Another week comes with the announcement of a company with Kenyan startup roots closing on a round of funding to power regional or global expansion after a successful pilot and a decent operational run over several quarters. A great story by any measure but one that breaks under scrutiny where it becomes apparent that there is little extra value gained to the country and attendant technology startup ecosystem bottom line as these companies take off.
The myriad of problems that we pride ourselves in having, viewed through entrepreneurial goggles as an opportunity, attract problem solvers and minders of capital from across the globe from markets where it may be markedly more difficult to make a dent or drive visible impact – social or profit, due to market saturation, competition or regulatory moat.
Kenya and the larger African continent offers a soft-landing with odds of success much higher for pretty much any well thought out concept backed by brilliant minds and a bit of runway.
Challenges faced by Kenya's startups
While indigenous entrepreneurs are not blind to the opportunities at hand, the challenges that they face in the day to day pursuit of them remain starkly in place despite talk and a bit of action from the government on creating a better business climate.
The interventions are a handful but most fall in the league of micro-impact with many people touched but very little scale potential. To power the engines that will drive transformational business at scale we need access to a deeply focused purse and strategic consulting.
Many of the companies that I refer to as going regional or global have found ways to plug into and leverage these resources through the capital, talent, and networks.
Able to prove that there is indeed a greenfield opportunity by taking a minimum viable product (MVP) through the motions, the path to follow on capital is easy to follow with a receptive audience on the other end aligned to the needs that different entrepreneurs may have.
Our Achilles heel is that those to whom the duty of this ‘enabling environment’ is entrusted want to associate with success only. This means that many of the companies that eventually transcend borders end up being foreign-owned with the dual country status that favors the movement of realized value back to the markets that provided much-needed capital and networks.
Labs are the place for experiments not profits, markets for the latter.
We need to think deeply about how to model interventions that identify breakout ideas and put proper support behind them in the medium to long-term. We must nurture our skills, talents, products, and services to not only scratch a local itch but to become true net exporters of value.
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