Tag Archives: Entrepreneurs

Meet Kwara, a startup in the new Africa Immersion program

At Google for Startups, we look for ways to support promising new companies around the world. But those companies usually stay put in their home regions, which can be limiting—it means a smaller network of expertise to draw on, and a restricted pool of venture capital investors. We wanted to see what might happen if we expanded the geographical horizon, and connected up-and-coming businesses in one region with well-honed resources from a different region.


So in September, Google for Startups UK launched our first-ever Africa Immersion cohort, a 12-week program to bring expertise from Google and London startups to tech startups from Africa. We chose ten startups from our Launchpad Africa program, a network of tech startups around the world, who can share learnings, support and do business with each other. We wrapped up last week in Lagos, where we brought key investors from the UK to meet with the founders. 


To get a behind-the-scenes view of the Africa Immersion cohort, we chatted with Cynthia Wandia, co-founder and CEO of Kwara, an online and mobile banking platform for financial cooperatives (also known as credit unions and community banks).

First, what does Kwara do?


We provide secure, simple and affordable online and mobile banking for cooperative financial institutions and their members, who are often excluded by traditional banks. Starting in Kenya, our mission is to make sure that these institutions can meet their members’ financial needs instantly, helping them avoid expensive predatory alternatives.

Two Kwara team members smiling

Team Kwara: Austin Kabiru, Software Engineer, and Cynthia Wandia, Cofounder & CEO

How did you get started—where did the idea come from?

The idea started from the view that small-scale cash crop farmers should be able to command more value for their produce. As most farmers rely on the cooperative for their primary financial needs, we decided to strengthen the cooperatives by making them more secure, transparent and investible.

Who are your customers? What does your company do for them?

Our first sector is financial cooperatives, also known as credit unions and community banks. Our technology helps them acquire and retain more members, secure their members’ funds, and increase their own revenues. Members in turn benefit from increased convenience, transparency, peace of mind and more complete credit profiles. And since we link our banking platform to the formal financial sector, the members can also access shared channels such as ATM networks and widespread agent infrastructure.

Why did you decide to participate in the Africa Immersion program?

We were first connected to Google through Launchpad, a three-month accelerator program that provides early-stage startups with access to Google technology, mentorship and workshops on growing their businesses. Before Launchpad, we had acquired some customers who were willing to try out our product while it was still in an early testing stage, and we were making sure that we really could solve all the problems we wanted to address. Launchpad helped us focus on a single product and user, and define our tech team responsibilities. And the Google brand gave us added credibility with potential customers. We also benefited immensely from the lessons and experiences that other startups shared with us. So we were keen to participate in another Google program, specifically one that sought to open up new investor networks to us, as well as continue to introduce us to a peer group of admirable startups from all over the continent. 

Is there a moment or event from the program that particularly stands out to you?

Access to the Google for Startups UK team who have an extensive network and are very open to share has been the highlight. We have been linked with experts in product, fundraising and marketing, both from within Google and from leading startups in the UK.

What do you hope will come out of the program?

We hope to align with a few like-minded investors to start conversations about our next funding round. We also hope to continue our mentorship with the Google for Startups team, and hopefully speed up our marketing efforts.

Using the web to help young people find work


South Africa has the world’s highest recorded youth unemployment rate. Many young people are unable to access job opportunities due to a lack of financial resources and necessary work experience. Allan van der Muelen, the co-founder of start-up Zlto, is changing this. 

Zlto is a web-based digital rewards platform that incentivizes young people to gain work experience by volunteering in the community. Users build a digital resume by uploading completed work assignments, showing both their impact on the project and the skills they gained while completing the task. For each project they also earn Zlto, a digital currency that can be spent on a range of items, like food, clothing, mobile data and transportation, thanks to collaborations with national retail partners. 

“I work with young people to show them that they do have choices and the Web is giving them access to even more,” he says. In 2018, Zlto won the Google Impact Challenge and more recently started working with Chrome engineers to streamline their web app. 

