Talking about African startups with Amine Chouaieb

Posted by Editorial Team

 CEO of Tunisian startup, CHIFCO, is passionate about doing work that impacts the community. With the help of a Microsoft 4Afrika grant, he has been able to do just that by developing technology that taps into the Internet of Things to give African users access to products and services that solve some of their daily problems. Through his experience, he has learned how important SMEs are to develop local economies and encourage global investment. He believes that aside from funding, it’s all about finding the right people with aligned values when it comes to building a successful business.

We spent some time with Amine getting to know more about CHIFCO and what makes his business brain tick.

Tell us a bit about CHIFCO?

I used to work as an engineer, but always dreamed of starting my own company that would impact the community. I had the idea for CHIFCO, as a company working in the ‘internet of things’ sector to connect everyday devices in order to create new services related to energy, security, and health care. I was particularly interested in energy and conducted market research in this sector to come up with the concept of the InnerJ Box. This technology captures the complex relationships among devices, premises, customer accounts, users, applications, networks and services that must be managed by any Smart Grid in order to save energy. After seeing an advert in a newspaper from Microsoft, awarding ten startups grant funding and training, I saw the opportunity to turn my idea and market research into a reality. By winning a Microsoft 4Afrika grant, CHIFCO was able to pilot its technology. We built it on Microsoft platforms including Azure and Windows 8 mobile. With additional mentorship and training from Microsoft, CHIFCO has grown its business to 20 employees. The company also helped us gain valuable exposure.

Why do you think this technology is important in Africa?

Our technology helps African users to have easy and affordable access to a different product that focuses on solving their daily problems. For example, our energy service works on reducing energy demand in a smarter way by cutting off some devices without shutting down the whole grid. Through providing 3G/4G connectivity, InnerJ Box connects people on the energy grid and allows them to receive requests to cut consumption for short periods during the year. When the demand is high, users receive an SMS asking them to shut down their air-conditioning. Once they do, the system detects that and offers them a number of points that can later be exchanged for tablets, phones, internet or electricity equal to their energy savings. In such systems all the players of the energy distribution channel are winners. This technology is a first in Africa and enables users to enjoy real-time energy monitoring and an energy bill reduction of up to 30%. This way we are engaging people to change their habits for a greener future. For more information, click here.

Where is innovation needed in Africa? All around the continent, there is a lack of equilibrium between demand and production. So, for innovators, the opportunities are endless.

What is Tunisia's tech startup ecosystem like?

It's getting better and better. There are a lot of programs like Microsoft 4Afrika focusing on incubation and seed funding, but it will take time to set up a real sustainable innovation ecosystem. By being able to launch my company in Tunisia, I was also able to increase the vote of confidence in the country’s future economic landscape. This is important in light of the political instability we have faced, and in helping to attracting investment into the country so that other startups can prosper. I have now signed deals with a number of high-profile customers, ranging from consumers to enterprises, and we are currently working with large telcos and utility companies in various continents. This includes three deals with Telcos in Europe, and I am currently focused on signing 1 000 customers in Tunisia in the next year, followed by South Africa and Kenya.

What are some of the challenges you face?

  • Hiring good people
  • Delivering the right quality in the right time
  • Access to finance: many entrepreneurs in Africa perceive access to finance as the number one barrier to setting up their own business, and focus too much time on creating the perfect business model. They need to work on themselves first because investors look at the team profile before anything else.

What makes a startup successful in your opinion?

A successful team. People who share the same vision and can spread their passion through the whole value chain and implement critical thinking into the ground, building their network in a sustainable way and spreading the right values internally and externally.

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