Horizon Africa’s dynamic duo discuss Blockchain Technology
Horizon Africa was launched in 2018 as a joint venture between Suyash Sumaroo and Aakash Balluck, with the aim of democratising access to Blockchain technology in the African continent. The Horizon Africa Blockchain Network (HABN) is an Ethereum-based blockchain which provides a platform for your Blockchain Solutions. Although the journey started with an idea, it was backed by years of knowledge in the Blockchain technology along with valuable experience in various Blockchain-based projects that the duo has worked on.
As we catch up with them, they take us through Horizon Africa’s journey and what’s in store for the future. Excerpts:
Since Horizon Africa was launched, you have been collaborating with key market players across a number of different sectors. Can you take us through the journey so far?
As part of the mission of Horizon Africa, we frequently engaged in free seminars and courses that were offered to people or companies interested in the space. This allowed us to get the attention of various stakeholders ranging from financial institutions in Mauritius to large corporates which were interested in experimenting with this new technology. These free sessions were part of our mission of educating and empowering people with Blockchain technology.
As part of our initiatives, we were also very active in protecting the Mauritian economy from crypto scams and this has helped us work closer with the Financial Services Commission (FSC) in order to ensure that we are safe from these types of illegal activities. At the same time, some major technology companies in Mauritius along with some banks started getting more interested in Blockchain technology. Horizon Africa’s model was based on a very simple idea: although the Blockchain technology is something revolutionary, it is still very difficult to understand the various technical concepts and to visualise the different business use cases pertaining to a specific sector. Horizon Africa bridges this gap by providing a full set of services ranging from training (through the Horizon Africa Academy), feasibility analysis and blockchain software development services in a single package to allow businesses and institutions to start their Blockchain journey.
As a result, we recently signed MOUs with some major companies in Mauritius to help in their endeavour to explore the Blockchain space as well as start concrete Blockchain-based projects. We have also collaborated with international companies like payment processors (WinstantPay) for the implementation of Blockchain-based services. With the current heightened focus on cryptocurrencies, we believe that Horizon Africa is primed to become a leading Blockchain infrastructure company in the African continent.
During lockdown, what were Horizon Africa’s initiatives to help pave the way for the digitalisation of the economy, and new ways of doing things. Could you share a few successful anecdotes? What were the challenges you faced during implementation and where do things stand now with your projects?
The lockdown period was particularly interesting in the sense that everyone was in a state that no one had experienced before. As such, this situation provided some major challenges as well as some unique opportunities to innovate. During the lockdown, we partnered with Tradehood’s Moris.Store ecommerce platform and XTM to launch Hustlemania, which is a Blockchain-based loyalty programme, based on the Horizon Africa platform. This initiative garnered a lot of interest from Mauritian clients and was part of the reason why Moris.Store was able to generate more than 10,000 orders during the lockdown period. This was an innovative solution which used tokenisation technology as a way to promote engagement in ecommerce platforms.
The main challenge we faced since the start is lack of funding for tech-focused projects. This meant that we had to bootstrap all our development efforts until we were able to generate revenue. Horizon Africa, as a platform, is currently undergoing major development efforts including setting up different Blockchain-based projects on top of the Horizon Africa platform to address some of the most pressing problems originating from the pandemic.
What are the trends you see in this sector?
The data is showing that there is increasing interest and investment in Blockchain-based systems. As such, we foresee that in the near future, more companies will want to start their Blockchain journey and see the benefits of using Blockchain technology. Lately, we experienced the price surge of Bitcoin as a sign that the big corporations are starting to adopt the technology, even though it’s currently a side investment.
As a project focused on disseminating knowledge about blockchains and cryptocurrencies to the African continent, tell us about the HABX project. We understand that Horizon Africa Blockchain will issue 250,000,000 HABX in the genesis block and the coins will be allocated specifically. Could you explain that?
Horizon Africa is focused on democratising access to the Blockchain technology and as a result provides a platform for individuals, startups, corporations and public bodies to start using the Blockchain as a viable solution to some of their most important problems. This also presents an opportunity for tech startups to tap into a new market for business. Horizon Africa is setting up a permissioned Blockchain which will be used by all these different parties. Blockchains usually need a community to be able to sustain their development and expansion. Hence, during subsequent phases, Horizon Africa will issue its native tokens, known as HABX, as a way to incentivise people and companies to join the community. These tokens will also be used as a way to fund projects and encourage people to start developing real projects using Blockchain technology.
This is previously uncharted territory for the Mauritian ecosystem and as such requires a lot of effort in terms of education and training. The structure of the Horizon Africa Blockchain will allow different participants to engage in the community in order to provide real value to the African continent in terms of concrete projects as well as valuable insight in the use of Blockchain technology.
So, has this started out yet and how has it fared so far? How would you describe your Africa markets’ strategy?
