20 September 2011
The premise behind the move to found and launch Afrinnovator was not really just for the sake of blogging (though writing is fun).
Part of the reason was that it seemed that there were either not enough success stories or the stories were there but they were hidden. The theory went as follows: to see tech making a major difference economically, the best bet would be tech startups that have the potential to grow big time – little initial capital, potentially massive outcome. Well, the thing is that, at the time, the startup culture was still not very well developed. Tech students went to school simply to study and thereafter probably find a suitable job. In fact, the scenario was such that most tech students didn’t really fancy programming, and the tech curricula doesn’t help much either, a good number of tech students end up in non-tech carriers.
Without many success stories, tech students did not have ready inspirational/motivational stories to move them to dare to venture into trying their hand at a tech startup. This versus what the situation might be in Silicon Valley – a student walks off campus in the Valley and the sign-boards of major corporations that started as experiments or a couple of students just trying something out in their dorm room or garage and now they are multi-billion dollar companies; the conceptual leap is not so difficult to make and they can see how they can take a chance at their ‘little experiment’. Of course the culture in the valley plus other factors such as ready financing for early stage startups also make the chances of success much better.
All the same, the point is that, at the time when the thought to start this website began there was not much in the form of tech startup success stories. (Part of) the concept was to start telling these stories, and hopefully create a platform for young would-be tech-preneurs to get to think, ‘hey, they’re trying it and it seems to be working… let me try out my idea’!
Since that time, a lot has happened, fast foreward more than one and a half years since the debut of afrinnovator.com and the situation is very different. What’s even more interesting is the snowball effect – the more that happens in the Kenyan tech startup scene(and by extension other African countries), the effect compounds and even more happens – with each tech event, each success story, each news story… It’s quite interesting really. The role of places such as Nairobi’s Innovation hub in this is almost incalculable. And even the once extremely scarce seed funding is no longer so scarce – private initiatives such as IPO48 and humanIPO as well as government led initiatives are ensuring that tech-preneurs have the financial muscle to try out and scale out.
And it’s spilt over the borders and Kenya is considered among the frontier African nations as far as tech and innovation is concerned.
Two recent examples of this are the recognition given to two mobile-based enterprises:
medAfrica from Kenyan startup Shimba is a phone-based medical reference and real-time public health tool meant to dramatically increase the well being of Kenyans, and eventually people throughout the developing world. Similar in many ways to Indian company mDhil, the smart phone version of the app allows a sick individual to check his or her symptoms against an encyclopedia of ailments, such as fever, swelling or other maladies, and the tool will allow them to call a relevant medical professional with a single click.
In Africa, most cashless payments happen with mobile phones, not credit cards. That means if you’re an online merchant, PayPal isn’t going to be enough–you’re going to need something that’s specific to the market. Pesapal does that, and by all accounts does it very well.
2011 is coming to a close in just a few months, and the activity in the Kenyan tech scene in this year seems to pale 2010. 2012 is set to be even more explosive for the Kenyan tech scene. The startup culture is growing and becoming more and more vibrant, and who knows we might see some tech companies getting major funding and scaling out internationally, in the process, breeding the first generation of Kenya’s tech moguls! Time will tell, but the story it is telling so far seems quite positive.