African experiments with drone technologies could leapfrog decades of infrastructure neglect

A drone revolution is coming to sub-Saharan Africa.

Countries across the continent are experimenting with this 21st century technology as a way to leapfrog decades of neglect of 20th century infrastructure.

Over the last two years, San Francisco-based startup Zipline launched a national UAV delivery program in East Africa; South Africa passed commercial drone legislation to train and license pilots; and Malawi even opened a Drone Test Corridor to African and its global partners. 

In Rwanda, the country’s government became one of the first adopters of performance-based regulations for all drones earlier this year. The country’s progressive UAV programs drew special attention from the White House and two U.S. Secretaries of Transportation.

Some experts believe Africa’s drone space could contribute to UAV development in the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe.

“The fact that [global drone] companies can operate in Africa and showcase amazing use cases…is a big benefit,” said Lisa Ellsman, co-executive director of the Commercial Drone Alliance.

Test in Africa

It’s clear that the UAV programs in Malawi and Rwanda are getting attention from international drone companies.

Opened in 2017, Malawi’s Drone Test Corridor has been accepting global applications. The program is managed by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority in partnership with UNICEF.

The primary purpose is to test UAV’s for humanitarian purposes, but the program “was designed to provide a controlled platform for… governments…and other partners…to explore how UAV’s can help deliver services,” according to Michael Scheibenreif, UNICEF’s drone lead in Malawi.

That decision to include the private sector opened the launch pads for commercial drones. Swedish firm GLOBEHE has tested using the corridor and reps from Chinese e-commerce company JD have toured the site. Other companies to test in Malawi’s corridor include Belgian UAV air traffic systems company Unifly and U.S. delivery drone manufacturer Vayu, according to Scheibenreif.

Though the government of Rwanda is most visible for its Zipline partnership, it shaping a national testing program for multiple drone actors. 

“We don’t want to limit ourselves with just one operator,” said Claudette Irere, Director General of the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications (MiTEC).

“When we started with Zipline it was more of a pilot to see if this could work,” she said. “As we’ve gotten more interest and have grown the program…this gives us an opportunity to open up to other drone operators, and give space to our local UAV operators.”

Irere said Rwanda has been approached by 16 drone operators, “some of them big names”—but could not reveal them due to temporary NDAs. She also highlighted Charis UAS, a Rwandan drone company, that’s used the country’s test program, and is now operating commercially in and outside of Rwanda.

UAV Policy

Africa’s commercial drone history is largely compressed to a handful of projects and countries within the last 5-7 years. Several governments have jumped out ahead on UAV policy.

In 2016, South Africa passed drone legislation regulating the sector under the country’s Civil Aviation Authority. The guidelines set training requirements for commercial drone pilots to receive Remote Pilot Licenses (RPLs) for Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems. At the end of 2017 South Africa had registered 686 RPLs and 663 drone aircraft systems, according to a recent State of Drone Report.

Over the last year and a half Kenya, Ghana, and Tanzania have issued or updated drone regulatory guidelines and announced future UAV initiatives.  

In 2018, Rwanda extended its leadership role on drone policy when it adopted performance-based regulations for all drones—claiming to be the first country in the world to do so.

So what does this mean?

“In performance-based regulation the government states this is our safety threshold and you companies tell us the combination of technologies and operational mitigations you’re going to use to meet it,” said Timothy Reuter, Civil Drones Project Head at the World Economic Forum.

Lisa Ellsman, shared a similar interpretation.

“Rather than the government saying ‘you have to use this kind of technology to stop your drone,’ they would say, ‘your drone needs to be able to stop in so many seconds,’” she said.

This gives the drone operators flexibility to build drones around performance targets, vs. “prescriptively requiring a certain type of technology,” according to Ellsman.

Rwanda is still working out the implementation of its performance-based regulations, according to MiTEC’s Claudette Irere. They’ve entered a partnership with the World Economic Forum to further build out best practices. Rwanda will also soon release an online portal for global drone operators to apply to test there.

