Director of Strategy at AfriLabs
Nekesa Were is the Director of Strategy at AfriLabs, a network organization of 240 innovation centers across 48 African countries. Previously, she served as Managing Director at the iHub, Kenya’s premier hackerspace and innovation hub. She also sits on the boards of Afrilabs and Creatives Garage, a multidisciplinary space for creatives.
Guest editors are local ecosystem leaders: successful founders, investors, or thought leaders. Have someone in mind? Nominate a country guest editor.
Disclaimer: all content within the Startup Ecosystem Summary and Editor’s Guide sections is written by and reflects the personal perspective of the guest editor. The guest editor is not responsible for content within the Country Snapshot and Community sections, as much of this content is compiled from external sources and does not necessarily reflect the guest editor’s view.
The Kenyan ecosystem is robust, with entrepreneurs building solutions for their communities that they want to scale across the globe. There are several training and funding opportunities available to these entrepreneurs that are run by incubators and accelerators across the country. There are also several regular opportunities to engage entrepreneurs building sector specific solutions, or engage with public or private sector players to talk through opportunities available to local entrepreneurs. Finally, there are opportunities for entrepreneurs to get involved in shaping policy and ensure that they are startup friendly. As a result of these opportunities, entrepreneurs in Kenya enjoy more ease of doing business than in several other countries.
On the flip side, with many private and public sector players, the ecosystem has become disjointed with lots of replication across the board. Public and private sector actors are quick to set up new hubs and programs without taking full advantage of already existing infrastructure and resources. Opportunities for collaboration are bypassed in favour of duplication of programs and consequently funds that should ultimately support entrepreneurs are spread thin.
Kenya recently celebrated the launch of the Association of Startup and SME Enablers of Kenya (ASSEK), an association established to represent the interests of organisations supporting the development and growth of startups and SMEs for maximum impact of such activities. This has awakened renewed interest in the entrepreneurship ecosystem from large corporates, state missions and national government, and this in turn has brought with it new opportunities for collaboration, development of skills and funding. If we successfully implement this community approach across the country, Kenya will see increased numbers of scalable solutions coming from all parts of the country as well as faster, more impactful policy influence as entrepreneurship support organizations begin to speak in one voice.
For this to happen, larger corporate organizations will need to plug into the ecosystem more through mentorship and business scaling advice, entrepreneurs will need to better learn how to interact with a government that will be critical of their product or service delivery, and the government will need to consolidate, map out, and communicate better its efforts to support entrepreneurs. There will have to be more deliberate efforts from all members of the local ecosystem to work together.
With this cooperation in place, Kenya will have strategically positioning herself for the 4th industrial revolution as seen by the establishment of the government taskforce on blockchain and AI.
Editor’s choice of the country’s top 10 emerging tech startups.
Artificial Intelligence, Data Science
Editor’s pick of which ‘Featured Startup’ is especially worth following and why.
Editor’s choice of the industries with the most potential for technology disruption and growth.
Editor’s perspective of the maturity level of talent in the ecosystem.
Editor’s commentary on how the country’s culture and history have impacted the ecosystem.
The Kenyan startup ecosystem is rapidly growing and vibrant. There have been key catalysts that have led to rapid growth of the ecosystem including: launching of ISPs in the early 90’s; registration of organizations representing the best interests of entrepreneurs and technology providers; establishment of a Kenya internet exchange point in 2000; the launch of M-Pesa in 2007, which opened exciting opportunities around payment; construction of undersea cables in 2009 which ultimately made the internet more affordable; sprouting of hubs across the country ever since (48 according to a recent GSMA report), which ensure that innovators at the grassroots level get access to similar resources as those in the major cities.
Although the ecosystem has grown from strength to strength there is a marked reduction in deal flow during election years. Business in Kenya comes to a near halt because of the constant fear of a recurrence of post election violence as experienced in 2007-2008.
Over the last few years there has been a growing bias towards locally designed and manufactured goods. Kenyans are looking for home grown solutions and products. We have seen this in the hair and skin care industries and also in the payments and edtech spaces. Kenyans are also looking to eat healthier and this has caused the agricultural and logistics spaces to ramp up quality and quantity of produce with a growing number of Kenyans now demanding organic products.
Interested in becoming more involved in this ecosystem and connecting with local ecosystem leaders? Let us know.
