Appfrica International by Jon Gosier was founded in 2008 in Kampala, Uganda as an innovative global consultancy specializing in market research, custom technology solutions, and investment in emerging markets.
His founder, Jon Gosier is also (co) founder of several other initiatives such as AfriLabs, Abayima, Hive Colab, MetaLayer and SeedCapitalAfrica. We met him for an interview.
Blogger, software developer, designer, social entrepreneur, who is Jonathan Gosier?
I am a blogger, software developer, designer and social entrepreneur. (laughs) I grew up in the United States in Atlanta, Georgia where I went to art college. Growing up I always had a love for computers but it wasn’t until college that I realized that it could be a career. By then I realized that something I had been doing all my life for fun (programming, designing software etc.) was something built businesses and fortunes out of.
Still, I was already headed down a certain path and worked in the music, film and advertising industry for the better part of a decade. It wasn’t until I got boed of those industries that I decided to pursue technology. At that point I started Appfrica in 2008 while living in Uganda.
What one piece of technology could you not live without? And what are the website you consult the most ?
I think the internet itself has been an indispensable component of my life. If I look back at what I was doing early in my career, college, and grade school it was going online to better myself and my own education. These things helped me as the school system I was in is actually one of the worst in the United States, so the Internet allowed me to self-educate and remain competitive with some of the best students in the country when it came time to go to College.
In other words, having access to the internet allowed me to ‘live outside my physical boundaries in ways that would not have been possible if I had been born a decade earlier.
“BUILDING THE FUTURE, FROM AFRICA” concretely how do you proceed?
Practically this means we build high tech solutions from Africa, with mostly African (or African diasporan) staff. But Appfrica also invests in companies like ProWork, SliceBiz, Farmerline, iCow and others through our various programs. By supporting young innovation and investing in the ideas and businesses of young Africans, we help them build their own futures.
Your work been featured in CNN, BBC and more. Appfrica has conducted projects on the ground across 16 African countries in traditional and non-traditional ways. Which ones were the most outstanding?
I’m not sure if you mean which projects of ours or which countries we’ve visited, so I’ll answer both.
Appfrica runs many programs across the continent. Apps4Africa is our program for catalyzing startup culture and entrepreneurship across Africa, HiveColab is a physical work space and tech hub in Kampala, Uganda, SeedCapitalAfrica is a seed capital fund we founded, and there are many others. Apps4Africa exceeds our expectations every year, growing in both quality of applicants and reputation year on year.
In regards to countries, every country has it’s own unique features, challenges, and opportunities. Appfrica was born in Uganda so that will always be where our heart is. I think some of the most surprising tech communities are in places not traditionally associated with the tech sector like DRC and Mozambique.
Right now, how many people are working for you ?
Across our various initiatives, Appfrica has a full-time staff of 7 with 2 additional part-time contractors and 3 interns for a total of 12.
What will be the typical day of your techentrepreneurs ?
The people we invest in all have different schedules and different daily duties. The one thing they all have in common is that they are risk-takers and they are trying to build something out of nothing. On a daily basis the Appfrica staff just tries to find the best ways to help them do so.
Some say there’re small lies, big lies and statistics! How do you proceed to collect the most accurate data?
I love this quote because in some ways all statistics are lies in that they can always be manipulated to show one what they want to see. For instance: I can say with confidence that because I’ve never seen a space alien, nor can I look through history to find evidence that there were ever any that there cannot possibly be life on other planets. I can also say with confidence that the sheer number of planets and stars in the known universe makes it statistically unlikely that Earth is the only one that can sustain life. Which is right? The answer is actually ‘we don’t know’ and that answer is actually the answer to most scientific questions.
The problem is for humans, ‘I don’t know’ isn’t good enough so we go about trying to prove our assumptions as facts, while disproving the assumptions of others who disagree as fallacy.
But what is fact and what is not fact is a moving target. I read somewhere that the half-life of a proven fact is around 40 years. So every 40 years or so, science will either modify or completely overturn an assumption that was once considered an infallible truth about our universe. A good example of this right now is the climate change debate. We’re in the middle of a changing argument. 20 years ago, there was no debate, it was a fringe theory at best. Right now there is a very intense debate going on, and over the next 20 years (probably not even that long) I’m betting this debate will end in the face of of irrefutable evidence one way or the other. But the point is, at that point, what is considered ‘fact’ has completely changed to the opposite of what it once was.
Collecting the most accurate data is about knowing what your assumptions are, knowing what the evidence says, and trying to remove your ego from making decisions about either.
Data visualisation, mobile phone journalist or internet connectivity, what trends do you foresee in 2013 happening on the continent ?
I think 3D Printing is one that will most revolutionize Africa. Africa has a manufacturing problem. It does not compete on any level with the rest of the world when it comes to making things. Not farming them, not assembling them, but actually engineering and building things. 3D printing has the potential to allow the African continent to leapfrog this challenge and become the makers and consumers of things made in Africa (as opposed to goods imported from Asia, North America, or Europe).
Second, I think better and more accesible education due to connectivity is something else that will revolutionize the continent. Both Microsoft and Google have projects that want to use the upper ‘whitespace’ spectrum that isn’t currently being used in Africa to help connect people in rural areas to the internet. If they are successful, then we don’t necessarily have to worry about changing the education system of African countries (which over the past 40 years has only been marginally successful), instead we can focus on quality content that allows people to self-educate or take online courses.
AppsAfrica is a competitive funding program for African technologists and innovators runned by Appfrica. We even seen Hillary Clinton launching the last edition! Tell us more about it.
It’s pretty simple, if you have a business or startup that is sustainable and that is technology centric, you fill out an application and a panel of objective judges helps us pick winners who receive $10,000 each in startup capital. In the past this number was sometimes more or less but going forward we’ve settled on $10k as the right amount to get a venture started.
From there we try to introduce the entrepreneurs to other investors, we mentor them, and we help them promote what they do. We’ve done this now 4 years in a row and have distributed $125,000 in seed capital to early-stage African startups. The best part about this for the entrepreneur is that the capital is non-diluting meaning we don’t take equity.
We do invest for equity as SeedCapitalAfrica, but Apps4Africa is meant to be more of a catalyst or accelerator to get the winning companies ready for investment.
Abayima as an initiative is in fact politically motivated in that our goal is to make technologies that keep individuals connected during times of crisis. Some of the world’s worst human rights abuses are occurring right now around the world because the internet in those countries has been shut-off or mobile networks are compromised. Abayima provides alternative means for communicating.
But that’s not all Abayima does. At the end of the day we’re about connecting the unconnected. So the most common use of our OpenSIMKit application is not actually during crisis scenarios, but to help keep people in rural areas abreast of news and current event.
As someone so deeply involve in making change happen, what to you think of this catchphrase: “Africa is the future”?
I think Africa needs prove it. I’m as pro-Africa as anyone but if Africa is the future, we of the African diaspora need to prove it to the world. The potential is obvious, but potential also often goes unrealized.
How do we prove it? By transforming our societies from consumption economies to production economies, by electing responsible leaders, by having enough love for our own countries and people that corruption becomes unattractive because of what it costs everyone versus what it gains for self, by building businesses that serve a global market, and by investing in our youth so they have the opportunities some of us never did.
What advice would you give to a young student willing to work in tech industry?
Work hard and don’t expect anyone to give you anything. Create your opportunities and have the confidence that you can change your own reality.
If I say afro inspiration you answer…
Anything else you’d like to add?
Visit us at http://appfrica.com or @appfrica on Twitter to keep in touch!