As for Rwanda being first to release performance-based regulations, that’s disputable. “Many States around the world have been developing and implementing performance-based regulations for unmanned aircraft,” said Leslie Cary, Program Manager for the International Civil Aviation Authority’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft System. “ICAO has not monitored all of these States to determine which was first,” she added.

Other governments have done bits and pieces of Rwanda’s drone policy, according to Timothy Reuter, the head of the civil drones project at the World Economic Forum. “But as currently written in Rwanda, it’s the broadest implementation of performance based regulations in the world.”

Commercial Use Cases

As the UAV programs across Africa mature, there are a handful of strong examples and several projects to watch.

With Zipline as the most robust and visible drone use case in Sub-Saharan Africa.

While the startup’s primary focus is delivery of critical medical supplies, execs repeatedly underscore that Zipline is a for-profit venture backed by $41 million in VC.

The San Francisco-based robotics company — that also manufactures its own UAVs — was one of the earliest drone partners of the government of Rwanda.

Zipline demonstration

The alliance also brought UPS and the UPS Foundation into the mix, who supports Zipline with financial and logistical support.

After several test rounds, Zipline went live with the program in October, becoming the world’s first national drone delivery program at scale.

“We’ve since completed over 6000 deliveries and logged 500,000 flight kilometers,” Zipline co-founder Keenan Wyrobek told TechCrunch. “We’re planning to go live in Tanzania soon and talking to some other African countries.”  

In May Zipline was accepted into the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program (UAS IPP). Out of 149 applicants, the Africa focused startup was one of 10 selected to participate in a drone pilot in the U.S.– to operate beyond visual line of sight medical delivery services in North Carolina.    

In a non-delivery commercial use case, South Africa’s Rocketmine has built out a UAV survey business in 5 countries. The company looks to book $2 million in revenue in 2018 for its “aerial data solutions” services in mining, agriculture, forestry, and civil engineering.

“We have over 50 aircraft now, compared to 15 a couple years ago,” Rocketmine CEO Christopher Clark told TechCrunch. “We operate in South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and moved into Mexico.”

Rocketmine doesn’t plan to enter delivery services, but is looking to expand into the surveillance and security market. “After the survey market that’s probably the biggest request we get from our customers,” said Clark.

More African use cases are likely to come from the Lake Victoria Challenge — a mission specific drone operator challenge set in Tanzania’s Mwanza testing corridor. WeRobotics has also opened FlyingLabs in Kenya, Tanzania, and Benin. And the government of Zambia is reportedly working with Sony’s Aerosense on a drone delivery pilot program.

Africa and Global UAV

With Europe, Asia, and the U.S. rapidly developing drone regulations and testing (or already operating) delivery programs (see JD.com in China), Africa may not take the sole position as the leader in global UAV development — but these pilot projects in the particularly challenging environments these geographies (and economies) represent will shape the development of the drone industry. 

The continent’s test programs — and Rwanda’s performance-based drone regulations in particular — could advance beyond visual line of sight UAV technology at a quicker pace. This could set the stage for faster development of automated drone fleets for remote internet access, commercial and medical delivery, and even give Africa a lead in testing flying autonomous taxis.

“With drones, Africa is willing to take more bold steps more quickly because the benefits are there and the countries have been willing to move in a more agile manner around regulation,” said the WEF’s Reuter.

“There’s an opportunity for Africa to maintain its leadership in this space,” he said. “But the countries need to be willing to take calculated risk to enable technology companies to deploy their solutions there.”

Reuter also underscored the potential for “drone companies that originate in Africa increasingly developing services.”

There’s a case to be made this is already happening with Zipline. Though founded in California, the startup honed its UAVs and delivery model in Rwanda.

“We’re absolutely leveraging our experience built in Africa as we now test through the UAS IPP program to deliver in the U.S.,” said Zipline co-founder Keenan Wyrobek.

