As Safaricom Hits 15, what’s been the Impact on Kenyan Tech Scene?

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Safaricom Mpesa G2
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Safaricom was launched in the year 2000 as an underdog in the telecom sector. The green company headquartered in Westlands, Nairobi from the onset has grown by leaps and bounds to become the biggest company in East and Central Africa by revenues. It wasn’t easy getting there, it took innovation, consistency and doing the right things when they mattered. As a tech company in a regional market leader that is Kenya Safaricom led the way among tech companies in innovation. These range from innovation in the product offering where they introduced per-second billing that gave subscribers a chance to pay for what they used.

The Kenyan tech scene has seen a drastic growth from a small community of unconnected players to one that is very central to the rest of the economy. Safaricom was very much visible in the making of the Kenyan tech ecosystem. Here are some of the ways Safaricom impacted the Kenyan tech scene:

Getting Kenyans mobile:

When Safaricom was starting up, there weren’t a million Kenyans with a mobile phone or desktop phone. It took Safaricom 3 years to hit a million subscribers in June 2003. Today the telco alone has over 23 million mobile phone subscribers. The opportunity this presents is immense. The economy this supports ranges from mobile downloads vendors who sell via SMS or USSD shortcodes. This also created a mobile economy of sorts that had third party value added services vendors like ringtones and music could be sold via SMS shortcode. Back in the day Safaricom subscribers, in their peculiar ways would send each other airtime to be cashed in on the other end for money. This trend is what led to the invention of Mpesa, a mobile based money transfer service in 2007.

3G roll-out

Safaricom was the first among the then three telcos to get a 3G license, an event that would come to see the increased uptake of internet content. This was followed by a need by players already pushing their offerings via the web to start thinking about the mobile user. Safaricom has the largest 3G coverage in the country with over 4 million 3G users. This was a serious boost to the Kenyans accessing the internet for serious content that could even catch the attention of sellers targeting consumers online. During early times, content was largely foreign but that has seen a shift where local content producers and vendors have been availing the same for the Kenyan and international market. 3G would see the entry of the modem and the mobile office on laptops. This naturally means that the barrier of entry for people wanting to make an income from the internet. Freelancers and developers being a good example.

Lipa na Mpesa

Kenya has a very low uptake of credit and debit cards, the situation is not far off for the unbanked. Mpesa does fit in that space in a very huge way. As is the thing with platforms and services, market players go where the users are, it’s never the other way round. Thus the need for Lipa na Mpesa which has come in very handy for small holder businesses. This morphed to Lipa na Mpesa online to give online payments a boost. Safaricom has since made public Mpesa G2 APIs to allow developers integrate seamlessly Mpesa payments and continue serving Kenyan shoppers with the mode of payment they feel at home with.

Appwiz and Safaricom Academy

Safaricom, in the quest to add value and be at the center of tech in Kenya, started the Appwiz competition to highlight Kenyan innovators and get them to move from ideas to viable businesses. This was in partnership with Strathmore where the shortlisted startups would get incubated at Strathmore’s iLab. They get fine-tuned to have products that can face the market and three winners of the Appwiz competition get award money that is meant for their go-to-market plans. Safaricom also runs the Safaricom Academy that picks bright computer engineering graduates and sponsors them through an MBA program at Strathmore Business School. This contributes in the developing and training of the very much needed tech talent in Kenya.

Safaricom Spark fund

Not long ago, Safaricom launched a $1 million Safaricom spark fund that sought to enroll promising tech startups and invest in them. This has already attracted over 200 tech startups to be considered for the fund. The Kenyan tech scene needs local support like Safaricom Spark fund to bridge the gap that’s presented when “soft companies” go to the market and struggle with financing. This happens mostly because their assets are not physical and thus cannot count as collateral to access capital from traditional financial institutions. By Safaricom starting this, the space got a shot in the arm to get an Angel funding culture going in this market like other developed markets have had for quite some time. There is so much to be achieved and the future is quite bright with immense potential to be a vibrant tech scene.

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