Zlto on desktop

Zlto’s user dashboard is the portal to volunteer opportunities and provides a progress summary.

People access Zlto through devices with limited capabilities and with limited data and connections. So providing them with instant access to the platform is critical to the company’s success. By building on the web, the Zlto team was able to make the app widely accessible. A typical Zlto user accesses their web app three times a day, so it’s critical that their experience is reliable. The Zlto team uses modern web technologies to ensure the app is responsive and reliable, and they use tools including Google’s Lighthouse to monitor the app’s performance and make instant fixes.

Zlto is having a notable impact in the Cape Town Flats, securing permanent work for more than 2,300 young people in the last 12 months; there are 36,000 volunteers working with more than 1.2 million people in the community. The team is now piloting the launch of Zlto in Tanzania as well as the United Kingdom, working with the Newbigin House charity in support of asylum seekers and other individuals.

Google for Startups Accelerator empowers AI startups in Europe

With access to the world's largest economy, a growing number of companies valued at a billion dollars, and a tech industry growing five times faster than the rest of the world, startups play a critical role in the future of Europe.

We’ve been working with startups in Europe for many years at our Google for Startups Campuses in the UK, Spain and Poland, as well as through partner organizations in 13 European countries. Startups at our Campuses and in our partner network are drivers of economic growth, having created more than 19,000 jobs and raised $1.7 billion since 2015.

To support startups to do great work, we’re bringing our Google for Startups Acceleratorprogram to Europe. The program is open to startups across Europe and each one will focus on a particular sector—with our current programs supporting startups in cybersecurity, entertainment, and social impact. Our accelerator selects startups focused on AI and, for three months, provides intense support on the teams' biggest challenges. We bring experts from Google and the industry to give these founders mentorship and tailored technical expertise. The program also includes workshops focused on machine learning, product design, customer acquisition, and leadership development for founders.

Our first Google for Startups Accelerator kicked off last month in Malaga, Spain. With a focus on cybersecurity startups, it includes companies like SecureKids, a team working to help parents and teachers keep their children safe when using tablets and mobile devices.

This month at our Google for Startups Campus in Warsaw, we welcome our second Google for Startups Accelerator cohort, made up of top entertainment startups from across Europe. Recent research showed that investment from Asia, USA, and Canada into the Central and Eastern Europe region has doubled since 2015; it is an exciting and fast-growing area now home to 12 companies valued at 1 billion dollars or more.

Also this month we announced the Google for Startups Accelerator: Sustainable Development Goals, focused on social impact startups that are building a healthier and more sustainable future. Startups will be selected based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including poverty, inequality, climate, prosperity, and peace and justice.

We also have plans to further expand across Europe in 2020 to continue to support the continent’s growing startup communities. Want to learn more about Google for Startups Accelerator or apply for future cohorts? Learn more at our website.

Digital skills for Indonesia’s internet economy

Since joining Google just over a year ago, I’ve heard so many inspirational stories about the ways Indonesians are using the internet to improve their lives and others’.  Entrepreneurs like Sherly Santa—who took her durian business online—have helped make Indonesia’s internet economy the largest in Southeast Asia.  And a new generation of young Indonesians is working on big ideas for the future—like the Developer Student Club that built a flood warning app for villages in Bojonegoro.  


The challenge for Indonesia isn’t a lack of ability or ambition. It’s giving more Indonesians the digital skills to take advantage of the opportunities technology creates, something that’s a priority for us and our Indonesian partners. Training programs like Gapura Digital and Women Will have helped 1.4 million Indonesians learn digital basics and business tools. But we also want to help Indonesians gain more advanced software skills, which are in high demand from Indonesian technology companies. 