Only 48 hours left to apply for Startup Battlefield Africa 2018

It’s go-time people. As in go apply right now to compete in TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 — do it now because in 48 short hours, the application window slams shut for good. Think you have the best early-stage startup in Sub-Saharan Africa? Do you dream on a global scale? Then come to Lagos, Nigeria on December 11 and launch your business to the world in front of the influential people who help make big dreams come true. Apply right here no later than September 10 at 5 p.m. PT.

Up to 15 of the best pre-Series A startups across Sub-Saharan Africa will compete head-to-head for the Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 championship, $25,000 in non-equity cash plus a trip for two to compete in Startup Battlefield in San Francisco at TechCrunch Disrupt 2019 (assuming the company still qualifies to compete at the time).

One of the great things about Startup Battlefield is that all participants — win or lose — benefit from broad exposure to investor love, media attention and access to an incredible network of influential technologists and entrepreneurs. That network, our Startup Battlefield alumni community, consists of more than 750 companies — including names like Dropbox, Mint, Vurb and many more — that have competed and gone on to collectively raise more than $8 billion in funds and generate 102 exits. The experience and advice these folks bring to bear can be invaluable.

Clearly our editors have a knack for picking winning startups, and they’ll scrutinize every eligible application. The chosen founders will all receive extensive, expert pitch coaching to prepare them for the six minutes they’ll have onstage to present a live demo to a panel of distinguished judges — and then answer all questions the judges throw at them. Five teams will move on to a second round of pitching and inquisition in front of a fresh set of judges.

Ultimately, one winner will rise above the rest to be Sub-Saharan Africa’s best startup. Will it be yours? The first step — before you apply — is to check whether you’re eligible to compete. Startups should:

  • Be early-stage companies in “launch” stage
  • Be headquartered in one of our eligible countries*
  • Have a fully working product/beta that’s reasonably close to, or in, production
  • Have received limited press or publicity to date
  • Have no known intellectual property conflicts
  • Apply by September 10 at 5 p.m. PT

Pretty standard stuff, right? So now that you’ve got that detail out of the way, don’t waste another moment. We want to see you strut your startup stuff in Lagos, Nigeria on December 11. Apply right here to compete in Startup Battlefield Africa 2018. The application window closes on September 10 at 5 p.m. PT.

*Residents in the following countries may apply:

Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the foregoing language, the “Applicable Countries” does not include any country to or on which the United States has embargoed goods or imposed targeted sanctions.

One extra week to apply for Startup Battlefield Africa 2018

There’s no lack of creative innovators, makers and technical entrepreneurs throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, and that’s why we’re bringing Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 — our world-renowned startup pitch competition — to Lagos, Nigeria on December 11.

We want to give every innovative early-stage startup in the region the chance to compete, which is why we’re extending the application deadline another week. We encourage tech startup founders (yes, we’re looking at YOU) to apply and join us for what may very well be a life-changing journey. You now have until September 10 at 5 p.m. PT to fill out and submit your application right here.

We’re not kidding around when we say Startup Battlefield can change your life. Since 2007, more than 750 companies have competed in our startup pitch competition. Our alumni community includes the likes of Dropbox, Mint, TripIt, Vurb and many others. Collectively, they’ve raised more than $8 billion in funding and produced 102 exits. And we can’t wait to add up to 15 amazing founders from across Sub-Saharan Africa to our ranks.

The benefits of competing go beyond the prizes bestowed upon the winning founders. Every participating team receives invaluable exposure — not to mention invaluable connections — that lasts far beyond the initial day of competition. Plus, competing in Startup Battlefield is 100 percent free. That exposure comes with some mighty fine ROI attached to it.

Our experienced TechCrunch editors will scrutinize every eligible application and choose up to 10 startups to compete, and those founders will receive free pitch coaching from Battlefield-tested editors. When the day comes, and you step on stage to make your pitch, you’ll be ready to handle whatever the judges throw at you.

In three preliminary rounds (up to five startups per round), teams have six minutes to pitch and present their demo to a panel of judges composed of distinguished entrepreneurs, technologists and investors (recruited by our editors). After each pitch, the judges pose tough questions in a six-minute Q&A. Five startups will move on to pitch again — to a different set of judges with another round of questions.

