The Africa Earth Observation (AEO) Challenge is an annual open innovation challenge sourcing novel space technologies since 2016. This challenge aims to drive entrepreneurial activity in the African space industry. Furthermore, it focuses on promoting 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.
The final pitching den comprised nine teams each with a pitching time of four minutes and three minutes for Q&A. The judges included Imran Salooje of South Africa National Space Agency (SANSA), Janusha Singh of ZAspace, Dr Shanti Reddy of DE Africa, Alex Fortescue of Maxar, Tom Soderstrom of Amazon Web Services, and Oluseye Soyode-Johnson of Genspace. Andiswa Mlisa, SANSA’s EO Managing Director, served as the Keynote speaker.
Nyasa Aerial Data Solutions Limited (Malawi)
The first company to pitch was Nyasa Aerial Data Solutions Limited (NADS). Their technology specialisation was drones, while the industry was climate change monitoring and others. The company specializes in drones, satellite technology and data sciences. NADS pitched Carbon Monitoring using drones and EO satellites, seeking to achieve carbon neutrality and a verifiable solution to carbon storage, amongst others. In answering questions from the judges, NADS stated that their target customers include companies that emit CO2 and the government. The company also stated that it will partner with Maxar for satellite data as they will not be generating their data.
AEON Mobility (Zimbabwe)
AEON Mobility is from the big data analytics industry with quantum computing as its technology specialisation. The start-up specialises in autonomous road and air vehicles software. The company pitched a disaster mobility idea. AEON Mobility provides real-time information to disaster management agencies to make decentralised and autonomous decisions. Furthermore, they do this through quantum computation of real-time data. Their customers include companies, industries, NGOs and individuals.
Ijumaa Data Analytics (Kenya)
The company’s technology specialisation and industry are machine learning and nature conservation, respectively. Ijumaa Data Analytics seeks to provide technology to enable companies to access satellite imagery and pre-processed models. This would help the client companies in feature extraction and change detection in the forestry space. The company pitched around Tech meets Maps. In addition, they provide satellite imagery data, and analytics including tree cover acreage, tree number, heights, and carbon sequestration to customers. Their customers include loggers, forestry agencies and conservationists through subscriptions and downloads.
The judges asked if the company would expand out of Kenya and they responded affirmatively. Thus, the start-up will expand to Uganda and Tanzania, into Southern Africa, and into East Africa.
The company’s technology specialisation is Artificial Intelligence, in the climate change monitoring industry. They leverage EO, AI and ground sensors to develop solutions around air quality monitoring. In addition, Pyloop distributes their data through the API and embed machine learning in their stationary, mobile and remote ground sensors. The start-up will use these to observe hotspots and risk areas in their local environment.
The judges asked what technology they would use, and their target customers. Pyloop responded that they would combine ground sensors and satellite imagery. Furthermore, their target customers include oil companies, research institutes and power companies.
AgriSpace Africa (Zimbabwe)
The company targets the agriculture industry, and its technology specialisation is big data. AgriSpace seeks to leverage space technologies to improve productivity and profitability, and risk management of agricultural activities. The company proposed a farming-by-satellite initiative to utilise data processing and predictive analysis to manage and produce higher crop yields. In addition, payments for their services will be either via a one-off registration or on a monthly subscription basis. AgriSpace Africa will also leverage multispectral imagery to get a better idea of its targets.
The judges asked for their target market and how the company will deliver the insights to them. AgriSpace responded that its customers include Small-medium to large scale farmers and deliver the insights through the internet. The start-up remarked that internet connection is rising in Africa such that many of their customers will have internet access. AgriSpace will also partner with fintech companies to reach farmers in underserved regions. The judges also inquired about how they would protect their service as it was imitable. The company responded that it would rely on its legal experience to ensure the legal protection of its services. They will also ensure that they become very adaptable.
Astral Aerial Solutions (Kenya)
This company is from the Agriculture industry with drones as its technology specialisation. Astral Aerial Solutions will use drones and machine learning to provide actionable information and insights to farmers to increase farming productivity. Thus, machine learning will help to leverage farm data assessments to provide more insights including yield prediction. This will tackle the problem of inadequate access to data for essential farming decisions. Astral Aerial Solutions will capture raw data through aerial mapping for their insights. Astral Aerial can also apply its resources to disease outbreak control and disaster control.
The judges inquired whether the company would scale up to satellite imagery. Astral Aerial Solutions responded that the drones enable high-resolution images but that they utilise satellite data for analysis and preplanning.
Ignitos Logistics Limited (Zambia)
The company targets the agriculture industry, and its technology specialisation is big data. Ignitos aims to democratise satellite and EO data to improve economies. Thus, the company will realise this aim through precision farming, disaster mitigation, land and water resource management and climate change. They will target the government, agrispace companies, institutions and farmers. Ignitos intends to develop and launch a 6U satellite (in 2023) that is uniquely designed for Zambia and Southern Africa. The company also plans to evolve into a space company with constellations eventually.
The startup seeks to develop a cloud-based investment platform – Real Venture. The platform will use EO analytics, artificial neural networks and satellite imagery to observe and examine urban expansion rates, patterns and direction. AIRG will consequently partner with AWS for its cloud service needs, real estate bodies, trust companies and agencies and satellite data providers.
The judges noted that members of the start-ups were engineers and inquired if they had plans to get a finance team. AIRG explained that it would outsource its financial responsibilities in its second phase.
Aqualife fisheries farm (Nigeria)
This start-up seeks to utilise satellite data to optimise its fish breeding farms where it breeds fish for commercial purposes. The overall aim is to provide food security. Thus, the company seeks to leverage space technology to improve forecasting, observation and monitoring of the aquaculture industry. This can help farms predict and address issues like algae blooms.
The pitch ended after all teams discussed their proposal and entertained questions from the judges. Davis Cook, the host, mentioned that the pitch results would be announced within the next few days to weeks. The winning teams will undergo a virtual mentorship and incubation programme from January to April 2022. The other 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.