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Featured image: View of Nairobi, Kenya taken on 23 April 2015 (Ninara via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Here’s what you need to know about Kenya’s tech startup ecosystem

Are you a venture capitalist or an angel investor looking to invest in a company? Are you an entrepreneur looking for capital or other opportunities? Are you an aspiring startup owner looking for assistance? Well, you have come to the right place. Ventureburn presents the 2018 guide to Kenya’s startup scene.

Things are hotting up in Kenya. Earlier this month, it was revealed that the Kenyan government had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) to host the 2020 edition of the NEF Global Gathering in Nairobi.

During an event last month in Johannesburg, Alibaba Group founder and executive chairman Jack Ma announced that his Africa Netpreneur Prize will be run by Nairobi-based incubator Nailab.

Kenya’s startup ecosystem is one of the oldest and most established on the continent. Construction of Konza Techno City, a $14.5-million project dubbed “Silicon Savannah” is expected to further positively impact the country’s tech startup ecosystem. The project’s headquarters are expected to be completed this December.

Given these recent developments, one could argue that Kenya is still the epicentre of East Africa’s tech startup scene.

This article aims to serve as a guide for anyone who wants to get involved with, or have a better understanding of Kenya’s fast-growing startup space. It is a part of a series which will also include the West African and East African startup space.

We have scoured Kenya’s entrepreneurial landscape and hand-picked some of the top players to get you started, looking at investment (angel, venture capital, and private equity), as well as accelerators, incubators and innovation hubs.

The intention is for this article to be a living thing, which will grow into the ultimate resource for Kenyan tech startups and entrepreneurs. Also, with your comments and suggestions we hope to create a clear overview of the people and organisations that influence and shape Kenya’s tech venture space.

Hubs and co-working spaces

iHub: An innovation hub and hacker space in Nairobi that was founded in 2010 by Erik Hersman.

Gearbox: Nairobi-based Gearbox is an open makerspace for design and rapid prototyping. The space aims to improve the ecosystem for hardware entrepreneurship by providing flexible working space, shared prototyping facilities, training in manufacturing, fabrication and design as well as mentorship, investment opportunities, incubation and community development.

Metta: This entrepreneur’s club aims to drive innovation, knowledge sharing, and collaboration within Nairobi’s entrepreneur scene.

Nailab: Nailab is a business incubator that provides tech entrepreneurs with business advice, technical training and support, professional mentoring and coaching, access to market and strategic partnerships as well as investors. Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma announced last month that the incubator will run his Africa Netpreneur Prize.

Nairobi Garage: Nairobi Garage is a full-service co-working space. Nairobi Garage claims it has the biggest shared workspace in the city with 50,000 sq ft across two locations – Kilimani and Westlands. Working from these spaces are a number of top startups, as well as larger companies — like Carlsberg and Liquid Telecom — investors and ecosystem developers.

Mashinani Hu: This solar-powered hub aims to serve rural youth in Nyamira with business development,  incubation and internet services.

Eldo Hub Innovation Centre: Located in Eldoret in the Uasin Gishu County, Eldo Hub is a tech innovation and entrepreneurship centre founded by Chepkemoi Magdaline in 2016.

Swahilipot Hub: Swahilipot Hub is an space in Mombasa for collaborative innovation in technology and art.

Sote Hub: Born out of the Sote ICT project in 2010, the hub aims to implement a holistic approach combining ICT integration and training with business skills at 12 schools in Taita Taveta, a county situated near Mombasa.

BitHub: This hub focuses on innovative solutions revolutionising blockchain across Africa. A few of BitHub’s key focus areas include legal and governance services, data management and storage as well as payment gateways.

The Entrepreneurs Hub: This is a knowledge hub supporting entrepreneurs with know-how on how to start and grow a sustainable business.

LakeHub: LakeHub is Kisumu’s innovation and technology hub for creatives, programmers, hackers, and entrepreneurs.

Investors

Savannah Fund: The Savannah Fund is a seed capital fund specialising in making investments of between $25 000 and $500 000 in early-stage high growth tech startups in sub-Saharan Africa.

Acumen: Acumen started investing in East Africa in 2001, in companies that provide solar energy, anti-malarial bed nets, agricultural inputs and more. Since then the non-profit impact investor has invested over $28-million in East African companies.

Business Partners: Business Partners is a specialist risk finance company for formal small and medium enterprises in South Africa, and selected African countries. The company offers risk finance using equity, royalty and debt finance, or a combination, and added value support in the form of mentorship and property investment and management for entrepreneurs.

Grassroots Business Fund (GBF): The GBF is a global impact investing organisation that aims to help grow and support businesses that provide sustainable economic opportunities to those in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In Africa, the investor has committed over $11-million, and invested in Kenyan companies like BrazAfric, Soko and Wamu.

Kitendo Capital: Kitendo Capital is an angel impact investment fund focusing on developing countries in Asia and Africa. Kitendo Capital’s focus is on the sectors of education, agriculture, health and finance.

