Mo De, mobile microcredit startup, wins IBM SmartCamp contest

The Nairobi-based company, focused on emerging markets, bests several other worthy startups to win IBM's "Global Entrepreneur of the Year" award.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

If you're unfamiliar with IBM's SmartCamp, it's a program-slash-competition that intends to identify early-stage entrepreneurs who are developing business ventures that align with the IBM's "Smarter Planet" campaign -- that is, trying to make a dent in the world.

Startup technology companies on all continents apply, pitch, and pray that they win, which gives them mentoring and resources from IBM, as well as a healthy dose of visibility. The annual contest began in 2010.

Last week, after months of competition, the winner was announced: Mo De, a Nairobi-based mobile microcredit company that operates in several emerging markets in Africa. 

What is microcredit or microfinance, you ask? It's the same function as conventional credit or financing -- that is, providing people or businesses who need money with it -- but scaled down to small amounts. In emerging markets like Mo De's home market of Kenya, that could be a loan for $20. 

The mobile part comes into play because Mo De's core service -- called "Emergency Airtime" -- is providing prepaid mobile subscribers with access to airtime on credit. In other words, Mo De isn't so much a small-time banking company as it is a value-add wireless service intermediary whose platform allows telecommunications companies to earn more money (more chatter, more minutes, more revenues) without putting themselves at financial risk in serving an otherwise underserved population.

Mo De operates in Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Zamibia. It has plans to expand further.

The runners-up, so to speak, of the competition were no slouch, either.

Here's a brief list of who made the final cut before Mo De was crowned winner:

  • SkyFoundry -- Uses analytics to make sense of operational business data.
  • StreetLight Data -- Geospatial customer data for retail, financial services, real estate and urban planning organizations.
  • HistoIndex -- Imaging for earlier detection (and therefore better treatment) of fibrosis. 
  • QuintessenceLabs -- Data-driven security technology for reinforced protection and compliance for businesses.
  • CaptainDash -- Data-driven marketing intelligence and visualization.
  • Poikos -- 3D body measurement used to make clothes fit better.
  • GetWay -- A mobile and web-based platform to surface public transportation system data.
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