Africa EO Challenge Brief Webinar – Excerpts 

The Africa Earth Observation (AEO) Challenge has been an annual open innovation challenge that sources novel space technologies since 2016. This challenge aims to drive entrepreneurial activity in the African space industry and promote awareness of the value of earth observation data (EOD) across the continent and in multiple sectors such as water and food security, mining, logistics, insurance, and many more.

In preparation for the 2021 edition of the event, the organisers held a challenge-brief webinar today, 9 September 2021. The webinar’s purpose was to discuss the Africa EO Challenge, the different technologies on offer and the prizes. It was also to have interview sessions with previous Challenge finalists and a Q&A session.

Davis Cook hosted the webinar, and he started with a brief introduction of the speakers.

Speakers at Africa EO 2021 Challenge brief webinar

Background of the challenge 

Davis explained that the concept behind the challenge started in 2015, but it materialised in 2016. The idea behind the challenge was to drive interest in space and, specifically, the Earth Observation segment of the industry. Furthermore, it started as a way to help commercial platforms drive the development of space in South Africa and on the continent. Ultimately, the organisers’ goal is the promotion of space as a destination for entrepreneurs.

Aim

The challenge aims to search for Africa-based and Africa-focused startups that utilise EO data. Furthermore, the challenge will also include a business development training programme.  The training will run from 11 to 22 October 2021. Moreover, the business training aims to train and refine pitches and ideas before the pitch event. The pitch will hold in November.

Timeline for thee 2021 Africa EO challenge

Eligibility

Speaking on Eligibility, Davis explained that they were interested in African companies that utilised EO technology. But, more importantly, the challenge was for institutions at an (almost) commercially ready level, companies at the early stage of their journey (early pre-seed and seed series).

Eligibility for the Africa EO challenge

Prizes 

The prizes are from the sponsors of the challenge. Thus, the prizes include Access to EO data (in High-resolution) from Maxar, a prize worth USD 10,000 and two prizes worth USD 5,000. Challenge winners will also get Amazon Web Service Activate credits worth USD 5,000, USD 3,000 and USD 2,000 for the first, second and third place, respectively. In addition, the recipients will also receive a four-month online incubation and virtual internship worth USD 24,000. Global Entrepreneurship Network, Amazon Web Services and Digital Earth Africa will support the mentorship programme.

Available Technology 

The challenge entrants will access data cubes, analysis-ready data, and the Simple Storage Service (S3). Speaking on the data cube offering by Digital Earth Africa, Shanty Reed explained that the data cube would allow users to determine what data they want to analyse. The data cube functions with Sentinel and Landsat Data. About the analysis-ready data, Alex Fortesque added that, unlike the previous times where using satellite data was tedious and time-consuming, A-R data helps pre-process the data for the user and makes it easily accessible. Clive Charlton also spoke on the S3 from Amazon Web Services. He posited that the challenge entrants would have access to aggravated data. Furthermore, the entrants will have access to different bucket capacities. 

There are numerous disruptive technologies for participants to leverage. These include Amazon Web Services’ cloud services and tech for processing and providing algorithms. Likewise, it includes Maxar’s high-resolution imagery and Digital Earth Africa’s huge repository of already analysed data, etc. The participants will also enjoy technical advisory capacity from South Africa’s National Space Agency (SANSA). 

Q&A Session

Jabu Madlald of Smart AgrioT, a previous beneficiary of the challenge, explained how Smart AgrioT benefited from the challenge. According to him, Smart AgrioT helps smallholder farmers through sensors to monitor the farms, but this has changed as they now use satellites and EO. He said that the challenge was how to provide access to the smallholder farmers because they were largely uneducated. This meant they could not access these high tech data. In response, they offer the services of extension officers to the farms. The officers visit each farmer every week with the necessary technology to analyse the farm. The officers subsequently relay the information about the farm they deduce to the farmers. 

Answering how the challenge helped Smart AgrioT, Jabu explained that the programme helped in networking. It led to collaboration and engagements. The challenge also helped them see what other entrepreneurs were doing. Furthermore, it also gave them validation as to what they were doing, giving them confidence. The connections went beyond the challenge, and it led to meaningful collaborations.  

Additionally, the organisers are looking to select six companies to get through the investor-readiness acceleration programme. On whether the companies can inquire beforehand regarding their eligibility, Davis Cook said there should be a self-selection process by companies interested in the challenge. He further said that the organisers are ready to help such companies figure out their eligibility.  In response to a question on rural innovation, Davis explained that it was outside the challenge’s scope, albeit interesting. However, he said he was open to further communication regarding it. In the absence of other questions, the host closed the meeting.

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