Kenya Startup Ecosystem: What Is The Next Frontier?

Startup idea
Image credit: lovati, Flickr

The starting point of this article is June 2011 and over the months it is becoming extremely clear to me that this will be the next frontier.
Back then we had nothing in the eco-system and indeed 2011 was the year when new ideas, hubs and communities emerged. It went on to some maturity over 2012 and year 2013 saw hubs and communities mushrooming. In 2014, we see at least 4 funds and many communities that support them as well as a number of start-ups.

So what is the next frontier? I can’t give a direct answer but a series of coincidences and stories that might appeal to the readers especially in the financial space.

First of all, let me start with a statement I made in 2013 during the bloggers award night. We need more subject matter specialists and vertical gurus to start writing blogs. Why am I saying this? We need more practical knowledge and life experiences than a University degree. This is absolutely missing compared to our friends in Silicon Valley or Bangalore. Sharing via writing is a best way to spread the knowledge than a class room course. I need it, as I do not own expertise or experience in most of these subjects and I am sure you do too. So it is an appeal to the best in Kenya.

Secondly, an ex-colleague explained to me that the coders/developers fear sharing an idea or even thinking out aloud. Why would that be an issue? If you are innovative, you will forever be innovative. Yes, it is a bit scary to even think that someone will run with your idea and be successful. I agree too. But let me explain it differently: The Ocean/Sea is common for all. But some take out pearls, some take out fish, some go on cruises (holidays), some just wet their leg and some live on boats. You see, it is food for some, shelter for some, business for some and leisure for others. More generally, the world is the same for all but we get what we look for. So are the ideas.

Incidentally, I spoke about resources in the hubs and communities. Four developers do not form a company; they do in fact but not a successful company. If your team is not skilled in all areas of management, you better skill up. The most important thing in a startup company is the startup team. You may take time to form one but do take time to form the best. Better still, one can look for advisors and mentors. Like they say, if you want to go up find someone who is already there.

Then again, I went to the route of the wisdom and the formative years. I see many good ideas in the campuses but how in the world would are they to expose themselves. I did meet some but some of these ideas died in its infancy thanks to the pressures of the material world. But there are these persistent ones who came out and championed their dream. I salute these youngsters who had the courage to do what they dreamt of because I didn’t and I succumb to the pressures of the world.

During my humble interactions as a worker with many of the entrepreneurs I felt that there is an underlying confidence missing. This is a simple case of them not being able to share their idea and getting a positive feedback for fear of losing the idea or pitching to the wrong people. They say, there will be a million of people who will tell you what is wrong with your idea but your job is to prove them wrong, isn’t it?

So I met a number of young minds budding to be entrepreneurs and pitching to every single competition. I openly asked all of them to look for me if they are looking for funding or financing. Years have passed but hardly anyone ever came out of those forums to look for me or ask me. Why would the case be? You see, when I was younger I used to look for angels and potential investors into my ideas but never succeeded. Not sure whether I had the wisdom then but it just didn’t happen. So here is the offer again to all youngsters, I am not Donald trump or any of people in the top 15 million cash earners in this country but I will look for someone who will be interested in you. It is just passion.

Another interesting incident was a friend asking me to give a short training on B2B and B2C business from a commercial aspect and another company asking me to present what I think is the use of digital marketing. I was aware of these topics but I had to do extensive research to tailor-make a presentation and training to these folks. Going back to the sales pitches I found a number of weak business cases and such but I asked the presenters why they were looking for the best templates on the web. So what is the catch? Why wouldn’t these folks figure it out themselves? I wouldn’t know. I say, if you seek you shall be given. That is why Google exists. I came from an era where we used more mental capacity than a machine!

Indeed someone told me that they don’t want to work with Venture Capitalist Company or a fund. Why is that? You either have the funding or you don’t. If we don’t have the funding, I preach that we work towards making a fund available at the end of a period after which the dreams can be made true. But then someone asked me whether the ideas they had a year ago will be still valid after 2 years. Not necessarily.

So to add some fuel to this thought I discussed this with head of R&D in a certain company and how he kept bringing out patents from his team. The team that I talk here is about 3000 engineers. His answer was very simple and intriguing: he allows all ideas to come to a central point, a weekly meeting is called where all ideas are reviewed and filtered. The ones he know already are rejected straight away. Of course from his 25 years’ of experience in R&D he knows quite a lot of ideas.

The new ideas are sorted out in to a list and then looked up in the world patent record database to find the uniqueness. The result is either the idea is accepted or rejected. But the key was the rejected ideas (because they already existed) were then compared to the year of the patent to see how his team has evolved or how latest the team’s thinking versus the human mind evolution. Revolutionary approach, I must say. So there you go, that is how you need to evaluate yourself against rest of the world.

Don’t beat yourself up; there are exactly two ideas in my opinion, viz., a quantum leap idea and a locally marketable idea. For the first one, this is now the innovators and game changers (read Hotmail, Twitter, Facebook and the Instagram). These ideas will thrive for years to come unless somebody else gets it too and markets it before you do. On the other hand, there a number of ideas that exist globally but not marketed yet with a locally tweaked version. The latter one better be on the right time otherwise it is easier to lose it in a jiffy.

Lastly, I realized that it is time Africa started innovating and then export to the rest of the world. Typical examples would be a product like M-Pesa and the likes. Very uniquely designed as a product due to a compelling reason but has outstanding performance as well as global appeal.
Going back to the funding, have we classified our funding requirements to seed funding, angel funding and VC funding? It is key that we know what we want as entrepreneurs and how do you intend to approach each stage. Of course, we all want to sell of our companies in a few years’ time and make that money to spend rest of the life in the Caribbean.

So how about an experiment; let us give motivation, confidence, funding, tools, resources and the right mentoring from the early days.

I must say that life keeps training me and teaching me, I pray I don’t stop learning.

This article has been reproduced with permission from, and the author Manoj Changarampatt. Original story is here. The writer is a business visionary with years of experience in the business world. He can be reached on Twitter via his handle @Changarampatt.

IMG Credit: Lovati, Flickr