Africa’s largest innovation incubator, CcHub, will offer funding and engineering support to tech projects aimed at curbing COVID-19 and its social and economic impact.
The Lagos and Nairobi based organization posted an open application on its website this week, CcHub CEO Bosun Tijani told TechCrunch on a call.
CcHub will provide $5,000 to $100,000 funding blocks to companies with COVID-19 related projects covering last-mile communication, support for the infected and the most vulnerable, production of essential medical supplies and support for disrupted food supply-chains.
The organization, and its iHub affiliate, will also open up engineering support and resources from its CcHub Design Lab to funded companies, according to Tijani.
He noted that established startups who want to create COVID-19 related projects on the side of their core-business can apply.
The initiative stems from concerns Africa could be less prepared than other regions in dealing with an outbreak of the virus that has spread in China, Europe and the U.S. and is wreaking economic havoc globally.
Tijani hopes CcHub can employ its network and resources to limit the spread and damage of COVID-19 in Africa.
The Lagos based innovation-space acquired Kenya’s iHub in 2019, bringing together two of Africa’s most powerful tech hubs by membership networks, VC, volume of programs, startups incubated and global visibility.
“Quite a number of African countries, if they get to the level of Italy or the UK, I don’t think the system… is resilient enough to provide support to something like that,” Tijani said.
Reported cases in major population countries, such as Kenya and Nigeria, were in single digits as late as last week, but those numbers are spiking. By the World Health Organization’s latest stats Wednesday there were 463 COVID-19 cases in Africa and 10 confirmed deaths related to the virus.
Governments are taking action. South Africa, which has the second-largest reported COVID-19 outbreak on the continent, declared a national disaster this week, banned public gatherings and announced travel restrictions on the U.S. and U.K. Kenya has also imposed its own travel and crowd restrictions.
Only two cases have been recorded in Nigeria, but CcHub’s Tijani fears the actual scenario for the West African country and Kenya could be much worse.
“I think Lagos and Nigeria are in denial. Some governments in Africa are taking action, but the focus in Africa has been relying on port of entry [measures], which isn’t reliable because…I suspect it’s already here…people may not have symptoms yet,” said Tijani.
If there is a rapid outbreak, he fears it will overwhelm a number of sectors in countries such as Nigeria and Kenya.
“We don’t have the health systems to contain it. We don’t have the the welfare system that can work for the most vulnerable, such as elderly… we don’t manufacture most of these medical supplies and our food [supply-chain] is not reliable,” Tijani added.
Addressing these pending challenges related to COVID-19 in Africa is what CcHub hopes to support in its latest open call to fund projects.
The innovation incubator isn’t the only tech player on the continent shifting to respond to a possible crisis as a result of the coronavirus.
Pan-African on-demand trucking logistics company Kobo360 has asked employees who can work remotely to do so in Ghana and Nigeria, according to the Chief Strategy Officer Kagure Wamunyu. The Goldman Sachs backed startup is also planning contingencies to ensure supply-chain continuity, should COVID-19 disrupt business and mobility in its markets.
In Kenya, the country is turning to its leading mobile-money product, M-Pesa, to reduce the the chances of an outbreak. Safaricom waived transaction fees on the app this week to increase digital-payments use and lower the risk of spreading the COVID-19 through physical handling of cash.