The country has a world-leading FinTech industry, with a growing ecosystem of start-up entrepreneurs


“New investors are arriving in Kenya every week to seek partnerships with the country’s tech talent in its 50-plus innovation hubs”


Almost three years ago, Kenyan entrepreneur Mark Karake packed his bags in Silicon Valley to return home to Nairobi and immerse himself in Kenya’s rapidly expanding start-up scene.


He launched the Impact Africa Network as a non-profit start-up studio to ensure that young, talented Africans have the opportunity to participate in the digital transformation of Africa as both creators and owners.


Impact Africa Network offers 12-month Innovation Fellowships to talented college graduates seeking to launch their own start-ups and has a deal with LinkedIn to match all donations received.


Karake is just one of a growing ecosystem of start-up entrepreneurs in Kenya who in 2019 broke all records to raise more than $400 million. An early adopter was iHub, founded more than 10 years ago by Erik Hersmann. It has incubated great success stories such as Majik Water and M-Shule and has inspired scores of innovation accelerators around the country.


Since then, the Kenyan Innovation Hub has grown at a breath-taking rate. These new hubs work closely with Kenya’s universities. iBizAfrica, for example, is hosted by Strathmore University and has incubated more than 300 start-ups, including ValuRaha, Buymore, and Tatu Creatives. C4D Lab operates out of the School of Computing and Informatics at the University of Nairobi and is home to the prestigious Nairobi Innovation Week.


In addition, the University of Nairobi hosts the Fabrication Laboratory, perhaps better known as FabLab, which specialises in digital fabrication and is part of a network of labs linked to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At Kenyatta University, the Chandaria Foundation supports the Chandaria-BIIC’s attempts to merge academic research with innovation. About 70% of its budding entrepreneurs are Kenyatta University students and have had successes ranging from mobile money start-ups like FlexPay to healthcare initiatives.


Kenya now has a world-leading FinTech industry. Safaricom’s M-Pesa mobile money system is well known and in use in seven other African countries. Less well known is that innovations in Kenya’s FinTech space have seen financial inclusion in Kenyan banking grow from just 26% in 2006 to an astounding 83% of the population today. As a result, the traditionally ‘unbanked’, the rural poor, and women farmers and street traders are benefiting from FinTech and using it as a passport to economic empowerment.


These Kenyan innovations have become models for the rest of the continent, with 24 countries in Africa having committed to a digital economy blueprint.


As Africa begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, improving the continent’s healthcare systems is a major area for innovation. Kenya’s e-health start-up TIBU Health demonstrates how digitalisation is transforming patient care. Since its launch last year, it has served more than 10 000 patients with a comprehensive home-based vaccination service.


TIBU’s success has attracted new local and international investors, which the company will use to set up a high-tech micro-lab to process medical samples in-house and boost its healthcare logistics and delivery network. This is only part of a bigger picture that is seeing new investors and corporates arriving in Kenya every week to seek partnerships with the country’s tech talent in its 50-plus innovation hubs.


Kenya sits at the heart of the East African economy, and through the East African Community has easy access to neighbouring markets in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, with the massive Ethiopia just to the north. This gives Kenya’s entrepreneurs a larger market in which to sell and expand.


All this must be music to the ears of Impact Africa Network’s Karake and his dream to ensure that young, talented Africans participate in the digital transformation of Africa.


Kenya is at the crossroads of this transformation as it increasingly becomes a key player in Africa’s digital future.

Peter Burdin