Good Design Thinking Strategy is Good Business

Hicron's Expert View: Lessons businesses can learn from the African startup's experience
Konrad Mazur
Konrad Mazur
Business Transformation Expert
September 19
14 min

[This article was updated on May 11, 2023]

Engineers might disagree. However, not all bridges are built with steel, concrete and asphalt. Some are made entirely of cooperation and coordination. This is the type of bridge connecting Europe’s closest neighbour, the African continent.

Covering everything from smart health and fintech services to food tech, ed tech and sustainable energy, EU and African companies are bringing their smart solutions to be incubated, accelerated and scaled up via partnerships across the Mediterranean Sea. Together, they are tackling global health emergencies – such as the Covid-19 pandemic – and climate change, issues that hit Africa hardest, but transcend borders and countries.

Meet Hadiyyah Eleojoh Lawal. She is a disrupter dedicated to unlocking digital healthcare in Nigeria, now scaling up in Europe. Appreciating the tremendous potential of digital technologies, she is helping African hospitals throw their paper files into the dustbins of history, and through smart solutions, linking hospitals and patient data across the two continents.

Table of contents:
EU-Africa startup bridges of innovation
European companies scale up in Africa
Not only business matters… social-economic impact of startups development in Africa
African Strategy & Business Design – Kenyan M-Pesa as a model
Concluding remarks


Making the dream come true

‘It was always a dream to make key information available to patients in my home country,’ said Lawal, who studied information management systems at university.

As chief operating officer of Primed E-health, a leading African digital healthcare company in Nigeria’s capital city Abuja, Lawal has realised her dream. Together with co-founder and company CEO Dr Are Abdulhafiz, they developed a game-changing electronic management

system to unify records and databases across hospitals, which now counts 44 hospitals in West Africa, handling data of 1.5 million patients. With Primed E-health’s award-winning SmartClinic app, patients can use their smartphones to access their doctors for consultations, download their health records, get prescriptions, book medical appointments and pay fees through the SmartWallet.

As one of the first companies in Africa to digitise hospitals, Primed E-health’s mobile and web medical app gained incredible traction in the response to Covid-19. Its mobile-web solution was recognised by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) as one of the country’s top digital solutions developed by startups.

Along with the NCC award came funding to digitise many more hospitals in Nigeria and roll out the pilot SmartClinic product. The company is now expanding to 200 hospitals in Ghana, Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, and Kenya. ‘And the next step will be to link them with Europe,’ said Lawal.

A chance to bridge the business in Europe

Hadiyyah Eleojoh Lawal, Primed E-health’s cofounder and COO.Hadiyyah Eleojoh Lawal, Primed E-health’s cofounder and COO said:

African countries have vast knowledge of the startup space, allowing to develop a model that they think can be scaled across Europe. African companies can now achieve this with the large network of startups, especially in other African countries like South Africa, Cameroon and Kenya, expanding reach as we develop programmes around healthcare and technology. They are now able to hire local experts due to the collaborations already established while in Europe.

Plans to connect with Europe are in motion. The company is one of 10 African innovators to incubate in the “BEES” soft-landing programme launched in Berlin, Copenhagen and Paris by the incubator Bond’innov – a key industry player in the innovation network ENRICH in Africa (EiA) mentoring startups and SMEs in the cross-continental innovation system.

This kind of EU-Africa initiatives are key to attracting investors and future stakeholders when launching in Europe. African companies have been able to establish partnerships around online transactional services that they can integrate with their healthcare solutions, and other mobile healthcare providers, like H24. These are allowing them to [even] integrate with other markets that are linked to Europe, such as Maroko, Ghana and others.

Powered by the EiA (Europe-Africa) programme, Bond’innov’s bootcamp has helped many African companies navigate the complex and important path of internationalization to Europe.

Such European and African innovation linkups to tackle global challenges are expected to get a boost as EU and AU leaders acknowledged their joint Innovation Agenda for jobs and growth with a focus on youth during the AU-EU Summit this week.


EiA programs do not just help African startups and SMEs scale up in Europe. They also cater to European innovators interested in scaling up on the opposite side of the Mediterranean and right across Africa. These programs offer access to local markets and know-how and aim at boosting innovation investments, jobs, and growth. They also target global challenges, as pandemics and the climate emergency do not respect borders between countries or continents.

European startups are already experiencing an acceleration in Africa. They can now join accelerators such as Chapter54, which – launched by global tech investment firm Partech – is the first accelerator dedicated to European scaleups. The decision to expand to Africa is inspired by the continent’s fast-growing tech ecosystem, the company says.

The timing is perfect. The African ‘tech hubs’ ecosystem is expanding to accommodate a next generation of innovators that range from business incubators – where early-stage companies have access to mentoring and support to help them get established – and accelerators, offering developing companies access to mentorship, investors and further support.

One platform for European companies seeking to invest in Africa is the African European Digital Innovation Bridge Network (AEDIB|NET). Aiming to create a common digital innovation ecosystem, this initiative is building bridges between EU and African ecosystems. By connecting startups, SMEs, the diaspora, and other African and European ecosystem players in transcontinental partnerships, it is facilitating intercontinental collaboration.

