This pandemic has caused significant disruptions on economies leading to several businesses – large or small – going under amid Covid-19-induced lockdowns.
As startups confront unprecedented times, many are thinking of taking dramatic steps to stay afloat and have been touted as the key to economic recovery.
However, Africa’s growing startup ecosystems will likely feel the economic impact of the virus and associated lockdown for some time. Some forward-looking startups are turning to the power of technology in their bid to turn the tide against the deadly virus.
Plug into AWS
In these unprecedented times startups had to innovate and think out of the box. For example, startup companies across the continent are turning to Amazon Web Services (AWS) to boost their businesses.
When they plug into AWS cloud services, they have access to critical infrastructure that used to be preserved for the wealthy companies, leaving startups unable to innovate, let alone compete.
In South Africa, startups and entrepreneurs are a driver of economic growth and create jobs.
Startups are taking advantage of the AWS Africa (Cape Town) Region, which enables organisations to provide lower latency to end users across Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Because we do not require any upfront investment, AWS allows startups to get started quickly,” comments Henri Zietsman, Startup Business Development Lead at AWS South Africa.
He points out that the company sees a real opportunity for startups to use cloud-native applications to scale, innovate, think big and accelerate economic growth. AWS helps startups to scale, as they need to, without worrying about IT infrastructure. This allows entrepreneurs to develop and experiment with technologies that may otherwise be out of reach and expand their business across Africa and around the world.”
Top startups in Sub-Saharan Africa – including Africam, Aerobotics, Apex Innovation, Asoriba, BusinessOptics, ClearScore, Clickatell, ColonyHQ, Custos Media, DataProphet, DPO PayGate, EMS Invirotel, Entersekt, GetSmarter, GovChat, Graylink, HealthQ, Hepstar, iHouzit, JourneyApps, JUMO, Luno, Mukuru, NicheStreem, Parcelninja, Sensor Networks, Simfy Africa, Sodunim, Zanibal, Zapper, and Zoona – are building their businesses on top of AWS. Today, these startups innovate in numerous verticals using AWS. Verticals such as, FineTech, media, insurance and IoT, EduTech, conversation and manufacturing/machine learning.
Most of these startups have wasted no time in joining the AWS Activate Program, a dedicated startup team that is focused on helping the companies address not only technical challenges, but also business mentorship in addressing how to make a pitch deck, how to write a technical term sheet, how to market, and hire.
Activating the business
The AWS Activate Program offers the companies free tools, resources, and more to quickly get started on AWS.
Zietsman explains that AWS Activate provides startups with a host of benefits, including AWS credits, technical support and training – all critical to helping them grow their business.
“Activate benefits are designed to give startups the right mix of tools and expert support so the startup can succeed with AWS while optimising performance, managing risk, and keeping costs under control,” he says.
The programme includes AWS Activate credits which are automatically applied to a startup’s AWS account to help cover their AWS service usage.
It also includes AWS technical support where startups receive AWS Business and AWS Developer Support from AWS experts, including architectural guidance and best practices as they build and test.
With the Activate programme, the startups also access AWS training and resources where they learn from AWS experts to enhance their skills and knowledge.
“As part of the programme, we provide AWS credits, coaching and mentorship, in-person technical support, and resources to help startups launch their businesses and go global,” Zietsman says.
He adds that founders who have benefitted from AWS Startup programmes come from various countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa.
To date, AWS has launched AWS Startup Days in Johannesburg, Lagos, Accra, and Nairobi. The AWS Startup Days are free, full-day events aimed at delivering educational content, practical learnings and networking opportunities for startups looking to accelerate their innovation and growth.
AWS in South Africa, collaborates with accelerator programmes that contribute to the local startup community. Accelerator programmes in South Africa include Silicon Cape Initiative, StartupGrind, and Startup Guide.
Zietsman points out that some startup founders require assistance to build either their businesses or technical capabilities.“As such, we have mentorship or technical ‘Office Hours’, where founders meet with AWS Startup Solutions Architects.”
The AWS Startup Solutions Architecture team is comprised of customer-obsessed technical experts who spend their time helping early-stage startups as they build their businesses.
“Some founders who are already operational and need a well-architected review, and through AWS Well-Architecture they can connect with AWS Startup Solutions Architects.”
According to Zietsman, the Well-Architected Framework was developed to help cloud architects build secure, high performing, resilient, and efficient infrastructure for their applications.
“Based on five pillars – operational excellence, security, reliability, performance efficiency, and cost optimisation, the framework provides a consistent approach for customers and partners to evaluate architectures, and implement designs that will scale over time. These programmes assist startups to grow.”
One example of a startup leveraging AWS Cloud and the AWS Activate Program is iHouzit. This multi-seller marketplace for households and property managers provides buyers with an integrated shopping experience from a wide variety of authentic products and trusted services. iHouzit built its e-commerce platform using Amazon Route 53 – a highly available and scalable cloud Domain Name System (DNS) web service, designed to give businesses an extremely reliable and cost-effective way to route third-party applications.
Roana Mouton, the founder of iHouzit, points out that by working with AWS Solutions Architects, her business has streamlined its technology solution to vastly improve its website’s response times for customers. Amazon Cloudfront, a fast content delivery network (CDN) service that securely delivers data, videos, applications, and APIs to customers globally with low latency and high transfer speeds was implemented and improved access speed for downloading iHouzit’s content.
During the uncertain Covid-lockdown times, the e-commerce platform was stable, secure, provided excellent response times to customers and needed minimal human support on AWS Cloud. As an AWS Activate member with credits, technology expenses in a very difficult financial time was literally null. The stable and scalable technology environment enabled iHouzit to grow its e-commerce offering by continuously on-boarding multiple businesses to sell their products and services online in the new normal world, where shopping behaviour of buyers are permanently changed as a direct result of the Covid threat.
She adds that through the AWS Activate Program, iHouzit has access to credits, 24/7 business support, and training, helping the startup to rapidly scale.
Amazon Web Services provides a mixture of infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and packaged software as a service (SaaS) offerings. Roana intends to continue to innovate and build out the iHouzit e-commerce platform by making use of various AWS Services.