African Startup Gives Physical Addresses to Those Without

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There are a lot of people around the world who do not have actual addresses. In fact, they are estimated to be several billion and this complicates several factors in their daily lives. At the same time, smart phone growth is rapid and creates an opportunity to take on the issue. A Kenyan startup is now reaching to grasp the opportunity and provide better lives to those without addresses.

The Kenyan startup OkHi actually won a spot in the Seedstars World competition with its idea, beating 20 other domestic startups on the way. Geneva-based Seedstars is a venture capital firm that holds competitions for startups and award $500,00 to one of about 35 tech startup companies in developing markets around the world that make it through global competitions. OkHi’s idea is a solution which looks to solve addressing problem of developing countries by enabling secure creation and sharing of physical addresses via mobile phones. As reported by GeekTime, the venture is creating an address book that uses geo-location and photos in places where numbered street addresses do not exist.

Even though the Seedstars World competition recently was won by the Philippine human resources startup Salarium, OkHi was a close contender and, in our view, a company challenging a more interesting problem. The company founder Timbo Drayson left his job at Google in London during 2014 to pursue his innovative idea, according to Wired. He was determined to tackle the issue regarding the lack of address systems in Kenya and started his new venture in a garage in Nairobi. What interested him was the global smart phone growth, and he based his business case on the prediction that we would go from 1.9 billion smart phones in 2013 to an expected 5.6 billion in 2019. This growth could help to give a physical address to those without by assigning a permanent location to each smart phone user who wants others to know where they live. The idea itself is quite ingenious in all its simplicity, and the founder tells Wired:

“The only way that everyone’s critical needs can be solved is by building businesses that both address a human problem and have a business model to ensure it can keep solving that problem in a scalable and sustainable way”

This is a short video interview with founder Timbo Drayson, from the Google Developers channel on Youtube:

So, why are so many people without addresses? Partly, the problem is infrastructural. According to AFK Insider, just 19 percent of the roads in sub-Saharan Africa are paved, for instance. Many governments of developing countries do not pay much attention to dwellers of slums or rural areas, the development happens where there is money to be made. Actually, OkHi claims that there are close to 4 billion people who do not have “real” addresses in the world, although we have not been able to verify this huge number. Whether this number is correctly estimated or not, the problem is real and is creating a lot of trouble, both on a professional and personal level. Business logistics are affected, as are sending physical items and letters to your relatives. Also, if you do not have a physical address it affects your credibility as a borrower of money, since it is a part of personal identification, and the lack of an address also hampers emergency services and possibly costs lives when an ambulance or a fire truck gets lost.

According to VentureBurn, OkHi aims to let you create an address on your phone in 30 seconds, share it securely via WhatsApp, SMS or email, and then let the company take on the work of getting people to you fast. Although the solution is not yet widely accessible, the company is making progress and has already completed one thousand journeys. Not bad for a complex solution that is only a few months old.

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