Roughly two months ago, I came back to Nairobi ready to embark on work in the operations team of a visionary local startup. This generally meant spending every waking moment researching the local tech startup ecosystem. My knowledge of the Kenyan startup scope is tied to my five years of university in one of the most innovative places in the world, JKUAT. That period of my life opened my eyes to the possibilities of what innovation and technology could achieve in solving the day to day problems.
One year after graduation, coming back into the same ecosystem and I started noticing gaps in the ecosystem. This led me to write an article on the same which was published on VentureBurn and in some sense made me the de facto startup founder speaking on the challenges on the local founder. The traction created by the piece was extremely surprising to me. What I had written was in no way new or unique. However, it resonated with many startup founders across multiple African nations and the feedback was simply overwhelming.
One question, however, kept coming up over and over again. What is the solution? What can we do?
Not long after, as fate would have it, I had one of the most intellectually explosive meetings with Mark Karake, founder of Impact Africa Fund and a mentor/advisor to several startups across Nairobi. This initial meeting would eventually change the course of my work. He had been offering free consultation services based on his 15 years of experience in Silicon Valley to startups looking to streamline their operations and unlock their potential. His drive: Seeing buildings owned by local startups dotting the Nairobi Skyline in the near future, simple.
Challenged, I took it upon myself to understand the real challenges faced by startups in the region. What was limiting their ‘success’? It is then that I embarked on a research journey across different hubs in East Africa, talking to different startups in Nairobi and simply collecting data with a friend and social innovation researcher, Lisa Kimondo. The more we went round, the more the problems and the solutions became apparent.
My research across over 17 startups and 5 hubs led me to a variety of challenges (still ongoing). However, one stood out. This is what I would like to refer to as ‘The Gap’. There was an informational gap that exists for startups in terms of business development. Most techies have amazing, innovative products but there is an informational gap when it comes to go-to-market strategies, building company structures, sales and marketing, funding, and access to mentors and advisors among others. Fact is, this information does exist but however, with a commercial angle attached to it which in turn limits its accessibility.
It is important to state that the African startup eco is in a very unique place. Methods that typically work in Silicon Valley cannot be directly replicated. However, important methodologies and lessons learned and borrowed coupled with local expertise can and have worked wonders! The beauty also is that as a young ecosystem, we have the golden opportunity of determining what it will look like and what the metrics of success will be.
Fast forward again to August 2018, based on our similar gaps and findings, Mark and I embarked on a mission to develop a not-for-profit accelerator program to bridge this gap, Impact Africa Network. The key is to scale the services that were being offered to reach undiscovered startups where they are!
The mission? To uncover talented local founders and catalyze an ecosystem culture of high performance, high integrity, and high collaboration.
The program is centered around four pillars:
- Consultation. This is a custom one-on-one consulting program designed to address individual startup needs.
- Startup School. This refers to a tri-annual accelerator delivered by experienced local founders and domain professionals. By linking successful local startup founders with upcoming founders, the learning curve will be reduced tremendously.
- Mentoring. As a follow-up, this is a mentor matching and facilitation program to ensure needs are adequately addressed.
- Talent. This is a talent outreach and awareness program designed to cultivate employee pipeline for startups by tapping into the corporate industry.
What I have come to understand is that young ecosystems can be very delicate in their early growth stages. Challenges will always be there as is currently evident. The differentiating factor is the ability to identify gaps in the eco and working overtime to seal them!
As I sat through a consultation session on Monday and watched Mark work hand in hand with an education startup (looking to disrupt the Kenyan education system) to develop an effective sales approach, I was convinced, this is exactly what was needed.
We were working towards something pretty awesome!