GIZ, Make IT in Africa and C4DLab brought together the Kenyan Startup Ecosystem players at the Nairobi Innovation Week to convene Kenya’s 1st ever Startup Ecosystem Forum. The forum held on 11th June saw different ecosystem players including startups, enablers, academia, government and investors come together in a joint bid to support the growing ecosystem.

It goes without saying that digital entrepreneurship is the driver of digital change in Africa. The African Startup Ecosystem in the past years has attracted prominent personalities such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Ma who focused their attention in encouraging the startup ecosystem.

The African tech space has grown with many startups securing record levels in funding. According to the Annual African Tech Startups Funding Report of 2018, startups raised 335 Million US Dollars in 2018, a 71.5% growth from 2017. This shows how much potential there is in African Startups. Innovative tech startups with a strong business model therefore have a high chance to scale with these heavy investment levels in place.

Kenya’s startup ecosystem is one of the continent’s most established. This was brought about by the laying of optic fiber cables which led to improved bandwidth of internet. This development increased access for consumers of mobile based solutions. Good thing right?

So with all this, where does the rain begin to beat us? Lack of support of professional services serves as a major setback to the ecosystem. Global knowledge sharing, investment in tech talent and mentorship can increase global competitiveness of the startups and solidify the role of the Kenyan startup ecosystem in the global network.

Good thing is, we are not alone in this fight. We thank heavens for bodies like GIZ through the Make IT in Africa programme who are here to fill such gaps. The programme champions and supports digital innovation for sustainable and inclusive development from West and East African entrepreneurs in Early Growth phase.

AREGASH ASFAW, Programme Director, Sustainable Economic Development & E4D/SOGA
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH speaking during the Startup Ecosystem Forum

The success of such an initiative has been achieved through collaboration with corporate and financing partners, social enterprises, hubs and networks to create an enabling environment. This then translates to better access to finance, markets and skills for startups. Such programmes can best succeed by bringing together the different stakeholders in the ecosystem as the country transitions to a digital economy.

Well, it’s hard to get Kenyans without ideas and this means we have a lot of challenges that need to be addressed. Good thing is, these days you can make money while solving people’s problems. These ideas however need to be supported. They need incubation and mentoring, something we are missing out on. This is from the difficulty we have all witnessed in executing those ideas.

One of the startups featured in a panel discussion during the Startup Ecosystem Forum confessed that it’s always a nightmare to match what a startup is working on with what the user actually wants. This in most cases happens when a startup doesn’t involve the user in building the product.

From Left: Eunice Nyandat, Dr.Tonny Omwansa, Jonas Tesfu and Paul during a panel discussion at the Startup Ecosystem Forum

Eunice Nyandat, CEO of MyBizMarketer says that in most cases, this is because the resources startups want and the resources they should be getting aren’t the same! The resources they should be getting is understanding how to access funding when they need to, what they need to have in place so that when funding comes, accessing the market becomes easy by making sure their product and market fit perfectly to reduce failure rate.

This hints that there is a need for corporations to partner with startups because they possess resources and legitimacy that startups aspire for while startups have agility and novel ideas that corporations highly value. This way, there is shared value and base for sustainable partnerships.

By creating platforms such as the Nairobi Innovation Week (NIW), startups will get a chance to connect with investors, customers and potential partners. The impact of such platforms is very clear. Based on an evaluation report conducted on startups who participated in NIW2018, 60% of participating startups actually got investment coming into their businesses as well as new partnerships. Those who hadn’t commercialized also went ahead and are now making money.

Talking matters investors and the will to invest in Kenyan startups, we would have Pangea Accelerator as a perfect example. The accelerator connects Kenyan startups with investments, network and competence. For every accelerator programme it runs, there are usually around 20 Angel investors ready to invest in those startups. This shows that there is will from investors to actually invest in Kenyan startups.

FLORENCE KIMATA, SME Advisor, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives speaking on the role of the government in the Kenyan Startup Ecosystem.

The Kenyan Government is also upping its game to support the ecosystem. Florence Kimata the SME Advisor, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives indicated that the Ministry just launched a joint project with the World Bank, to improve innovation and the productivity of private sector firms.

Through such collaboration and goodwill, we will document our own success story as an ecosystem. The foundation of the Association of Startup and SMEs Enablers of Kenya (ASSEK) just reignited the Kenyan Startup Ecosystem spirit. The future seems so bright, you gotta get some glasses. Boom!


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