Today, at the fourth Google for Indonesia event, we announced a new initiative aimed at meeting that need. Bangkit (meaning “rise up” in Indonesian) is an intensive, six-month training program for developers run in partnership with Gojek, Tokopedia, Traveloka and leading Indonesian universities in Jakarta, Bandung, Denpasar and Yogyakarta. The program will be free, but selective—open to cohorts of 300 of the most talented developers across the country, with workshops starting in January 2020. The goal is to teach developers both technical skills in machine learning, as well as more general “soft skills” that can help them advance their career in the technology sector. Our hope is that Bangkit helps expand the pool of talent in Indonesia, making it easier for even smaller startups to hire people with the skills they need—and supporting Indonesia's digital economy as it continues to grow. 

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Bangkit isn't the only way we're helping Indonesians get the most out of the internet. At Google for Indonesia we also announced a partnership with Telkom to expand Google Station, so it reaches more Indonesians with a network of fast, free and secure Wi-Fi points. We’ve launched Kormo, a career app that connects job seekers and employers to entry-level roles. And we’re deepening our commitment to protecting Indonesians online, announcing Stay Safer for Google Maps—a feature that lets people share their location with friends and family, and alerts them when their driver deviates from their chosen route by more than 500 meters.

With 152 million Indonesians online—and more joining them every day—there’s great potential for Indonesia to shape its future with new technologies, growing digital industries and jobs. It starts with expanding skills and opportunities more widely across the country—and we’re committed to playing our part. 

AI is bringing back balance to Japanese workers

The “Japanese economic miracle” is a term used to describe the fast-paced growth that Japan saw in the second half of the 20th century. Along with the rise to the world’s second-largest economy came a strong mentality for success, and much like other advanced economies, that left a side effect: work-life imbalance, resulting in an overworked population. 

Japanese entrepreneur Miku Hirano founded her startup, Cinnamon, to address this challenge to help relieve the burden on the Japanese worker. Using artificial intelligence, Cinnamon removes repetitive tasks from office workers’ daily responsibilities, allowing more work to get done faster by fewer people. Cinnamon recently participated in Google Developers Launchpad Accelerator Japan. We asked Miku to reflect on her path from becoming an entrepreneur and the challenges she faces in her work. 

When did you realize you wanted to make an impact on Japanese workers? 

I founded my first startup when I was a student in 2006, and it was successfully acquired by mixi in 2011, so entrepreneurship is not new to me. Just three years ago, I read a news story about a young woman in Japan who committed suicide after working too much. I did some research and found this was not an isolated incident, and in fact, we have word, karoshi, which means death from overwork.. 

I was pregnant at the time, and I started to think we should change this current working style for the next generation. Work-life balance isn’t just a “nice” aspiration to have. Consistency with your family, pursuing hobbies and spending time in nature is directly related to health and happiness. 

So how does Cinnamon help restore work-life balance? 

he majority of the time-consuming work that Japanese workers face is the result of “unstructured data.” For example, legal contracts are often 400 pages long, and without a way to quickly summarize it, workers are left to read the entire document, a task that can take up to a week to accomplish. Cinnamon uses artificial intelligence to quickly summarize the document in minutes.  

What we’re building at Cinnamon is a way to use AI to remove repetitive tasks that can give workers back hours of their life each day and increase the quality and output of their work. Advanced technology is the core component that makes Cinnamon work, and Google’s AI tools like TensorFlow and Firebase have been an easy way to allow computers to read and understand a lot of text very quickly.  

Why did you choose to participate in the Launchpad Accelerator? 

We were facing a block on how to develop large, quality AI models effectively and how to build strong teams.  Google’s program was supporting exactly that. 

During our time in the accelerator, we received hands-on mentorship for complex AI model development. We also got to participate in a program called LeadersLab, which gave us in-depth insight into our leadership styles.

What advice do you have for future entrepreneurs?

Start your business today!  There’s no reason to wait. Talk to potential customers immediately and get a sense for if they find your idea valuable. Most importantly, find your inspiration. For me it’s my kids, because they always inspire me with their genuine, fresh eyes and minds.

