Last month, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has funded Ghana based blockchain startup Bitsoko in a startup competition called Gran Challenges Explorations, which focused on promoting wide spread acceptance of mobile money by small merchants.
Bitsoko received a research grant of US$100,000, and with it, Bitsoko aims to expand its bitcoin merchant payment processing and bitcoin wallet services to Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone. The project is entitled “Enable Universal Acceptance of Mobile Money Payments,” and if the project is successful, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will offer another research grant of US$1,000,000.
Bitsoko has already begun to attract local businesses to accept bitcoin, including restaurants and cafes. “We have signed up local businesses including restaurants, cyber cafes, and mama mbogas (roadside vegetable vendors). If you go to a restaurant and pay using bitcoin, the owner of the business will send us the bitcoin and receive mobile money in exchange. We are trying to build the infrastructure around bitcoin, which is lacking here,” the Bitsoko team announced.
Several businesses in Kenya have already started to accept bitcoin through Bitsoko, including Bejo’s bar and restaurant and Chase Cyber Café, where people can pay their fees in bitcoin.
The technology and opportunities that Bitsoko will bring to Africa will fuel the on-going development and improvement of the financial infrastructure in Kenya and Africa that MPesa, Africa’s most popular mobile payment platform, initially began.
By using bitcoin’s blockchain technology, the underbanked and underserved states, countries and cities can send payments across borders easily and quickly, and accept payments with low transaction fees.
Co-founder of Bitsoko, Allan Juma, stated:
“The financial structure in Kenya and throughout Africa has changed rapidly since the birth of mobile money by MPesa. We believe that this will only continue to grow and tools such as Bitsoko that leverage Blockchain technology to lower transaction costs will be at the forefront of this boom.”
Grand Challenges Exploration
Bitsoko is one of the 9 winners of Grand Challenges Exploration initiated by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a contest in which 304 startups applied from 30 different countries. The winners of the contest received US$100,000 investment, “to help them refine and build merchant out their idea”, said Kosta Peric, deputy director for the "Financial Services for the Poor" initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Bill Gates & Bitcoin
Bill Gates’ interests in bitcoin caused a stir back in December 2014, when Microsoft partnered with global bitcoin payment processor BitPay to start accepting BTC for digital goods.
A month after, Gates’ appeared on national television in an interview with Jimmy Fallon, and discussed bitcoin along with its potential as a remittance tool that could be used to send payments in emergencies.
“Poor people don’t have bank accounts and so when they have an emergency [or] they want to borrow or save, it’s very tough. [With] small transactions, the fees are just too high when you have banks and ATMs and all that. If we take the cellphone and just use digital currency, then you can have all those financial services.”