Africa AI 2023 Roundup

On days like this, I wake up proud and happy, because I can see how the world is becoming a better place. 

The Africa AI ecosystem has come a long way since we started working with stakeholders across the continent in 2019 to figure out ways to catalyze an evolution of AI such that it works to the benefit of Africa’s people. 

We were mostly filled with disappointed, seeing major global reports like Stanford Global AI Index and Europe’s State of AI Report indicate that Africa was dark with no activity. So we started playing our role of centralizing network and information, published this first round-up in 2019, this map of Africa’s first 100 AI startups in 2020 and today, we are struggling to fit everything that happened in 2023 into one concise article. We apologize in advance for the rest of this, but have a hunch that you would enjoy reading about all these milestones crossed in 2023.

Funding

 – TechCabal published a report naming 10 startups that collectively raised $246.8m from equity investors. Instadeep alone was acquired for over $600m, our proudest investment and one of the biggest acquisitions for AI companies globally in 2023.

Fig: Techcabal’s Top 10 Africa AI startups based on total funding

Fig: Techcabal’s Top 10 Africa AI startups based on total funding

 – Gates Foundation allocated $30 Million towards advancing AI In Africa. This was a strong indication that innovators could look beyond equity funders for considerable funding to push the ecosystem forward. 

 – At Alliance4ai, we facilitated and participated in the funding round for 5 companies we are excited about this year, including Shambadata that was founded after winning our AI innovation challenge.

Education and research

 – Africa’s leading AI research conference, Deep Learning Indaba, had a record 81 papers presented on exemplary work coming out of Africa

Fig: Post on X about Deep Learning Indaba

 – The global leading AI research conference, Neurips, had a record number of research papers from Africa, 13 coming from InstaDeep and 4 from DataScience Nigeria (DSN) 

 – Several organizations like Masakhane, Lelapa AI, Lacuna fund, and Mozilla Common Voice have championed moving our continent from a place where we had “low resource languages” to where we now have sizable datasets on over 100 languages. Global large players like Google are now using these datasets to reduce the bias in their solutions to make them work better for us Africans.

 – Zindi, the largest professional network for data professionals in Africa, now has over 70,000 African data scientists on its platform, available to support organizations from home and abroad, either looking to dip their feet in AI for the first time or solve their toughest challenges to unlock great value. In addition, Zindi has partnered with Microsoft to train 4,000 data scientists in 2024

 – At Alliance4ai, we improved the design of our FutureMakers program to address a gap in the ecosystem. Most AI professionals in Africa are self-taught because it has been challenging for tertiary institutions to introduce formal AI training into their programs. These self-taught AI professionals demonstrate a lack of consistent background in technical fundamentals, strong mastery of workplace skills to thrive or awareness of Africa’s history as an innovative force, without which leaves many not believing they have what it takes to compete. Our program equips student clubs with curriculum and activities that plugs these gaps, building FutureMakers that are already changing the world. 

Innovation and Market Adoption

 – Datascience Nigeria (DSN), one of the world’s premier AI communities, finished the year with too many accolades and milestones to fit in this report. Our favorites were them getting named in the top 50 list solving Global Grand Challenges with AI, and working with at least 3 Nigerian state governments to drive significant AI for development projects to improve livelihood for common people.

Fig: When I visited the DSN campus in Lagos

Fig: When I visited the DSN campus in Lagos

 – Jacaranda health was awarded $1.4 million in funding by Google as part of the Global Goals Impact Challenge. With this latest funding injection, Jacaranda Health’s total funding now stands at approximately $10M. Their solution utilizes LLM to power. an SMS-based digital health service that manages thousands of daily messages from new mothers and expectants in both English and Kiswahili.

– This video from Kenya’s Safaricom provides insights into how innovative Telcos across Africa are maturing in their use of ML and AI algorithms to improve both their service to customers, and transformation of operations costs

– At Alliance4ai, we created two innovative workshops, one inviting members of industry to share how Generative AI is transforming their day-to-day activities at work, and another one for Africans to reimagine what AI solutions could look like if they were built based on African values. These workshops have helped switch naysayers to believers, and is inspiring a new breed of AI inventors.

Ethics, Regulations & Government strategy – Benin made advances in AI & big data with the SENIA trade show. The event attracted nearly 1,000 participants. Benin aims to apply AI chiefly to Education, Healthcare, and Agriculture, aiming to be a benchmark for AI in West Africa.

 – Nigerian government appointed startup veteran, Bosun Tijani to become the minister of Communications, Innovation, and Digital Economy. Since then, he has demonstrated a willingness to leverage Nigerians at home and abroad with his call to create multistakeholder advisory groups, and then run a call to provide significant funding to spark AI innovation for new entrants into the industry. We are excited to see what his office accomplishes over the next couple of months

 – Rwanda released an AI strategy document that key veterans are calling exemplary and urging their governments to emulate
Strong outcries against the likes of OpenAI and Meta for paying relative low wages to data labellers in parts of Africa is leading governments to examine what labor laws should look like in the age of AI

 

Infrastructure
This, understandably, has been the slowest bucket as it requires larger check sizes, coming from investors who are only now starting to see the signs that Africa’s ecosystem is setting up for take off.

Fig: Infrastructure veterans, Stephen and Andile during an Arm expo in Africa

Fig: Infrastructure veterans, Stephen and Andile during an Arm expo in Africa

 – Arm, a world leader in edge computing, opened 5 labs in Africa to support AI & robotics developers, as part of their plan to unlock Africa’s innovative masterminds. Arm is providing infrastructure across every layer of computing, including laptops, servers, mobile, and the full spectrum of IoT and embedded systems, with all of them having strong propositions for Endpoint and Edge AI use cases
 – A new generation of data centers are being built in Africa’s smaller economies, fueling a $5 billion market opportunity. Data centers are the cognitive powerhouses enabling AI. Currently there are on the 93 continent across 15 countries. 

Fig: Datacenter locations across Africa

 – At Alliance4ai, we laid out a 5-year plan with multiple milestones towards accelerating the building of supercomputing clusters across Africa, as they have been the most important trigger for AI innovation across the rest of the world. 2024 marks the 4th year into that plan, and we close in on working with local and international partners to unlock access to compute that will multiply AI innovation coming out of Africa. Stay tuned. 

Looking towards the future

We only scratched the surface of activities this year to avoid keeping you reading for too long. But we hope this sparked your interest enough to figure out what pillar you’d like to dive into further to drive even more progress in 2024. If there are milestones you’d like us to be aware of, send a note to admin@alliance4ai.org.

We remain the ecosystem’s trusted partner for centralizing information and network across the African, and welcome outreach to facilitate research, introductions, and execution of ambitious projects in Africa.

Until next time,

Happy New Year

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