One company will earn the title of the TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 champion and the best startup in Sub-Saharan Africa. Now, about those prizes we mentioned earlier. The winning founders receive $25,000 in no-equity cash and a trip for two to compete in Startup Battlefield in San Francisco at our flagship event, TechCrunch Disrupt 2019 (assuming the company still qualifies to compete at the time).

Here’s what you need to know about eligibility. Startups should:

  • Be early-stage companies in “launch” stage
  • Be headquartered in one of our eligible countries*
  • Have a fully working product/beta that’s reasonably close to, or in, production
  • Have received limited press or publicity to date
  • Have no known intellectual property conflicts
  • Apply by September 10, 2018, at 5 p.m. PST

Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 takes place in Lagos, Nigeria on December 11. We’ve extended the application deadline as far as we can go. You have until September 10 at 5 p.m. PT — but don’t delay. Submit your application right here.

*Residents in the following countries may apply:

Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the foregoing language, the “Applicable Countries” does not include any country to or on which the United States has embargoed goods or imposed targeted sanctions.

Only 24 hours left to apply for Startup Battlefield at Disrupt Berlin 2018

What’s standing between you and a chance to launch your pre-Series A startup in front of Europe’s influential technorati? A mere 24 hours. That’s how much time you have left before we stop accepting applications to Startup Battlefield at Disrupt Berlin 2018, which takes place on November 29-30. There’s still time, but not a moment to waste. Apply right now.

Startup Battlefield is a whirlwind roller coaster, and over the years it’s been the launch platform for more than 750 companies — our Startup Battlefield alumni community — that have collectively raised $8 billion dollars and generated 102 exits. Names like TripIt, Dropbox, Vurb and Mint grew from humble beginnings to big-time tech companies.

Discerning TechCrunch editors with a knack for choosing successful startups will review every application and ultimately pick up to 15 companies to compete. Participating founders benefit from free pitch coaching from those Startup Battlefield-tested editors. You’ll be at your very best when you step onto the main stage to present your case.

Teams get six minutes to pitch and demo their product to the judges — experienced entrepreneurs, technologists and investors — and then spend another six minutes answering probing questions from said judges.

Five teams move on for another round of pitching and Q&A. Judges will choose one team from that impressive squad as the Startup Battlefield champion. Winning founders get bragging rights, the Disrupt Cup and a $50,000 equity-free cash prize.

The competition takes place in front of a live, rowdy audience — thousands of attendees cheering for you. Among them will be investors, journalists and influential technologists looking for the next big thing.

Plus, we live-stream the entire Startup Battlefield competition to a global audience on TechCrunch.com, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter (and make it available later, on-demand).

All Startup Battlefield participants get to exhibit in Startup Alley for the duration of Disrupt. That’s prime networking, maybe even life-changing, territory. We’d say it’s worth the price of admission, but TechCrunch does not charge any fees to participate. Competing in Startup Battlefield is 100 percent free.

You have only 24 hours left to decide your fate. The application window closes on August 27 at 9 p.m. PST. If you want to compete in Startup Battlefield at Disrupt Berlin 2018 on November 29-30, you need to apply right here, right now.

48 hours left to apply for Startup Battlefield at Disrupt Berlin 2018

“Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr. threw down a heavy dose of truth with those wise words. It’s almost like he knew the opportunity to apply to Startup Battlefield at Disrupt Berlin 2018 on November 29-30 will evaporate — in just about 48 hours — on August 27 at 9 p.m. PST. Don’t make an expensive mistake. Submit your application here, today.

What does opportunity look like as a Startup Battlefield competitor at Disrupt Berlin? Excellent question. It’s global exposure as you launch your company in front of the best and brightest investors, technologists, movers and shakers and media outlets across Europe and beyond. Investors like Sonali De Rycker of Accel and Saul Klein at LocalGlobe — and that’s just for starters.

In a tough vetting process, our experienced TechCrunch editors review every application — our acceptance rate is typically 3 percent. They’ll choose up to 15 startups to participate, and the founders of each team receive free pitch coaching from our expert Startup Battlefield team. You. Will. Be. Ready.