A new home for Japan’s startups

Google CEO Sundar Pichai meets Japanese founders from Sansan and Cinnamon

Japan has always been a nation of forward thinkers. From the bullet train and the walkman to the lithium ion battery, Japanese ideas have shaped the modern world—and now a new generation of Japanese entrepreneurs is carrying on that legacy, building businesses around technology like artificial intelligence and machine learning.  

To support these talented founders as they grow and scale globally, we’re opening the doors on a Google for Startups Campus in Tokyo. Joining a worldwide network with locations from London to São Paulo to Seoul, it’s a platform for Japanese startups to develop their ideas, access Google resources, and build connections with like-minded entrepreneurs.  

We’ve been supporting Japanese startups for some time now: Cinnamon uses AI to help businesses work more efficiently and Lily MedTech is working on a device that could better detect breast cancer at an early stage. The new Campus means we’re better able to help many more founders as they take their ventures forward. It’s co-located with our new office in Shibuya, so we can offer Google training, mentoring and tools. And it’ll provide a welcoming, inclusive environment for startups from all backgrounds. Over 37% of our Campus members globally are women—a higher percentage than in most other parts of the startup community, but one we’re working hard to increase every year. 

Starting in 2020, the Tokyo Campus will also be home to a new Google for Startups Accelerator, an intensive three-month boot camp for startups working in AI. The goal of the Accelerator program is to give founders with established products the tools to prepare for the next phase of growth, and ultimately contribute to a stronger Japanese economy. We’re confident the program’s focus on AI and machine learning will advance ways of applying technology to tackle social, economic and environmental challenges—an area where we believe Japan can lead the world. Applications open today.

The launch of a Google for Startups Campus in Tokyo is part of a bigger story, with Japan making technology, digital skills, and AI central to its ambitions for the future. Eighteen years ago, Japan was where we opened the first Google office outside the United States. Today, our team here is much bigger, but we're just as focused on making sure Japan has the digital tools and services it needs. We're helping Japanese businesses adopt cloud computing. We're supporting AI research at academic institutions and universities. And we've committed to train 10 million Japanese workers in digital skills by 2022, through the Grow with Google program we launched earlier this year. 

We’re looking forward to Campus contributing to these efforts, giving Japanese startups the opportunity to make their ideas real—and continue shaping the world like so many of Japan’s entrepreneurs before them. 

Talking strategy (and eating churros) with startups in Spain

This past spring, I sat with 12 fellow Googlers on beanbag chairs in the basement of Google for Startups Campus in Madrid. The area was outfitted as part conference room, part social gathering space. We took turns going around in a circle, talking about our arrival in Spain the previous day. We’d felt unsure of ourselves and of what we had to offer—but as we talked, we found ourselves getting inspired to step out of our usual comfort zones and try something new. 

The dozen of us had been chosen to participate in the Startup Advisors Summit, a program during which Googlers spend two weeks working with startups in London, Madrid, Tel Aviv, Seoul, São Paulo and Warsaw. The program is facilitated by the Google for Startups team, which operates Campuses—dedicated spaces for startups to work, connect and access Google resources—in those cities. 

Each morning, my colleagues and I trekked from our hotel on Gran Via past the Royal Palace and down the hill to Campus, where we listened, questioned and observed the startups to learn about the challenges they were facing. From there, we drew on our own expertise to advise in areas where the startups were not yet experts—whether it was communication strategy or data and analytics. We held office hours, hosted workshops, led meetings and participated in Q&A sessions. We helped build product timelines and marketing strategies. We analyzed financial plans and constructed brand identities. (And we all built up a collective appetite for churros, which we enthusiastically gobbled up each night at the local chocolateria.) 

Carly Schwartz at Startup Advisors Summit

The author, teaching startups how to tell their companies’ stories. 

