Heading to the Hunt: Kenya's Startups Still Bite

Posted on Jul 04, 2014 | Tags: Top 10, Nairobi, Kenya, Startup Ecosystems |

Kenyan pride dynamc doesn't just rule the animal world, but also the startup scene

„Well he’s Parisian,” I scoff, “off course he’s going to French kiss with the giraffe.” It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon as Julien lean over the railing with a food pellet in his mouth, waiting for a lucky giraffe lady to take it (‘kissing’ him in the process). We usually hit the ground running when we arrive in a new SSW city, making connections with local key players, but today at the Giraffe Park Nairobi, Julien and I are making connections of a different kind.

The Lionesses

When it comes to business though, Kenyans are more lion than giraffe. Despite what Fierce and determined, Kenyan entrepreneurs know exactly what they want and how to get it. The startup scene in Nairobi is the leader in East African ICT innovations, thanks to education, abundance of accelerators and incubators and strong influx of talent from around the world. It’s this colorful mix that makes its pride unique.

Like in any pride, strong females are part of a healthy dynamic. I’ve already pointed out the great work of Akirachix, but it’s not just Judith Owigar that is doing her part. Mugethi Gitau, Community Manager of the iHub, along with Community Associate Scott Henry and Security Manager James Orengo, have been helping us with the #SSWNairobi event. It is one of many taking place in the ever busy innovation hub. It shares the building with the mLab, which focuses on mobile startups and the accelerator Nailab.

One quick look at our Seedstars Nairobi jury reveals even more lionesses: Nina Werner, Regional Director of East Africa at the Mara Foundation, seeks to educate and enable promising you entrepreneurs of the region. Though they are still in their beginning stages, Kenya’s Mara branch is one to watch.

Spoiled for Choice

There are quite a few organizations that stem from Humanity’s Cradle and the offer is quite dizzying. The Growth Hub, for example, is currently moving into the social entrepreneurship scene. Savannah Fund is connecting players from all over Africa and have startups from Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and many more in their roster. Besides these initiatives, there are also startup competitions like Pivot East, which has a six month long process of finding, mentoring, and selecting startups before the pitches at the June Finals.

In Kenya, the problem is not the opportunities, but the implementation, it seems. Most startups are focusing on the ICT, sometimes forsaking other opportunities, like green tech or mid- and high-level hardware. This makes sense in a country with a smart phone adaptation rate that is outpacing the rest of Africa, but paradoxically many startups have to focus on lower end applications. Feature phone applications and USSD codes are still an important selling point.

Better safe than sorry

Kenya is also subject to another very African trend: education startups are still extremely popular, such as StudySearch, Study in Kenya, and Enezaelimu. But there is another issue, underlying the most basic transactions. Security is still a big worry for Kenyan consumers, one that MaraMoja wishes to combat with its taxi ride application that leverages network effects to provide safe rides, as well as a panic button for both drivers and riders.

On a related note, other startups like TotoHealth are putting your health’s security first. Health startups may not be that many in the African scene, but when they launch, they do so with quality.

Geneva says Karibu to OkHi

The startups mentioned above are only four of twenty excellent businesses that joined us on the 3rd of July. It is 9:30 when the registration begins, and 10 when the competition formally opens and the nail biting commences. It’s pure swagger at the start with music startup BigxGh a Ghanaian startup supported by the Savannah Fund. Not only their Azonto skills bring them the 2nd place of the day, but also their amazing traction. 

E-Commerce is another topic, with startups like Zatiti and SokoNect, as well as another African stable, payment and mobile money, thanks to Wallenje, Qubit Solutons, and Chamasoft. Recruitment solutions were also represented with Startup Recruit and Coder Hunt, formally TheDevs, while Mafundi looks for handymen. Meanwhile Sapama.com and KejaHunt tackle the real estate market.

While these startups may provide no disruptive solutions on a world-wide level, making the Kenyan market happy first is a winning strategy for many of the startups. However, there are a few odd apples in the bunch. CladLight provides a safety vest to boda boda drivers that links up with the blinkers, making rides safer, Kili supplies storage and computing power to African ICT businesses, and Able Wireless provides cheap entertainment solutions via its Open Neutral Distributed Wireless Mesh Network and Independent CDN.

It’s a different startup that wins the Seedstars Nairobi title though. OkHi provides physical addresses to areas without street names by coupling GPS coordinates with pictures of the home. After 13 events so far, I can personally vouch for the usefulness of OkHi’s service. Not only will it make e-commerce and deliveries easier, but also has the potential to save lives by significantly cutting down time for ambulances to reach their destinations. We end the day with a VIP Cocktail at the Swiss Ambassador's Jaques Pitteloud, who emphasizes the entrepreneurial Spirit, stating that “It’s the best country there is - startups have everything they need, they just need to use it. With their education, entrepreneurial Spirit, and quality of person, they are sure to make it big.”

Now OkHi must prove him right at the Mbegu Nyota Dunia Final Event in 2015! We wish the Startup all the best and if you want to join them in Geneva, get your ticket here.


Nellie Horn

(Seedstars World Travel Team)

Nellie graduated from University of Mannheim with an Economics Major and has lived in the USA, Germany, and Spain. After part being of the Deutsche Bahn’s Investor Relations team, she specialized in Innovation Management. Nellie has gained expertise in many aspects of the R&D process, thanks to her multi-million euro project assistance at the Helmholtz Centre Berlin, co-authoring a publication on German cities’ innovative behavior at the Center for European Economic Research, and working at the pioneering SAP Innovation Labs. At Seedstars World, she will pair her financial experience with tech savvy while organizing the 2014 tour as one of our scouts!

Connect with Nellie or follow her on Twitter @Nellie_Horn

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