On the big day, teams get just six minutes each to present a live demo to an expert panel of investors and entrepreneurs. The judges follow each team pitch with an intense, six-minute Q& A — that pitch coaching will come in handy for sure.

Judges select five teams to move on to a semi-final round of pitching and more questions with a fresh set of judges. And then only one team walks away victorious, hoists the Disrupt Cup and takes home the $50,000 USD equity-free cash prize.

Even if you don’t win Startup Battlefield, you still benefit from the extensive media and investor exposure. The competition takes place in front of a live audience with thousands of people, including investors, journalists and influential technologists. Plus, we live-stream the entire Startup Battlefield competition to a global audience on TechCrunch.com, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter (and make it available later, on-demand). It’s unlike anything you’ve experienced to date, and it can be life changing.

Startup Battlefield takes place at Disrupt Berlin 2018 on November 29-30. The application window closes on August 27 at 9 p.m. PST. Take note — TechCrunch does not charge any fees or take any equity, and participating in Startup Battlefield is 100 percent free. Missing this opportunity truly would be expensive. Apply right now.

Only 48 hours left: Apply to Startup Battlefield at Disrupt Berlin

The action you take within the next 48 hours could change your life. That’s how much time you have left to apply to TechCrunch Startup Battlefield, our world-renowned pitch competition, which takes place at Disrupt Berlin 2018 on November 29-30. The application deadline expires on August 20th at 9 p.m. PST. Don’t waste another minute — apply right here, right now.

TechCrunch Startup Battlefield is the stuff of Silicon Valley legend. Some of today’s biggest names in tech launched their early-stage startup in our premier pitch competition. Companies like Vurb, Dropbox, Mint, Yammer, TripIt and more. Since 2007, more than 750 companies have competed (and now form our alumni community), collectively raised $8 billion in funding and generated 102 exits. Not. Too. Shabby.

This is your opportunity to join that august alumni group — can you just imagine the networking possibilities? But hold on, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Here’s what you need to know about applying and competing.

TechCrunch editors, who clearly have a sharp eye for choosing successful startups, scrutinize every application. They’ll pick the founders of roughly 15 early-stage startups to go head-to-head in the Startup Battlefield competition. This is a highly competitive vetting process, and our acceptance rate typically hovers around three percent.

The founders of each team receive free pitch coaching (from our expert editors), and they’ll be rehearsed and ready to step onto the TechCrunch Main Stage in front of a live crowd numbering in the thousands. Not to make you sweat, but that audience is filled with investors, the very people who can make your dreams come true.

Teams have just six minutes to present a live demo to a distinguished panel of investors and entrepreneurs. Following each pitch, the judges get six minutes to put each team through their paces by asking a series of tough questions.

Next comes round two, and only five teams will make the cut to pitch again — to a fresh set of judges — and endure another round of probing questions.

Remember that live audience? It’s also filled with media outlets looking to write up the next big thing. Plus, we live-stream the entire Startup Battlefield competition to a global audience on TechCrunch.com, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter (and make it available later, on-demand). It’s awesome exposure — for all participating teams — that travels across Europe and around the world. Of course, the winners do get a bit more reward — namely the bragging rights, the Disrupt Cup and the $50,000 grand prize. That’s equity-free cash money, friends.

This is a classic nothing-to-lose and everything-to-gain scenario. Don’t sit this one out. Come and launch your startup to the major influencers in the European and global tech scene.

Startup Battlefield takes place at Disrupt Berlin 2018 on November 29-30, and the application window closes August 20 at 9 p.m. PST. You have just 48 hours left to submit your application — right here.

Submit your application to TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018

If there’s one thing we learned hosting last year’s Startup Battlefield in Kenya, it’s that the tech startup scene across Africa is both impressive and growing rapidly. More than 300 tech hubs connect and mentor entrepreneurs across the continent — making it an exciting time and place to be a startup.