My area of expertise focused on storytelling, and I worked with a number of different startups to refine their tactics. I wrote a video script with the founders of Routive, a travel guide company that specializes in guided car tours through Southeast Asia. I designed a social media program with the CEO of Adopta un Abuelo, a network that connects young volunteers to work with elders who might otherwise feel isolated. I edited website copy with the duo behind Doinn, a platform for house cleaning services. And I taught a group of 35 local entrepreneurs about storytelling, and how it can apply to their companies.

Gabriel Domínguez, Routive’s founder, was developing the company’s new website with his team when they entered the Google for Startups residency program, which includes two weeks dedicated to the Startups Advisors Summit. During that time, they designed a complete site structure and a strategy to expand it globally. “The Startup Advisors Summit was the best part of the Google for Startups Residency program for us,” he said. “We even redefined our business mission for the future.”

Sofia Benjumea, who runs Google for Startups in Spain, described the summit as a “win-win” for Googlers and startup founders alike. The founders get access to an experienced cohort of tech professionals who can provide unique insights and consulting. The Googlers push the limits of their own knowledge base, learn new leadership skills that then serve them well when they return to their core roles, and, of course, make new friends (and eat churros). 

The Google for Startups residency runs at six locations around the world, offering tailored mentorship and workplaces to growing companies. Residents also receive access to Google products, connections and trainings. If you’re interested in learning more about the program, the fourth edition of the Google for Startups Residency in Madrid will start in February, and applications are open until November 15. For more information on programs run at Google for Startups’ campuses, check out the program’s global website.

Byteboard adds interviews for web and mobile engineers

We launched Byteboard inside Area 120, Google’s workshop for experimental projects, with a primary goal to fundamentally change tech hiring for the better. Byteboard is a full-service interviewing platform for software engineers, which uses project-based interviews to assess for skills that are actually used on the job, rather than the theoretical concepts tested for in traditional interviews.

Byteboard aims to help companies efficiently, accurately and fairly assess back-end engineering candidates. In the 14 months since our first pilot, Byteboard has interviewed over 2,000 candidates for clients like Lyft, Betterment and Quibi. By using our platform, our customers have seen their onsite-to-offer rates double and have saved hundreds of hours for recruiters and engineers.

In my role at Byteboard, I have had countless conversations with engineering managers across the tech industry about how expensive, time-consuming, and error-prone hiring engineers can be. Trying to hire a specialist--someone who has mastery in a technical subdomain--is even harder. If you ask a front-end engineer what they think about technical interviews, usually their experience is even worse than the average engineer, since traditional technical interviews over-emphasize skills that are often even less relevant for front-end work.

Today, Byteboard is launching interviews for mobile engineering and web development. These new interview types are still modeled after a day in the life of an engineer, but they give experienced Kotlin, Swift or HTML/CSS/JavaScript engineers an opportunity to dive deeper on some of the front-end skills that they’ve honed and accumulated over their careers. Front-end engineers prefer taking the Byteboard interview for the same reason generalists do: It more accurately represents the work they might actually do on the job.

In addition to the core software engineering skills that all Byteboard questions assess for, Byteboard front-end interviews also evaluate for additional domain-specific knowledge, such as a focus on accessibility or internet principles. This gives hiring managers a comprehensive view of a candidate’s software engineering skills, as well as their role-related knowledge.

Byteboard is on a mission to make technical interviews more effective, efficient, and equitable for all. Front-end engineers should not have to memorize theoretical concepts that they will never use on the job. Instead, they should have the opportunity to demonstrate their skills in an authentic engineering environment that is reflective of their day-to-day work. Expanding our assessment methodology to front-end skill sets is another step towards making interviews better for everyone. 

To learn more about how Byteboard can help you improve your hiring processes, get in touch at byteboard.dev for more information.

Byteboard adds interviews for web and mobile engineers

We launched Byteboard inside Area 120, Google’s workshop for experimental projects, with a primary goal to fundamentally change tech hiring for the better. Byteboard is a full-service interviewing platform for software engineers, which uses project-based interviews to assess for skills that are actually used on the job, rather than the theoretical concepts tested for in traditional interviews.