The issuance of tokens will happen in the next few months, during our Horizon Africa MainNet deployment which will ensure that the Blockchain infrastructure is available to everyone who wants to be part of it. Since this project is based in Mauritius, our strategy is based on the current limitations of the Mauritian ecosystem. Given the lack of proper investments at different stages, we are using the network effect, which is very central to Blockchain technology, especially in the current state of things, where the price of certain cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin has skyrocketed.
Our focus has always been on providing real value to the Blockchain community in terms of proper education, infrastructure and facilities to create real solutions which address specific problems relating to the African continent.
Additionally, you have the Horizon Africa Academy. Could you elaborate on the courses provided, success stories, the team and challenges you have faced so far?
The Horizon Africa Academy is a part of Horizon Africa which focuses on providing education, courses and training services to different stakeholders. The content of our courses is based on our experience in successfully delivering Blockchain-based projects during the last 5 years and the fact that we understand the technology not only from a conceptual point of view but also from a technical and practical perspective. This gives us the ability to customise our course materials based on the audience, whether it is a group of students, financial institutions, public bodies or a business-oriented audience.
As a result, we offer courses which focus on one or more of the following: introductory, intermediate and advanced courses on Blockchain concepts, development courses for the more technical-minded as well as use cases-focused courses where we take use cases and dissect each of them for a specific client. This is especially useful for our in-house courses where we provide courses or training for a specific company and customise our content based on the company’s line of business. We believe this provides more value to our audience than having a standard set of content for everyone.
As part of our academy, we have offered talks or courses to Mauritius Telecom, ABSA, Ceridian, Temple Consulting and university students. We also partnered with the FSI to offer introductory courses to people from different sectors. Among our course partners is the Mauritius Africa FinTech Hub (MAFH) where we also offered introductory courses on Blockchain concepts.
The Horizon Africa Academy represents a very good way imparting knowledge about Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies and provides a very valuable platform for sharing what Horizon Africa is trying to achieve in terms of market education and providing the necessary platform for real innovation.
So, do the students receive a certification? And what are the job opportunities and growth they can prepare for after the course?
We currently do not offer any accredited certification. We focus more on the quality of the content. It is very important to understand that Blockchain technology has different levels of complexity and Horizon Africa is able to separate the different levels of complexity based on the audience, especially students.
One of the aspects we talk a lot about to students is the access to opportunities that Blockchain expertise offers in the current market. In the international job market, Blockchain engineers can earn up to Rs 150,000 per month for a few years of experience. The current market rates for Blockchain engineers are on par with the highest paid jobs in the engineering sector. Although, being a Blockchain engineer involves a steep learning curve, Horizon Africa provides the necessary support and community to help students proceed in the right direction and engage in productive development work.
As a member of MAFH, what more do you think can be done to upscale the FinTech space here in Mauritius and Africa to grow the FinTech ecosystem?
Our main problem since day one has been the lack of investment in the Mauritian market for tech or FinTech startups. It is very difficult for startups to innovate in an environment where there is a lack of interest and funds for technology-focused businesses and ideas. The technology itself is moving at a breath-taking speed and the danger is that if more is not done to support local FinTech and tech startups, the huge opportunities in this sector will be nipped in the bud.
Mauritius presents a very interesting market for FinTech startups because of its current stability and its relationship with bigger African markets like South Africa. Mauritius is a perfect country to start an idea, develop it, and finally bring it to fruition, by using the economic ties with other, surrounding countries.
How do you see the future of this space in Mauritius, for Africa and for reaching out to global markets?
Currently, we can see many diverse and interesting projects that Mauritian entrepreneurs are setting up. If the proper help and support is available to these entrepreneurs, we believe that this will present Mauritius with a real opportunity to innovate and become a real technological hub. As things stand, it is not very difficult for Mauritius to become a real Blockchain hub in the in Indian Ocean. However, it all boils down to how much financial support tech startups can have to further develop their projects beyond proof of concept.
Tell us a bit about your upcoming projects? How do you foresee prospects for 2021?
2021 is a particularly interesting year for us. We are fully engaged in launching a new Blockchain-based project which will work on top of the Horizon Africa Blockchain infrastructure that we have set up. The project will focus on the management of medical assets as digital blockchain-backed assets as well as provide services for managing Covid-19 medical tests and vaccinations. The launch of this platform is planned in the next few weeks.
2021 has also been a landmark year for Horizon Africa as it saw its first project built on top of Horizon Africa, StoragePlus.io, secure funding from XTM. This is particularly encouraging as we can see that companies are starting to realise the importance of Blockchain technology in real-world use cases and as such, they are getting ready to invest in tech startups.
As a company and as a community, we view 2021 as a year which will provide a lot of opportunities amidst the current economic and societal challenges.
Interview conducted in partnership with Platform Africa.
The Mauritius Africa FinTech Hub is a fast-growing ecosystem where entrepreneurs, corporations, governments, tech experts, investors, financial service providers, universities and research institutions can collaborate to build cutting-edge solutions for the emerging African market.