And we can’t wait to see even more of Sub-Saharan Africa’s best innovators, makers and technical entrepreneurs compete in TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 in Lagos, Nigeria on December 11. If you haven’t applied yet, what the heck are you waiting for? Submit your application right here and launch your early-stage startup to the world.

We’re searching for the best of the best, and our expert TechCrunch editors will review every eligible application and select up to 15 companies to compete — keep reading for important specifics on who may apply. Among other criteria, the editors will look closely at a startup’s potential to produce an exit or IPO.

Those highly experienced editors will also provide team founders with free and extensive pitch coaching. You might be nervous when the time comes to walk onstage to pitch your company, but trust us — you’ll be ready.

Up to five startups will compete in one of three preliminary rounds, where they’ll have six minutes to pitch and present their demo to a panel of judges composed of entrepreneurs, technologists and VCs (recruited by our editors), all experts in their categories. Following each pitch, the judges have six minutes to ask the tough questions. The judges then choose five startups to pitch again — to a different set of judges.

One of those five startups will be named the TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 champion and take home the grand prize: US$25,000 in no-equity cash, plus a trip for two to compete in Startup Battlefield in San Francisco at our flagship event, TechCrunch Disrupt 2019 (assuming the company still qualifies to compete at the time).

All participating teams reap the benefits that come with broad exposure to a live audience filled with media, influential technologists, entrepreneurs and investors — it can be a life-changing experience.

Here’s what you need to know about eligibility. Startups should:

  • Be early-stage companies in “launch” stage
  • Be headquartered in one of our eligible countries*
  • Have a fully working product/beta that’s reasonably close to, or in, production
  • Have received limited press or publicity to date
  • Have no known intellectual property conflicts
  • Apply by September 3, 2018, at 5 p.m. PST

Want even more details? Read our TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 FAQ.

TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 takes place in Lagos, Nigeria on December 11. Don’t miss your opportunity to launch your startup to the world. Apply right here today. We can’t wait to see what you’ve created!

*Residents in the following countries may apply:

Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the foregoing language, the “Applicable Countries” does not include any country to or on which the United States has embargoed goods or imposed targeted sanctions.

Only 24 hours left to apply for Startup Battlefield MENA 2018

Time is running out for the best entrepreneurial tech minds and makers across the Middle East and North Africa to compete in TechCrunch Startup Battlefield MENA 2018, which takes place in Beirut, Lebanon on October 3 at the Beirut Digital District. Applications to our premier startup-pitch competition close in just 24 hours. We’ve been traveling around the Middle East and North Africa meeting incredible entrepreneurs in the regional ecosystem and are excited to shine a light on the brilliant innovation happening there.

If you think your pre-Series A startup has what it takes to be named “the Middle East and North Africa’s Most Promising Startup,” don’t waste another minute. Apply right here, right now before the 24-hour clock runs out.

Why should you apply? Well, for starters, the winning team receives US$25,000 in no-equity cash and a trip for two to compete in the Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2019 (assuming the company still qualifies to compete at the time).

Then there’s the priceless exposure that comes from placing your startup smack dab in front of influential technologists, VCs and media. The life-changing potential is very real.

Plus, all participating founders — not just the ultimate winners — become part of the Startup Battlefield alumni network. This community consists of almost 750 companies that have collectively raised more than $8 billion in funding and produced more than 100 exits. Names like Mint, Dropbox, Yammer, TripIt, Getaround and Cloudflare. That’s some prime networking territory.

Here’s how the competition works. Our TechCrunch editors — who have a knack for identifying high-potential startups — will review all eligible applications, then select 15 pre-Series A startups to compete (more on eligibility in a minute). The founders of each Battlefield team receive free, expert pitch coaching from TechCrunch editors, so they’ll be prepared to step onstage and face a panel of four judges — consisting of top entrepreneurs, technologists and investors with relevant experience in each tech category.

Startup Battlefield MENA 2018 begins with three preliminary rounds — five startups per round will each have six minutes to pitch and present their live demo. The judges have six minutes following each pitch to ask rigorous questions. Thanks to all that free pitch coaching, you’ll be ready to answer them.

