Zindi is all about using AI to solve real-world problems for businesses and individuals. And that’s what the South African-based crowd-solving startup has achieved over the past three years.
Just last year, a team of data scientists at Zindi was using machine learning to improve air quality monitoring in Kampala when another group helped Zimnat, an insurance company in Zimbabwe, predict customer behavior – especially about who is likely to leave and which ones possible interventions they would take. Zimnat has been able to retain its customers by offering bespoke services for those who would otherwise have stopped.
These are some of the solutions that have been implemented to meet the data-centric challenges that companies, NGOs and government institutions pose to Zindi.
Zindi announces these challenges and invites his community of data scientists to participate Solution contests. Participating data scientists submit their solutions and the winner receives a cash prize. Contest hosts can use the best results to meet their challenge – like an air quality monitoring project by AirQo that sought solutions to predict air pollution across Uganda and helped Zimnat reduce its losses.
“So now AirQo has a dashboard that allows the public to check air quality and air quality forecasts. One of the exciting things about this project is that AirQo hired two of the challenge winners to help make the project happen, ”said More Co-Founder and CEO, Celina Lee. The South African Megan Yates and the Ghanaian Ekow Duker are the other co-founders of the platform.
“AirQo has also raised funds from Google based on the solution they developed and will now replicate them in other African countries,” said Lee of the competition organized in partnership with Digital Air Quality East Africa (DAQ EA.) – University of Birmingham project and Makerere University, Kampala AirQo project.
Other notable private and public organizations that have tapped into Zindi include Microsoft, IBM and Liquid Telecom UNICEF and the government of South Africa.
So far, Lee has been excited about what Zindi has achieved and is excited about the future of the community considering how the crowd-solving startup has grown since it launched. The platform now offers alternatives and increases competition compared to traditional consulting firms that operate across Africa and are often expensive.
The number of users on Zindi has tripled since the beginning of last year to 33,000 data scientists from 45 countries across the continent. It has also paid $ 300,000 in prize money to data scientists.
This number will increase as the third inter-university Umoja Hack Africa Challenge takes place in March next year, in which college students will compete against each other for different solutions.
Zindi uses the cross-university competition to provide students with hands-on experience in data science and solve real-world challenges with AI. At last year’s event, the platform attracted around 2,000 students during the virtual event due to the pandemic.
“Students can build their first machine learning models and all kinds of doors open to their careers and education from there,” said Lee, originally from San Francisco.
Zindi currently runs a job portal to “shorten the path from learning to earning”. The talent placement portal enables companies to draw on their talent pool by posting job vacancies.
The crowd-solving platform also plans to introduce a learning component that will provide would-be data scientists with training material after identifying a knowledge gap and training need. Also, Lee said that most of Zindi’s users are university students who need learning experience and need advanced skills to solve world problems.
The new plans are made possible by a $ 1 million seed funding that the platform recently secured.
Lee said, “We’re really about scaling the community and creating more value for all of our data scientists.”
“That’s why we’re going to use the funding to introduce a lot more learning content, because we know that data science is such a new field, especially in Africa. And many of our data scientists are still students or are still at the beginning of their careers. And they’re just looking for a chance to learn and develop their skills. “
The seed round was led by San Francisco-based VC firm Shakti, which featured Launch Africa, Founders Factory Africa and five35.
All of these plans are aimed at building a strong data science community in Africa and for the continent, according to Lee, who said they plan to grow their user base to one million in the near future. This, she said, will be achieved by opening up training opportunities for budding data scientists and by building a strong community that encourages collaboration and mentoring.
Lee said, “So finally, where we are going to reach a million data scientists in Africa, we want to make data science something that any young person interested in this career has access to the tools, connections, and experience they can has to have a successful career in this area. “
“Our vision is to make AI accessible to everyone.”