom of the crowd and that while he doesn’t have a specific role model, he gives thanks to all the investors and mentors that have helped him along the way. Natali is also the co-initiator of the biggest startup community in Indonesia, #StartupLokal, which has helped nurture Indonesia’s startup ecosystem over the past four years.

Empowering Female Arab Engineers

Nermin speaking in a panel at the GIST Startup Boot Camp in Jordan.

Nermin Fawzi Sa’d, a 38-year-old Jordanian entrepreneur, says her inspiration and character come from her mother, an Arab woman with five children and a university degree at a time where a woman’s role in the region was restricted to house-work and raising children. Her mother taught her that she should always set big goals and create a plan of action to achieve them.

Nermin was ranked 47th in the 2014 “100 Most Powerful Arab Women” for her achievements and impact on the region and understands the needs and struggles of the modern Arab woman. Her startup, Handasiyat, aims to bypass social rules and solve the deficit of local engineers through a customized online platform. This platform supports Arab female engineers and encourages them to use their qualifications in the market and allows them to work on their own terms. It also aims to solve employment complexity in crisis areas such as Libya and Syria.

Nerman’s goal is to master the different elements associated with her belief that too much dependence upon others is can be risky because “even your shadow leaves you in the darkness,” as she eloquently stated. Handasiyat is now comprised of three full-time employees on the management team.

Handasiyat won the Best Female Competitor Award at the 2013 GIST-Tech I Competition in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, where she also got a chance to meet Secretary of State John Kerry, who mentioned her during his address at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. When asked about her experience at this event, Nermin saw herself as the luckiest participant because of the mentorship she received from Mr. Gibs Song. “He is a genius,” she said. “He taught me a lot with few words. He encouraged and supported me since we met and we still keep in touch. He is always there, ready to help.”