Accion Venture Lab (U.S.): Accion Venture Lab provides flexible financial and post-investment support to address these needs. It typically invests US$300,000 to $500,000 in seed-stage startups and can continue to support companies as they grow through follow-on capital that drives scale. Accion has invested in 3 Kenyan companies. (Source: Accion Venture Lab)
Acumen Fund Kenya (Nairobi): Acumen is a non-profit venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty, and has been investing in East Africa since 2001. It invests in companies that provide solar energy, anti-malaria bed nets, agricultural inputs and more. Acumen has invested over US$28 million in East African companies. (Source: Acumen)
Africa Tech Ventures (Nairobi): Africa Tech Ventures invests in the growth of high potential start-ups in Sub-Saharan Africa. It focuses on companies that increase access to essential goods and services for African consumers or provide solutions that help businesses access markets and financial services. It invests between US$100,000 and US$5 million, in exchange for a significant minority equity stake and the ability to participate in multiple financing rounds. (Source: Africa Tech Ventures)
Bamboo Capital Partners (Nairobi): A commercial private equity firm making investments that matter. It finds game-changing businesses then applies a mix of geographical and sector expertise to deliver financial and social returns. Experts in energy, healthcare and financial services globally, Bamboo has offices in Luxembourg, Geneva, Bogota, Nairobi and Singapore. Since Bamboo launched in 2007, It has close to US$400 million under management with a portfolio of companies in over 30 countries. (Source: Bamboo Capital Partners)
DOB Equity (Nairobi): DOB Equity is a leading Dutch family office investing in innovative, scalable and impactful companies in East Africa. (Source: DOB Equity)
Grassroots Business Fund (Nairobi): Includes both a fund and non-profit that combine to deliver a blend of capital and support suitable for long-term investment in businesses that provide opportunities to under-served communities. In Africa, Grassroots Business Fund has committed more than US$11 million, and invested in Kenyan companies like BrazAfric, Soko, and Wamu. (Source: GBF)
GroFin (Nairobi): A private development finance institution specialising in the finance and support of small and growing businesses. Its investments number over 700 and have sustained over 90,900 total jobs across several sectors and industries, namely: healthcare, education, agribusiness, manufacturing, key services (water, waste & energy), food & accommodation, construction, wholesale & retail, and professional services. (Source: GroFin)
Invested Developmenrt (Nairobi): An investment management company that specializes in building bespoke private market impact investment strategies and identifying and executing private placement investments. (Source: Invested Development)
Kitendo Capital (Switzerland): An angel impact investment fund focusing on developing countries in Asia and Africa. Kitendo typically invests US$100,000-500,000 and focuses on companies in the Agriculture, Education, Health, and Finance sectors. (Source: Kitendo Capital)
Safaricom Spark Venture Fund (Nairobi): Telecom company Safaricom launched this US$1 million venture fund in 2014 to invest in late seed to early growth stage startups that use mobile technology as an enabler. The Fund aims to support the successful development and growth of high potential mobile tech startups in Kenya through a combination of investment, business development support and technical assistance leveraging on Safaricom’s unique capabilities, assets and market positioning. The average ticket ranges from KES6 Million to KES22 Million. (Source: Safaricom Spark Venture Fund)
Savannah Fund (Nairobi): The Savannah Fund is a seed capital fund specialising in making investments of between US$25,000 and US$500,000 in early-stage high growth tech startups in sub-Saharan Africa. (Source: Savannah Fund)
TBL Mirror Fund (Nairobi): A private equity fund based in Nairobi that invests in East African small businesses. (Source: TBL Mirror Fund)
TLcom Capital (Nairobi): A venture capital firm based in Nairobi, Lagos and London, investing since 1999 in Telecom, Media and Technology (TMT) companies in Europe, Israel and Sub Saharan Africa (SSA). TLcom manages total commitments in excess of €200 million. (Source: TLcom)
VilCap Investments (Nairobi): VilCap Investments invests in early-stage companies with social and environmental impact. (Source: VilCap Investments)
@iBizAfrica (Nairobi): @iBizAfrica business incubator carries out the Entrepreneurship and Incubation theme of @iLabAfrica in Strathmore University, Nairobi. It provides mentoring and services to startup companies such as access to finances, legal advice, financial expertise, relevant training and physical resources. (Source: @iBizAfrica)
GrowthAfrica (Nairobi): GrowthAfrica is a leading acceleration and growth partner for African entrepreneurs and companies scaling their business in and across Africa. It provides support across business planning and development, coaching, a network of mentors, and investment readiness. (Source: GrowthAfrica)
MEST Incubator Nairobi (Nairobi): The MEST Incubator offers hands-on support to bring very early stage startups from launch to scale, offering access to funding and a space in its Pan-African incubator network. (Source: MEST)
