FIP 110: Hardware entrepreneurs 2/3 – Creating electronic hardware products for businesses in East Africa, with Mary Mwangi

This is part two of a 3-part series on invention-based entrepreneurs, supported by The Lemelson Foundation. The series aims to provide unique insights into some of the challenges and workarounds faced by entrepreneurs creating hardware products in emerging markets. This part two episode is with Mary Mwangi of Data Integrated Ltd., and we are going to hear about her electronic hardware development journey on manufacturing products to improve security in public transport, and to reduce financial leakage. Data Integrated Ltd. is creating electronic hardware products for businesses in East Africa to help business owners keep track of money, whether that is transport companies keeping track of passengers, or point of sale (PoS) devices for retail businesses taking cash and mobile money payments.

On this episode you will learn:

  • The biggest problem that most small businesses in Africa face is a lack of data. There is not enough information around their payments, about their resources, and services they are being paid for–there is no digitized or automated way of keeping this and it has been very manual and not very productive.
    • Cash leakage and loss of revenue for owners
    • Insecurity
  • Her easy and affordable point of sale (PoS) device for retail businesses taking cash and mobile money payments, particularly small restaurant owners, and making sure it would work for the local African market.
    • Integrates with mobile money providers, card payments from the bank, and cash payments all captured in one place.
    • Keeps track of inventory that has been paid and gives data back to the owners in an easy to read dashboard so they can make better decisions.
    • Raspberry pi – premade hardware kit for simple programming.
  • One of the biggest challenges she faced was the long development cycle, having to send electronic boards to China, create a prototype, test, iterate, and send back again for testing. Each iteration can take over two months to get the next version back.
    • No printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturer exists in East Africa that can create such small PCB units.
    • Mary recently bought a 3D printer to shorten casing time.
  • Her struggles with sourcing good local talent so people can help create these PCBs. Since there is no industry in East Africa, there is not as much local talent nor expertise, and people are finding the tools online to teach themselves, so there is a lot of trial and error going on. Her advice is:
    • Get referrals from local universities
    • Recruit young people keen to learn
    • Accessing experts on LinkedIn, YouTube videos
  • How she is financing her business with this long development cycle. It is really difficult to get funding for hardware development, so they label themselves as a software company, since they create connected devices for software solutions.
  • How she creates partnerships in order to find hardware solutions and to iterate the product with them, then sell it onto other customers. Once you are able to do it with one company, then you find similar ones that also want the same solution.
  • Finally, you will learn about the new actionable playbook for invention-based entrepreneurs based on interviews and discussions with leaders in the field, delving into the challenges of bringing physical products into the market. The playbook prepared by Finding Impact will provide actionable content around issues such as workarounds, hiring teams, raising funds, creating minimum viable products and launch strategies, to help entrepreneurs on their invention journey. Click here to sign-up for the playbook.

Links to resources:

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