Since the dawn of M-PESA, Kenya has attracted international attention as a hotbed of innovation. In this post I briefly highlight some of the startups that are tackling big challenges in Kenya in an innovative way. For me this represents the possibilities that we can still acheive if we became innovative and proactive.
Twiga Foods: a business to business supplier of fresh farm produce
Twiga has two main aspects: the supply side (farmers) and the demand side (vendors). In the supply side,as explained by the founder, Grant Brooke Twiga collects data from farmers and creates value for a certain commodity at a certain time in future. Farmers are able to get better prices and have some certainty about what their produce will cost even before it is ready. On the demand side, the vendors are able to get constant supply of produce from Twiga which is delivered to them directly.With oversupply, vendors are able to sell at fair prices and Twiga also is able to advance short term credit to reduce instances of inflation which is brought about low supply of products. Currently, Twiga has a portfolio of bananas, tomatoes, onions and potatoes.The company’s aim is to increase the product range.
Sendy. Founded 2014.
This is a provider of on demand, door to door delivery and transportation services in Kenya.
As explained in the Digital Kenya Book It’s ‘An Uber-style motorbike delivery service providing mobile phone platform that aggregates and distributes demand for deliveries by matching requests from customers with the company’s network of crowd sourced delivery couriers’. With the dawn of eCommerce and online purchases, Sendy has developed an innovative model of undertaking last-mile delivery services to customers after they have bought products online, think companies like OLX and Jumia, they depend on Sendy to make last mile delivery to customers.
BitPesa: Founded 2013.
Bitpesa is one stop platform for sending and receiving international payments to and from Africa. Everyone agrees that the international payments systems are tiring, complicated and expensive. Bitpesa is leveraging on the new era of digital currency to enable seamless transactions from anywhere across the globe. Currently, Bitpesa does not only buy and sell bitcoin but also enables small business to make international payments directly to local bank accounts. Bitcoin is a form of digital currency which is held only electronically and can also be used to facilitate international payments.Bitcoin is currently being used mainly to facilitate payments but there is also the debate whether it can fully replace the existing currencies such as the dollar, shilling, or Yen to become it’s own form. But the technology behind it is even more fascinating, the block chain which allows for creation of digital ledger. There are ongoing developments on this front and I think there are a lot of possibilities.
ICow is a mobile phone based agricultural information platform for small holder farmers. Farmers receive information through SMS on how to improve their farming methods. What I liked about this platform is that when you read about them, you have a feeling that they have an understanding of farming dynamics in Kenya: small-scale farming where farmers undertake multiple activities-planting maize, beans, cattle farming, goats and chicken. If farmers are able to receive better and relevant information about their farming methods, then I think they can increase yields. What I am not sure of is their pricing model.
BRCK. Founded in 2013.
Builds connectivity devices that can be used where electricity and internet connectivity are problematic. One of its main devices in The BRCK which as they say in their website is “a rugged, self-powered, mobile WIFI device which connects people and things to the internet even in areas of the world with poor infrastructure”. It is a modem made for harsh environments not just in Africa but other parts of the world and it can connect upto 20 devices and seamlessly switch between WiFi, 3G,4G and Ethernet automatically. Even during blackouts, it comes with device that provides up to 8 hours of use. Check more information on their website : https://www.brck.com.
By any measure, this is list is not conclusive. There are many other startups doing well in Kenya. For example, there is M- KOPA solar and Straus energy. According to its website(http://solar.m-kopa.com) says it has connected over 400,000 customers with solar power. The alternative form of energy company says it has its eyes on 1 million customers and it’s target market is off-the grid customers mainly from poor households.
On the other hand, Strauss energy aims at ‘integrating energy generating technology into the basic building materials’. This is a modern alternative to installation of solar panels. It entails fitting energy producing cells into the parts of a construction. These building materials capture sun rays and convert it into solar energy. This eliminates the need to install a roof and then a solar panel. What is even better is that different surfaces can be fitted with energy generating materials, pavements, windows etc. Check out http://www.straussenergy.com. I think this is very innovative considering that in Kenya we have more months of sunshine every year than say, USA, where we have another similar company, Solar City, spearheaded by Elon Musk.
Going forward, I think the startup landscape in Kenya is poised for even further growth. Weza Tela was recently acquired by AFB for $1.7 million becoming one of the main startup exits in Kenya. Toyota also recently invested $3m in another Kenya startup, Seven Seas technologies with 9.5% stake in the company. Such developments continue to make the industry robust. With more equity funding as well as exists either in terms of IPO or acquisitions, the Kenyan startup scene is poised to continue to grow. It’s just a matter of time before Kenya produces a unicorn (billion dollar startup).