Startup Africa (Nairobi): Offers training, networking, pitch competitions, and access to capital. (Source: Startup Africa)
The Land Accelerator (Nairobi): The Land Accelerator is an exciting four-month program and curated network for entrepreneurs who restore degraded forests and farmland. It is anchored by an intensive week-long workshop when the cohort meets in person. There is no fee to join, and the program does not take equity. (Source: The Land Accelerator)
TUMI (Nairobi): TUMI Accelerator focuses on startups that offer transformative, practical, well researched and possibly tested solutions to urban mobility challenges in African Cities. The startups are incubated at our C4DLab in Nairobi for a period of 5 months. During this period, they receive coaching and mentorship from both local and international mobility experts. Further, they have a chance to pitch their start up ideas and have an exhibition space during Nairobi Innovation Week and access to potential partners and investors. (Source: TUMI)
Pangea Accelerator (Norway): A program focusing on Agriculture, Education, Healthcare & Infrastructure offering up to US$50,000 in funding. (Source: Pangea Accelerator)
Sinapis Group (Nairobi): An accelerator program that provides early-stage entrepreneurs with advanced business training integrated with Kingdom Business principles, intensive mentorship and the opportunity to compete for seed capital. (Source: Sinapis Group)
The Baobab Network (Nairobi): An accelerator program offering US$25,000 in funding, consulting, and venture support over the course of 2 years. (Source: The Baobab Network)
@iLabAfrica (Nairobi): @iLabAfrica is a Centre of Excellence in ICT Innovation and Development at Strathmore University in Nairobi. (Source: @iLabAfrica)
BitHub (Nairobi): BitHub is a commercial Blockchain hub that is focused on driving Financial and Energy access across Africa. (Source: BitHub)
Eldo Hub Innovation Centre (Eldoret): EldoHub is an I.C.T. and entrepreneurship innovation hub located in Uasin Gishu County in the western region of Kenya. (Source: Eldo Hub Innovation Centre)
Gearbox (Nairobi): A hardware and manufacturing focused hub and coworking space. (Source: Gearbox)
iHub (Nairobi): An innovation hub and hacker space in Nairobi offering incubation programs, community support, and research support. (Source: iHub)
LakeHub (Kisumu): LakeHub is a technology innovation hub in Kisumu--an open space for entrepreneurs, technologists, investors and makers. (Source: LakeHub)
Nailab (Nairobi): Nailab is a business incubator that provides tech entrepreneurs with business advice, technical training and support, professional mentoring and coaching, access to markets and strategic partnerships as well as investors. (Source: Ventureburn)
Sote Hub (Taita Taveta): The Sote Hub idea was born from the Sote ICT project which started in 2010, implementing a holistic approach that combines ICT integration and training with business skills at 12 schools in Taita Taveta, reaching over 6000 students. Sote Hub is the first rural based business incubator in Kenya. (Source: Sote Hub)
Nairobi Tech Week (Nairobi): A tech event series held at Strathmore University in Nairobi. (Source: Nairobi Tech Week)
Metta (Nairobi): Regularly holds panel discussions on topics that are usually of interest to tech entrepreneurs. (Source: Metta)
Kenya Industry and Entrepreneurship Project: The Kenya Industry and Entrepreneurship Project (KIEP) is a US$50 million project implemented by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives (MoITC), with support from the World Bank Group between 2019-2024. KIEP aims to increase innovation and productivity in select private sector firms in Kenya by strengthening the private sector (including startups, SMEs, incubators, accelerators, technology bootcamp providers, etc.) through financial grants and technical assistance. (Source: Kenya Industry and Entrepreneurship Project)
WhiteBox: Whitebox is an initiative of the Government of Kenya through the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology and the ICT Authority, geared towards catalyzing the successful growth of local ventures to global, world-class status. (Source: WhiteBox)
Youth Enterprise Development Fund: The Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF) is a state corporation under the Ministry of Public Service, Youth & Gender Affairs. The Fund was established in 2007 as one of the strategies to address the challenge of youth unemployment in Kenya. It is one of the flagship projects of Vision 2030, under the social pillar. The Youth Fund is mandated to create employment opportunities for young people through entrepreneurship. This is achieved by providing financial support and business development services to youth owned enterprises. (Source: Youth Fund)
CIPESA - ICT Policy Centre for Eastern and Southern Africa: While based in Kampala, Uganda, CIPESA has worked across East and Southern Africa. It works with networks, individuals and organisations (private sector, governmental, academic, civil society) across the region, positioning itself as a leading centre for research and analysis of information aimed to enable policy makers in the region to understand ICT policy issues. (Source: CIPESA)
Startup Lions: An impact sourcing digital service provider, and innovative startup incubator founded in 2015 in the north of Kenya (Turkana County) by European Entrepreneurs. (Source: Startup Lions)
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