DEMO Africa Day One: Innovation Stirring in Nairobi
aRose de Fremery

Greetings from Nairobi, where the first ever DEMO Africa Conference began yesterday. Day One of the conference featured presentations from African startups in the mobile, enterprise, and consumer areas.

Here are some of the standouts so far:

M-Kazi presented its mobile recruitment solution allowing job seekers in Kenya to submit their mini-CVs, search and apply for jobs all via mobile phone. Over 75% of Kenyans use mobile phones, and M-Kazi aims to tap into this market. Applicants pay for every relevant job offer they receive, but the service is free for employers.

mTracker allows you to track the location of your lost or stolen car. A mobile app gives you access to see your car’s location in real time and provides mobile alerts when the car alarm is triggered. It claims even to allow geo-fencing (restricting locations where your vehicle can operate) and the ability to shut down your car’s engine.

Firestring describes itself as offering semantic-social technology to make unstructured documents searchable within the enterprise. Whereas employees would typically have to manually assign metadata to unstructured documents for purposes of knowledge management, Firestring generates those tags for you as well as “smart entities” to make your content even more relevant and searchable.

Flowgear addresses the need for smooth data integration between and among disparate cloud services. Yesterday’s live demonstration showed integration of SharePoint project management data into Salesforce account records, allowing what Flowgear referred to as a 360 degree view of the customer.

MobiFlock offers a range of security controls for parents whose children are petitioning them for smartphones. MobiFlock can help you prevent your child from being contacted by bullies, see what apps are being downloaded to his or her smartphone, and set apps to run only during certain hours of the day. MobiFlock released a smart browser for iOS on Monday as well.

As with every DEMO Conference, each category of pitches was followed by a Sages’ Panel offering up-to-the-minute feedback from noted professionals in the field. One major theme from Day One was that entrepreneurs must work on developing their business acumen and clearly articulate their revenue models to investors. Startups were also encouraged not to fear failure as they dip their toes into uncertain waters. Rather, said Thomas Debass of the U.S. State Department, “Entrepreneurs need to have a culture of failure. To fail is not a bad thing,” noting that to be an entrepreneur is to take a risk. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also announced the Apps4Africa 2012 challenge via video, taking on the problem of youth unemployment across the continent.

There was creativity and optimism in abundance as the inaugural DEMO Africa Conference began; hopefully some of the startups that presented yesterday captured the attention of local investors. Stay tuned for an account of Day Two’s events in Monday’s e-newsletter.

For live updates (on Kenya time, of course), follow our reports on Twitter at @rosedefremery or @socialmediamos. Also check out the hashtag #DEMOAfrica, where spirited conversations are taking place during the conference.

Rose de Fremery is Managing Editor of The Social Media Monthly.