ForgetMeNotAfrica has launched mobile apps competitions in Kenya and Zimbabwe. The idea is to empower developers to create new commercial applications using commonly-used technology that respond to local needs.

In its latest Africa Mobile Observatory the GSM Association points out that this continent, with 649 million mobile connections as of 4th-quarter 2011, is now the second largest mobile market in the world. Applications for mobile phones, whether for the basic or more sophisticated models, are following the same upward trend. Using SMS-based services you can access the going price for rice or the latest match results, obtain healthcare solutions or make mobile payments. The fact remains however that although lots of initiatives are being put forward, finding capital and commercialising an idea is less straightforward. This is why ForgetMeNotAfrica has launched competitions to develop apps in two of its African markets - Kenya and Zimbabwe. ForgetMeNotAfrica has for several years provided a system that enables users to access some Facebook functions via SMS. The app development competition is run in partnership with local telephone operators and innovation hubs. The aim is to foster innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation, and to increase the number of financially viable local applications.

Responding to local needs

This last point is key. If users are really going to get interested, the applications must meet their daily needs. Jeremy George, CEO of ForgetMeNotAfrica (FMN) tells L'Atelier: "Demand for mobile applications and services is a worldwide phenomenon, but the majority of apps are still aimed at a minority of users, who largely live in so-called ‘developed’ countries and use smartphones with easy data access." In practice, each competition encourages developers to create new SMS or USSD apps for both basic mobiles and smartphones, using the FMN Optimiser Platform. Developers can take advantage of tutorials, test platforms, etc. The winner receives seed capital to bring his idea to market, plus an iPad, the opportunity to launch hisapp on the partner network and a share of the revenues generated.

Social business

According to Jeremy George, in the tradition of businesses with a social dimension, one of the challenges is to implement solutions which both provide an answer to local problems and can generate revenue. "Even in the most rural areas people use SMS to keep in touch with friends and family all over the world, but free-download SMS applications add a new dimension. They can provide (…) better access to healthcare, travel and education information," while on the go, explains the FMN CEO. In Kenya, the competition, called the Kipokezi Apps Challenge, took place between 24 February and 6 May. It was run in partnership with iHUB and Safaricom Kipokezi. The winners were the founders of Tokelezea, an SMS app that enables users to find upcoming events by event type and location. The competition in Zimbabwe, the ZeTXT Apps Challenge, closes on June 16, when the finalists are scheduled to present their projects to the judges.