Skip to main content

African Bitcoin Startup Wins Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grant, Launches Blockchain Event Series in Nairobi

Op-ed - African Bitcoin Startup Wins Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grant

Bitcoin startup Bitsoko announced that it soon will begin sponsoring a Blockchain Event Series in Nairobi, Kenya. The events, held monthly at the iHub innovation hub, will focus on Blockchain education and networking, and offer opportunities for local startups to pitch.

The Bitsoko team, which is spread across Africa with a presence in Ghana, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Sierra Leone and Rwanda, uses Bitcoin to revolutionize money transfer and remittance services. The company offers digital currency services ranging from remittance and money transfer services to payment processing for merchants at a fraction of the current rates.

Last month Bitsoko won a Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Daniel Bloch of Bitsoko in Kenya will develop their mobile money platform known as Bitsoko, which integrates Blockchain technology for low-cost transactions mediated by bitcoins,” states the Grand Challenges website. “They have built a mobile wallet and a point-of-sale service for merchants that allows money to be easily and securely transferred around the world using only a Bitsoko username, phone number or bitcoin wallet address. Bitsoko will also offer simplified options for paying household bills and payrolls. They will raise awareness of their platform to scale up the number of users and merchants, and continue to evaluate the security and capability of the platform.”

Titled “Enable Universal Acceptance of Mobile Money Payments,” the grant page notes that people living on under $2 per day need to transact with money just like everyone else, but most poor people, particularly those living in countries where poverty is widespread, have no access to formal financial products or services to help them manage these transactions and their money. That’s the reality that Bitsoko hopes to change.

The Impatient Optimist blog of the Gates Foundation states that the goal of this Grand Challenge is to increase the value of mobile for poor and low-income people by enabling universal acceptance of mobile money among small merchants and service providers.

“The modern financial system does not work for the poor,” notes the foundation. “But there is a different option – a digital financial ecosystem. Digital transactions are efficient and can be very low in cost, but we still have a long way to go until we see the wide-scale adoption of digital payments.”

As a winner, Bitsoko will receive $100,000 in funding, with an opportunity to receive an add-on grant of $1 million if the project is successful. Bitsoko will use the grant to expand its services to Ghana, Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone, further enabling simple low-cost payments.

“The financial structure in Kenya and throughout Africa has changed rapidly since the birth of mobile money by MPesa,” said Bitsoko co-founder and lead developer Allan Juma. “We believe that this will only continue to grow, and tools such as Bitsoko that leverage Blockchain technology to lower transaction costs will be at the forefront of this boom. ”