The judges choose five startups to go to the semi-finals for a second round of pitching to a different set of judges. The judges will confer and choose one winner to be the first Startup Battlefield MENA champion. Let the celebration begin!

Let’s talk eligibility. Here are the basic requirements that founders must meet:

  • Have an early-stage company in “launch” stage
  • Be headquartered in one of these eligible countries: Algeria, Armenia, Bahrain, Egypt, Georgia, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, Yemen
  • Have a fully working product/beta reasonably close to, or in, production
  • Have received limited press or publicity to date
  • Have no known intellectual property conflicts
  • Apply by August 6, 2018, at 9 p.m. PST

If you’re detail-oriented, read our Startup Battlefield MENA FAQ.

TechCrunch Startup Battlefield MENA 2018 takes place in Beirut, Lebanon on October 3. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. But you have only 24 hours left to apply. Time runs out on August 6 at 9 p.m. PSTApply here today.

Startup Battlefield returns to Sub-Saharan Africa this December

TechCrunch is headed to Lagos to host our second Startup Battlefield Africa competition on December 11! Last year, we held our first Startup Battlefield Africa in Nairobi, where startups from across the continent highlighted how technology is optimizing supply chains, increasing access to education, strengthening farmers’ revenues and so much more.

Since the last Startup Battlefield Africa, the continent’s tech scene has continued to develop at a rapid pace. VC investment in African startups doubled between 2015-2017. Overall, there’s been an uptick in committed VC for Africa’s startups and accelerators, including $2.1 billion across at least four funds. There are more than 300 tech hubs across the continent (and counting) that are building, supporting and bringing together African startups, mentors and innovators.

We’re looking for Sub-Saharan Africa’s best innovators, makers and technical entrepreneurs to participate in TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018. We’re looking for startups most likely to produce an exit or IPO; startups of any kind may apply. TechCrunch will host the event in Lagos in front of a live audience and top judges, and the show will be covered on TechCrunch. The judges will choose a winner, “Sub-Saharan Africa’s Most Promising Startup,” whose founders will win US$25,000 in no-equity cash plus a trip for two to compete in the Battlefield at TechCrunch’s flagship event, Disrupt 2019 (assuming the company still qualifies to compete at the time). Applications are open now and you can submit your startup here.

TechCrunch is eager to take part in covering Africa’s burgeoning tech sector more fully. We love to see startup ecosystems develop, and Startup Battlefield is one of the best platforms in the world to spotlight the most promising ventures for investors, partners and even future employees. Our editors carefully pick the best startups to compete from tons of applications, and recruit world-class judges to ask tough questions and pick the winners. And the Startup Battlefield editors coach the founders to make brilliant pitches onstage at the Startup Battlefield event.

At the end of the day, that’s why the more than 765 companies that have competed in Startup Battlefield have raised over $8 billion and produced over 105 exits to date.

Here’s how to participate:

Fifteen startups will be selected to join us onstage for the Battlefield Africa in Lagos.

Qualifying startups should:

  • Be early-stage companies in “launch” stage
  • Be a resident from our eligible countries
  • Have a fully working product/beta, reasonably close to or in production
  • Have received limited press or publicity to date
  • Have no known intellectual property conflicts

What do the winners receive?

Apart from the exposure that comes from pitching to the global TechCrunch audience as well as the live audience of distinguished technologists, entrepreneurs and investors in Lagos, the overall winner will receive US$25,000 in no-equity cash plus an all-expense paid trip for two to compete in Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch’s flagship event, Disrupt 2019 (assuming the company still qualifies to compete at the time).

Are costs to attend the pitch-off covered?

No, but TechCrunch will try to find financial assistance for a startup in need of assistance to reach the Lagos event.

Who picks the startups that will compete?

The TechCrunch editors who run the TechCrunch Startup Battlefield competition will choose the finalists from the application pool.

Who will judge the pitch-offs?

TechCrunch will select four judges for each theme. They will be noted entrepreneurs, investors and technologists with experience relevant to the category. A TechCrunch editor will moderate the judging, and cast the tie-breaker ballot, if needed.

