The Cape Town-based startup Zindi has registered 10,000 data scientists on its platform who use AI and machine learning to solve complex problems in Africa.
The early-stage company, founded in 2018, enables companies, NGOs or government institutions to host online competitions on data-oriented challenges.
Zindi opens the competitions on its website for African data scientists who can take part in a competition, submit solution sets, compile a ranking and win – for a cash prize payment.
Celina Lee, co-founder of Zindi, said the highest price to date was $ 12,000. The competition hosts receive the results with which they can create new products or integrate them into their existing systems and platforms.
It's free for data scientists to profile on the website, but those who fund the contests pay Zindi a fee. In this way, the startup generates income.
The Zindi model has attracted the attention of some well-known company names in and outside of Africa. Those who have held competitions include Microsoft, IBM and Liquid Telecom ,
The South African National Roads Agency supported a challenge to reduce road fatalities in South Africa in 2019. The stated goal: "To create a machine learning model that accurately predicts when and where the next traffic accident will occur in Cape Town … so that the South African authorities … can take measures … that ensure safety."
Reaching 10,000 registered data scientists means an increase of more than 100% for Zindi since August 2019, when theinformationsuperhighway last spoke to Lee.
The startup, which is currently launching a Series A financing round, plans to combine its larger list with several new platform initiatives. Zindi will launch a university-wide hack competition called UmojoHack Africa in 10 countries in March.
"We're also working on a section of our website that is specifically designed for hackathons … something that organizations and universities can use to train their students or teams," said Lee.
Lee (originally from San Francisco) founded Zindi together with South African Megan Yates and Ghanaian Ekow Duker. You lead a team in the company's office in Cape Town.
For Lee, the startup is a fusion of two facets of her experience.
“Everything just came together. I have this mathematical-technical background and have worked in nonprofits and in development, but I've always tried to connect the two worlds, ”she said.
This happened with Zindi, which is completely profit-oriented – although around 80% of startups competitions, according to Lee, have some social angle.
"In an African context, solving problems for profit-making companies can definitely have a social impact," she said.
Since most of the continent's VCs focus on fintech or e-commerce startups, Zindi joins a unique group of companies – such as Andela and Gebeya – who develop technical talents in the field of data scientists and software developers in Africa.
If Zindi can convene data scientists to solve problems for businesses and governments across the continent, it could open up a huge addressable market.
It could also result in the startup becoming – in many projects – an alternative to more expensive consulting firms operating in the large African economies such as South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya ,