There is substance behind the hype. Kenya’s start-ups are consistently among the leaders in getting investment among the continent’s nations. Kenyans are well-connected to the web, internet is fastest on the continent, and the country is the leading East African economy. Kenya is home to UN’s Africa headquarters, and it has served as the entry point for countless companies and organisations looking to break into the continent. The fact that its capital, Nairobi, is home to various organisations’ headquarters means new initiatives are often piloted there before being rolled out to other countries.
These trends have meant the country has seen investment pump into the economy, which has fuelled the start-up sector. Kenya’s start-up ecosystem began to flourish, in earnest, around the year 2010. Fibre-optic cables laid on its coast began to stretch into the country, providing fast and reliable internet service to millions of Kenyans. Start-ups slowly began to emerge, and, fuelled by accelerators like Nailab and iHub, they grew and began to have a moderate level of success. The start-ups attracted talented individuals from around the continent and beyond, and Nairobi developed to have the startup ecosystem that it does today.
Currently, Nairobi is home to dozens of tech start-ups, with new ones popping up on a regular basis. It is also home to many investors, both international and local, who have poured a significant amount of capital into these companies.
A more recent development is the entrance of impact investors into the country. In part, it is driven by the development finance institutions’ desire to move from grant-making to a more sustainable form of financing projects, companies, and initiatives. This is not a uniquely Kenyan trait, but it is one that has taken off in the country in a big way. It is forced entrepreneurs to think about how their companies’ stories can be told in a more impact-focused way.