What is the pitch-off format?

Each company will have six minutes to present. The judges will have six minutes to ask questions.

What are the judging criteria?

The judges will pick the startup with the product or service most likely to go into full commercial production and have the biggest impact on human potential and/or the largest exit.

When is the application deadline?

September 3, 2018 at 5pm PST.

When will you notify the finalists?

October 19, 2018 at 5pm PST.

Will TechCrunch’s team help prepare startups for the pitch-off?

Yes, in-person training and rehearsal sessions will be required, as well in-person rehearsal on December 10.

Which countries are eligible?

Residents in the following countries may apply: Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the foregoing language, the “Applicable Countries” does not include any country to or on which the United States has embargoed goods or imposed targeted sanctions (including, but not limited to, Sudan).

If you would like to apply — please click here.

Want to refer innovators you admire or have any questions? Get in touch at [email protected]

See you in Lagos!

Bag Week 2018: P.MAI’s women’s leather laptop bag is luxury packed with utility

Welcome to Bag Week 2018. Every year your faithful friends at TechCrunch spend an entire week looking at bags. Why? Because bags — often ignored but full of our important electronics — are the outward representations of our techie styles, and we put far too little thought into where we keep our most prized possessions.

I’ve always preferred carrying a backpack to work instead of a purse. Like many women, I’ve accepted that it means sacrificing style for comfort and utility. There are tons of women’s backpacks on the market with all sorts of colors, designs, materials and overall aesthetics.

But the minute you look for a quality, women’s leather laptop backpack the options are sparse and divided into two camps. They seem to either be casual in aesthetic and centered around a utilitarian design, or straight off the runway and built more for show than function.

P.MAI surprised me in its ability to find an uncompromising middle ground between a luxury aesthetic and practical utility.

Phuong Mai founded P.MAI after years of working in the world of management consulting. It is a world where consultants are expected to always be slightly better dressed than their clients, and they are constantly on the road traveling between client projects.

Mai’s purse caused back pain, and her doctor recommended switching to a backpack. She couldn’t find a backpack that checked all the boxes — feminine yet durable, comfortable yet sleek, utilitarian and still beautiful. So she bootstrapped P.MAI to create it.

She started by focusing on sourcing from suppliers with premium fabrics and leathers to blend beauty with durability. The backpack is constructed from full grain calf leather, two-tone nylon body fabric and poly lining. The fabrics are coated with PU to ensure water-resistance.

The design is sleek with no external protruding pockets. Instead there is one zip pocket large enough for a passport on the front, and compartments designed for the modern, professional woman inside. The padded laptop compartment fits up to a 15-inch laptop. There also are three internal slip pockets and one internal zip pocket to store and organize all of your belongings. These are complemented by an elastic lined water (or wine) bottle holder, and an internal key ring snaphook for your matching P.MAI wristlet.

The external details make the bag durable and travel friendly. There are four gold metal feet to prevent scratches on the bottom of the bag. There also is a built-in trolley strap, so it can easily be attached to the top of a roller suitcase. The top handle makes it easy to pick up like a handbag and slide the backpack on or off of a roller bag. While the external gold hardware is sleek and beautiful, I wish it included small holes suitable for a travel lock.

Mai incorporated her doctor’s advice into the design’s comfort factor. The shoulder straps are adjustable to properly distribute weight. They also have hidden airmesh padding to cushion your shoulders.

While it’s hard to find me wearing any color other than black, if black leather on black nylon isn’t your thing there are three other color combinations from which to choose; black leather and gray nylon, navy blue leather and navy blue nylon or cognac leather and navy blue nylon.

By designing a bag for women that blends a luxury aesthetic with comfortable utility, the P.MAI bag quickly rose to the the “Most Wished for” laptop backpack on Amazon last holiday season. Premium materials and quality design don’t come cheap. Still, the $450 price-tag may keep this one on the wish-list for now.

P.MAI is a refreshing laptop bag designed for the practical and health needs of professional women, while making them feel and look stylish.

bag week 2018