Why innovation in emerging markets trumps a social media dashboards and marketing automation…

Last August I returned to clear blue skies, warm weather and fresh air in Vancouver after 16 months of travel. Our city is consistently ranked on of the most livable in the world and provides amazing food from distant cultures. My goal was to find a technology company that tackles ‘real’ problems in emerging markets, international in scope but locally based.

A year later I now realize that our ‘international’ city is a tourist hub and most businesses with the exception of mining are domestic. Other than two early stage start-ups Arbutus Medical and TwoThirds Water most companies are tackling “1st World problems”, saving seconds on invoicing or integrating with another technology. I love amazing SAAS products, my MAC computer and Nexus 5 phone but after seeing how small technological shifts in East Africa change lives many western start-ups seem trivial. I religiously read about Heads Up Display (HUD) technology, self-driving cars and drone tech but feel my life’s work should be to help the billions of people that don’t have clean water, health care, food and a roof over their heads. It’s hard to develop products for sub-Saharan Africa when your biggest problem is deciding on which sushi restaurant.

Over the last year while working in Vancouver I’ve been trying to stay abreast on new BOP (Bottom of the Pyramid) innovations. One of the major expanding streams is Digital Finance Plus, essentially building cashless businesses around mobile money. In order to find emerging companies and stay up to speed I’ve relied on my network I developed while working and traveling in Africa and South Asia. Unfortunately there is no central media source for the growing BOP industry. Most of the companies listed below I’ve found through Skype calls, e-mails and researching impact investment portfolios. Personally I find a few industries particularly appealing as they are the building blocks for economic growth in the coming decades: Education, Energy, Health and Product Design.

I compiled this post to provide friends within Acumen+Vancouver, attendees of our UBC Start Up Weekend Social Ventures Edition and other individuals an idea of the amazing transformation going on in developing countries with regards to tech and economic development. I’ve provided links to all companies and if you have any questions or comments please post them below.



Bridge International Academies: Affordable education to Kenyan primary students ($7/month), expanding in 2015 to other emerging markets.

Spire: Filling the gap between University education and employer needs with skills upgrades and employee training for corporations. Providing market ready talent.

Awethu Project: A South Africa VC/Business Education program determining top talent by a series of testing, providing them with training funding, mentorship and investing in their new venture.

Energy: ( Solar)

Off.Grid:Electric: Founded in 2012, they are growing aggressively in Tanzania using a Solar-as-a-Service model, renting out equipment at a rate cheaper than Kerosene. I interned with OGE in 2012 and their management team is fantastic.

Fenix International: Fenix uses the solar lease model and is based in Uganda with technology development in San Francisco.

M-Kopa: Kenya’s largest player, they pioneered small home solar systems and recently began selling system to other ‘digital utilities’ growing the industry in new markets.

Angaza Designs: They are focusing on building the payment systems technology to be plugged into other devices and companies. Angaza is a platform that interacts with the mobile networks and is integrated into leased products.

There are several other companies including Persistent Energy Ghana, BBoxx, D.Light, Simpa Networks, and Azuri Technologies.


Medic Mobile: They utilize cell phones to improve health both collecting and pushing information out to save lives.

Riders for Health: Helping manage fleets of vehicles or motorbikes for Health Departments or Large NGOs allowing the doctors or nurses to focus on their job rather than vehicle maintenance. Access to rural communities saves lives.

Living Goods: Education and Micro sales of health products in East Africa.



D-Rev: A product design company focusing on the BOP market, their first main project was a affordable knee for amputees.

iDE : An American based organization that works in multiple countries consulting and designing for the BOP market.

Proximity Designs: A Myanmar based organization sells affordable income generating products focused primarily on Myanmar.

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