Its mission includes establishing digital innovation hubs (DIHs) along the EU DIH model and adapting them to work on shared challenges, such as climate, smart agriculture, smart cities, and digital trade. The final goal is to provide SME and intermediary support as well as investor networks by tapping into expertise from Africa and Europe, altogether creating a powerful common innovation ecosystem.

Of the 13 key consortium partners in the project is Smart Africa, a pan-African institution. Its aim is ambitious: to transform Africa into a single digital market by 2030 (much like the EU) by building affordable digital infrastructure, promoting and facilitating investment in Africa, and accelerating the birth and development of a digital society. Backed by all heads of state and government of the African Union, the Smart Africa Alliance today includes 32 African countries, which represent close to a whopping 815 million people.

Smart Africa is ensuring that the continent develops in harmony with Europe and the rest of the world through cooperation initiatives such as the EU-Africa Digital Economy Taskforce, the AU-EU D4D Hub project, our partnership with European development partners such as Norway’s NORAD and Germany’s BMZ/GIZ. The project outcomes will be ‘very impactful’ for the development of African and European digital innovation hubs.


The development of tech startups in Africa is not just a business issue. Few startup investors realize how much of an impact this has on the continent’s socioeconomic development. Let’s take a closer look at a few European-African start-ups that have played a key role in the development of African societies and have had a remarkable impact.

Electricity and gas supply

About 80 million Nigerians face daily blackouts. Uwana Energy provides app for affordable solar energy products to low-income Nigerian microentrepreneurs. How? By partnering with financial institutions so they can avoid the high upfront costs of solar power, save money and improve their lives.

Globally, 3 billion people use polluting biomass fuels for cooking every day. In addition, 4 million people die annually from inefficient cooking practices, such as the use of wood and charcoal stoves, of which about 64,000 are Nigerians. Hinata Energy aims to provide an affordable energy app for a healthier cooking environment and offer biofuel-powered cookstoves.

Financial activities

Half of the adult population in sub-Saharan Africa still lacks access to financial services. The fintech company Kobopay provides a wide range of services using a community-based approach. It works with local businesses in their communities to offer their services offline, thus reaching the last mile. Its aim is to offer financial services to the underserved at low cost and within walking distance of their homes.

In Nigeria, only 27% of women have a bank account, one of the lowest rates in the world. A female-focused fintech, Secluded aims to empower finance for all women by providing them with access to loans, learning opportunities and support to scale their businesses.

Technology services

African aesthetics have inspired the global fashion industry and cultural icons worldwide. While major brands have widely embraced the black aesthetic, black designers remain voiceless in the retail market and lack access to sales channels and global consumers. Adjoaa is a curated multi-brand online marketplace that offers global consumers a selection of sustainable and accessible Black-Owned premium fashion and lifestyle products.

Onesha Technologies provides a scalable marketplace for small and medium-sized businesses to affordably hire skilled African freelancers and creatives to develop digital services. It is supported by a secure and trusted escrow infrastructure to handle payments anywhere in Africa.

Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing

Artisanal fishing is under threat by mass-produced imports and illegal, uncontrolled trawler fishing. NshoNam is a fresh seafood marketing technology solution designed with West African artisanal fishing communities by aggregating and coordinating catches, digitally managing low-cost cold chains, and leveraging technology to expand market access.

Fresh, quality, affordable products are often in short supply in both urban cities and rural towns. Taimba is a mobile platform that connects farmers with consumers. It offers last-mile cold chain distribution from rural farms to markets and, through its platform, fresh products can be sourced directly from smallholder farmers, cutting out the middlemen and directly benefiting farmers.

Human health and social work activities

Can you picture an on-demand pharmacy? Pharmarun eliminates the barriers of traditional pharmacies with an easy-to-use online platform that enables users to find and deliver medication directly to their doorsteps.

The underdeveloped healthcare systems and infrastructure in Africa leads to over 2 million preventable deaths annually. Claron Health International is a digital health company providing integrated, personalized and affordable medical services with a focus on occupational, digital, and accessible healthcare for all.

Transportation and storage

WeGoo is a delivery startup that enables micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and e-commerce platforms to distribute their products quickly, easily and affordably across Ghana. Its mobile app allows over 500 MSMEs to deliver their products to their customers on-demand or on a scheduled basis.

Loadmoran is an end-to-end tech logistics service provider designed to tackle a logistics problem in Africa by bringing together key logistics processes, i.e. freight, storage and fulfilment, all under one tech platform. Efficient, data-driven delivery is renewable delivery. Its goal is to make logistics in Africa fast, reliable and efficient by bringing the most advanced technology to key logistics processes.

Information, media and communication

Dobiison is accelerating the adoption and commercialization of virtual reality in Ghana. Increasing competition, lack of trust and limited access to local providers show the need for World-class, custom, interactive virtual reality solutions and services to promote and manage the most valuable assets on the go. Dobiison also transforms consumer access to experiences and physical spaces.

