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Start-ups scoop R200K for smart COVID innovations

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Two tech start-ups – Malii Fintech and Speakk – have scooped the maiden Smart City Innovators Awards after developing digital applications that can improve mobility and communication in the City of Johannesburg (COJ) during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The Smart City Innovators Challenge is an initiative by the COJ and the Wits University’s Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct to encourage residents to partner with the municipality in finding innovative solutions to service delivery challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Competitors had been urged to incorporate fourth industrial revolution solutions in their bids, which can enable the city to reduce vulnerability, improve food security and uphold human dignity during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Adopting these innovations in our systems will help us with service delivery, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which faces us today. From our side, we are quite excited to benefit from these innovations,” says councillor Jolidee Matongo, the city’s member of the mayoral committee for finance.

“There’s much more precision with automation, especially when it comes to engagement on social media. We welcome the transformation to be implemented in the city as part of the digital transformation we have planned.”

Matongo notes that lockdown protocols ignited new thinking about the future of Johannesburg and its residents, and the Smart City Innovators Awards were designed to cultivate sustainable technological responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, the COJ says both Malii Fintech and Speakk enterprises are run by young boffins at the centre of pioneering digital solutions to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Matongo says Malii Fintech and Speakk emerged victorious following a rigorous selection process from a large pool of tech companies, which had been challenged to pioneer empirical solutions to urban challenges faced by the city in the new normal.

In an e-mail interview with ITWeb, Speakk co-founder Antony Seeff said the application is an innovative new app that is empowering South Africans to communicate, even if they do not have any data or airtime.

“Anyone can send text messages or voice notes to their friends on the app without paying for any of the data used. Speakk pays for all the data and then shows ads throughout the app,” Seeff adds.

Howie Sommerfeld, co-founder of Speakk, says they are looking to hopefully work with the COJ to deliver a chatbot within Speakk to allow Johannesburg residents to ask the city questions without using any data or airtime.

“Most South Africans have been prevented from being in touch with friends and family whenever they want to, because of the high cost of mobile data in this country. We are looking to change that and to allow all South Africans to speak freely,” says Sommerfeld.

Malii Fintech inventor Oratile Seabela says: “Malii Fintech enables taxi commuters to make payments in a taxi without the use of cash.

“Commuters download the app on a smartphone and upload funds in the app. When riding a taxi, they will find a QR code on the taxi window and scan it with their smartphones and the driver will receive the payment.”

The winners received R100 000 each, which will be invested towards implementing their innovative ideas.

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