Byteboard aims to help companies efficiently, accurately and fairly assess back-end engineering candidates. In the 14 months since our first pilot, Byteboard has interviewed over 2,000 candidates for clients like Lyft, Betterment and Quibi. By using our platform, our customers have seen their onsite-to-offer rates double and have saved hundreds of hours for recruiters and engineers.

In my role at Byteboard, I have had countless conversations with engineering managers across the tech industry about how expensive, time-consuming, and error-prone hiring engineers can be. Trying to hire a specialist--someone who has mastery in a technical subdomain--is even harder. If you ask a front-end engineer what they think about technical interviews, usually their experience is even worse than the average engineer, since traditional technical interviews over-emphasize skills that are often even less relevant for front-end work.

Today, Byteboard is launching interviews for mobile engineering and web development. These new interview types are still modeled after a day in the life of an engineer, but they give experienced Kotlin, Swift or HTML/CSS/JavaScript engineers an opportunity to dive deeper on some of the front-end skills that they’ve honed and accumulated over their careers. Front-end engineers prefer taking the Byteboard interview for the same reason generalists do: It more accurately represents the work they might actually do on the job.

In addition to the core software engineering skills that all Byteboard questions assess for, Byteboard front-end interviews also evaluate for additional domain-specific knowledge, such as a focus on accessibility or internet principles. This gives hiring managers a comprehensive view of a candidate’s software engineering skills, as well as their role-related knowledge.

Byteboard is on a mission to make technical interviews more effective, efficient, and equitable for all. Front-end engineers should not have to memorize theoretical concepts that they will never use on the job. Instead, they should have the opportunity to demonstrate their skills in an authentic engineering environment that is reflective of their day-to-day work. Expanding our assessment methodology to front-end skill sets is another step towards making interviews better for everyone. 

To learn more about how Byteboard can help you improve your hiring processes, get in touch at byteboard.dev for more information.

Supporting social impact startups

Around the world, there are more startups addressing the world’s most pressing social challenges. There’s Asaduru, a South Africa-based green building business; Skilllab BV in the Netherlands, which helps refugees better integrate into labor markets; and Limbic in the UK, which uses AI to better understand mental health data.

Technology can help address some of the world’s biggest challenges, from empowering others to use AI to address social challenges, to setting ambitious and long-term environmental sustainability goals. When businesses and investors work together with government, nonprofits, communities and individuals, we can make real progress.

Today we’re launching the Google for Startups Accelerator focused on sustainable development goals. Geared toward social impact startups working to create a healthier and more sustainable future, the accelerator provides access to training, products and technical support. Startup founders will work with Google engineers and receive mentoring from over 20 teams at Google, as well as outside experts and local mentors. 

Startups will be selected based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals including poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. Applications will open for startups from across Europe, the Middle East and Africa in the next few weeks and eight to ten startups will take part in a six-month accelerator program in early 2020. A second cohort will be selected later in the year. 

The program is designed to address the unique challenges founders face when building a social impact company: 

Product and engineering expertise

People with social impact expertise don’t always have experience building tech products. So our program seeks to bring startups together with the best technology products, data and people to help them build expertise. 

Business development

Monetization for social impact startups is complex and can involve multiple parties: The people who pay for it may not be the people who use it, or the people who benefit from it. Our accelerator will help founders connect with the audiences they need to, such as potential users, investors and advertisers. 

Access to funding

While investors are increasingly seeing the value in social impact startups, there are unique challenges in attracting the right investors, and competing with traditional startups who are focused primarily on growth or acquisition. This accelerator will help participants connect and work with a wider base of potential investors.   

The new accelerator is part of Google for Startups which help startups build and scale great products by matching them with the best of Google—our people, network and advanced technologies.