Accion: Accion is a global non-profit committed to creating a financially inclusive world, with a pioneering legacy in microfinance and fintech impact investing. In Kenya Accion through Accion Venture Lab has backed Umtati Capital and Kopo Kopo.

Invested Development: This investment firm and holding company, which has an office in Nairobi, is focused on building high-growth, massively scalable businesses that are involved in solving really big problems.

Safaricom Spark Venture Fund: Mobile network operator Safaricom founded this $1-million fund in 2014 to back late seed to early-stage startups that use mobile tech as an enabler. Investees of the fund include FarmDrive, iProcure and Eneza Education.

Africa Tech Ventures: Africa Tech Ventures (ATV) invests in the growth of high potential startups in Sub-Sahara Africa. ATV 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. The VC invests between $100 000 and $5-million in exchange for a significant minority equity stake and can participate in multiple financing rounds.

Bamboo Finance: Bamboo Finance is a commercial private equity firm specialising in investing in business models that benefit low-income communities in emerging markets. These are usually in sectors like energy, financial inclusion and healthcare.

TBL Mirror Fund: The TBL Mirror Fund is a private equity fund that invests in East African and Nigerian small businesses. Investors in the fund are successful private individuals with a wide variety of backgrounds, from CEOs of large multinationals, to seasoned entrepreneurs and experienced venture capitalists.

TLcom Capital: TLcom Capital is a venture capital (VC) firm based in Nairobi, Lagos and London. TLcom manages total commitments in excess of €200 million. The VC claims its Technology and Innovation for Developing Economies for Developing Economies (TIDE) Africa Fund is the first international VC fund that focuses exclusively on technology-enabled services and innovation in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) across all stages of the venture capital cycle.

DOB Equity: DOB Equity is a Netherlands-based  family backed impact fund investing in socially responsible businesses across various sectors in East Africa.

Acumen Fund: Non-profit Acumen, through its Acumen Fund, aims to change the way the world tackles poverty by investing in companies, leaders, and ideas. The fund focuses on financial inclusion, agriculture, energy, health as well as water and sanitation.

GroFin: Operating out of Mauritius, this private development finance institution specialises in financing and supporting small and growing businesses across Africa and the Middle East, by combining medium-term loan capital and value-added business support.

Village Capital: Village Capital trains and invests in entrepreneurs that solve real-world problems.

Incubators and accelerators

Growth AfricaGrowthAfrica accelerates startups and businesses in and into Africa – and across the continent.

mlab East Africa: mLab East Africa identifies, nurtures, and helps to build sustainable East African enterprises with a mobile technology focus.

IFC SME Solution Centres: The World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) SME Solution centres helps businesses to scale, reach new markets and develop new products. The centres have helped raise over $12-million across 59 deals, advised over 30 small businesses, incubated 27 and trained over 6000 small enterprises in various areas.

StartUpAfrica: StartUpAfrica helps youth entrepreneurs with everything from their business ideas to strategies for implementing them, mentorship and seeking seed funding.

iLabAfrica: @iLabAfrica is a centre of excel­lence in ICT innov­a­tion and devel­op­ment based at Strath­more Uni­ver­sity, Nairobi. It was estab­lished to address the Mil­len­nium Devel­op­ment Goals (MDGs) and to con­trib­ute toward Kenya’s Vis­ion 2030.

iBizAfrica: The business incubator falls under @iLabAfrica. The incubator seeks to provide a nurturing environment that builds on the potential of the youth to develop ICT solutions and businesses that work for the common good in society.

Sinapis Group: Sinapis is a business accelerator programme that provides early-stage entrepreneurs with advanced business training integrated with Kingdom Business principles, intensive mentorship and the opportunity to compete for seed capital.

Unreasonable East Africa: Unreasonable East Africa provides multidimensional support to entrepreneurs and their businesses across Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. This assistance includes strategic planning, raising investment, building efficient and effective operations, sales, marketing and team building.

Meltwater School of Entrepreneurial Technology (MEST): MEST has an incubator located on the seventh floor of Pinetree Plaza in Nairobi.

Conferences and events

Nairobi Innovation Week: Nairobi Innovation week is an annual event held in March to bring together global technology industry players and leaders to celebrate local and international innovation, as well as addresses key issues in innovation management and building Kenya’s innovation ecosystem.

Nairobi Tech Week: Nairobi Tech Week is a new tech event series where leading companies in the tech industry as well as local startups can showcase what their code jockeys are doing.

Metta regularly holds panel discussions on topics that are usually of interest to tech entrepreneurs.

Seedstars World, one of the largest startup competitions for emerging markets, holds an annual pitch competition in Nairobi. Up to 10 startups are selected to pitch at Seedstars Nairobi.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you’d like to add your organisation to this framework or suggest an additional category, please comment below or contact us.

Featured image: View of Nairobi, Kenya taken on 23 April 2015 (Ninara via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Author Bio

Daniel Mpala
Daniel's focus is on the African tech startup ecosytem. Besides that, he is passionate about online security, privacy and international affairs. He studied International Relations and Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. More