Education and learning

In Africa, there are 250 million children with no access to books in English or their indigenous languages and 48 million African youth (ages 15-24) are illiterate. AkooBooks is Ghana’s first

publisher and digital distributor of African audiobooks, offering the most compelling and diverse collection of Black/African audiobooks. A mobile app/Web-based platform available in multiple African languages to illiterate & educated Africans and a global African diaspora.

Accommodation and food service activities

A solution for issues like high service fees on booking platforms, over-reliance on travel agents and middlemen is Tripitaca. A platform that allows hosts/hotels to see travellers that are coming to their area and approach them with offers, eliminating the need for middlemen & travel agents to get bookings.


One of the most successful examples of EU-Africa cooperation is the startup M-PESA (launched by British Vodafone company and Kenyan Safaricom company in Kenya in 2007) shows how great a source of inspiration and advancement of Strategy & Business Design can come from developing countries. Countries of Africa, not usually associated with technological development, boast a surprisingly high level of sophistication in mobile services, especially mobile payments.

Not long ago, we witnessed the launch of payments using Near Field Communication (NFC) technology in Poland. As the European leader in contactless payments, Poland was a test field for this technology. NFC arouses a lot of excitement and expectations, but interestingly, the use of mobile in payments is not a new idea. The pioneer and leader in this area is a country very rarely associated with such innovation.

Design Thinking – Good Market and UX Research

East Africans’ big problems have become their opportunities. What is not always the general rule, these have been put to good use.

Conditions in Kenya in 2007, may have seemed unpromising for the development of electronic services:

  • Few Kenyans owned computers.
  • Even fewer had access to the Internet.
  • Ownership of a bank account was rare, especially in rural areas (In 2009, only 19% of adult Kenyans had a bank account).
  • The network of ATMs and bank branches was poorly developed. If one already had a bank account, the nearest ATM was miles (or tens of miles) away from where one lived.

Design Thinking – Problem Statement

On the other hand, a positive feature of the market turned out to be the fast-growing mobile network, which became the foundation of the newly emerging service.

The demand for a new way of transferring money in Kenya resulted indirectly from the country’s poor economic situation. This caused the migration of the population from rural to urban areas. Then the challenge arose of how to transfer the money earned to the families who stayed back home. There were 3 possibilities:

  • Giving money by people who were going to the workers’ hometowns.
  • Using bus drivers and matatu (collective cabs).
  • Sending money by mail.

The first two ways were risky, as money often did not reach its destination.  The post office, on the other hand, operated inefficiently and irregularly. In 2007, Safaricom, East Africa’s largest mobile operator, came to the rescue and launched a service called M-PESA.

M-PESA as an expamle of Good Design Thinking Strategy - Hicron Software House

Design Thinking – Solution

M-PESA is a mobile-only finance service developed by Safaricom and Vodacom (Kenya, Tanzania). The service also operates in Afghanistan, South Africa, and India. In 2014 it was launched in Romania, and in 2015 in Albania. The service allows users to store money in a special bank account, make transfers and pay for purchases and services at almost any store via SMS.

Learn why user research
is important for product success

The main advertising slogan for the newly launched service was “Send money home”. Simple and clear communication was the key in the country where most of the population did not understand what cashless money transfers were.  M-PESA (“Pesa” means “money” in Swahili) made it possible to send a certain amount of money using a cell phone to another phone owner, not necessarily registered in the system.

In addition to sending money to loved ones, M-PESA customers can with the phone also:

  • Pay bills
  • Check their account balance
  • Take a loan
  • Make cash deposits and statements with authorized agents
  • Debit their phone
  • Pay for an airline ticket (the system is honored not only by Kenya Airways, but also British Airways and Virgin Atlantic)

Each functionality is a response to the needs of the market, resulting in a system that is simple and tailored to the needs of users.

Check out the benefits of using
a Design Thinking strategy
during business transformation

The M-PESA application is very simple to use. The ascetic interface design is influenced by the devices Kenyans use. These are older-generation phones, which do not yet have, among other things, built-in touch screens, Internet access or other functionalities that smartphones we are familiar with have.

Kenyans mostly use phones that were widespread in Europe a dozen years ago.

What’s more, the application has a very simple information architecture. All its elements are the bare minimum, which guarantees efficient and intuitive operations.

M-PESA application expansion

In 2012, about $61 billion was transferred in Africa using cell phones. This is a larger sum than the aggregate transfers made via this method in Europe and the US. By last year, M-PESA, had about 17 million registered users in Kenya. In addition to its home country, the service has also been introduced in other developing countries such as Tanzania, and South Africa.

Concluding remark on M-PESA example

The people of Africa, despite their lack of access to the latest technologies and devices, are forerunners in mobile trends. For this reason, it is worth looking at new mobile solutions on the continent when designing services for the European or American market.

In the article, I focused only on describing the application used in mobile banking. However, while collecting materials, I repeatedly came across examples of other services, such as health care, which are also worth a closer look.  The success shows that Africa can play an important role in the development of modern mobile services and shaping patterns for good design thinking practices.

Discover the (correct) first step
in project development

M-PESA itself has contributed to the rapid growth of other companies producing digital services and has greatly accelerated the development of start-ups in Africa, precisely in the regions with the most users of the app.

Konrad Mazur
Konrad Mazur
Business Transformation Expert
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