As recently as 2017, we had our concerns about whether or not the Kenyan startup space was developing in the hoped-for manner, but it seems we needn’t have worried.
2019 proved a great year for the East African country’s tech startup ecosystem, but what were Disrupt Africa’s five favourite developments?
Big cheques being written
Kenya has been up and down when it comes to funding over the last few years, falling far behind Nigeria and South Africa, and being caught by Egypt, but 2019 was a bumper year of investment. There were major rounds for a host of startups, the standout ones being for the likes of Copia, Lori, Twiga and BitPesa, though there were a host of smaller ones too.
All the evidence suggests that investor confidence in the Kenyan tech space has rebounded, though concerns remain about how much of this funding is available for local entrepreneurs as opposed to foreign founders.
A big year for BRCK
A flagship local startup, BRCK had a big year. Launched in 2013, the original BRCK is a rugged router designed for harsh environments with limited connectivity and power. The company has since rolled out further products: the Kio Kit for use in educational institutions; the enterprise-grade SupaBRCK; and the BRCK Moja – which can be used as a free public WiFi hotspot.
In February, the company announced its acquisition of local public WiFi provider Surf, making BRCK one of the largest public WiFi networks in Sub-Saharan Africa. Then, in November, it expanded Moja to South Africa, offering users the chance to overcome challenges associated with high data costs. There was also the small matter of a partnership with Facebook thrown into what was an exciting year.
Nairobi iHub gets acquired by CcHub
The news came like a bolt from the blue in October – Africa’s two most famous hubs were now one after the Nairobi iHub was acquired by the Lagos-based Co-Creation Hub (CcHub). The deal, the value of which was undisclosed, created a pan-African entity focused on accelerating the growth of tech innovation and entrepreneurship.
Disrupt Africa delved into the story behind the acquisition here, and it will be fascinating to see what the future holds as two stalwarts of the continent’s tech scene merge to form a “mega incubator”.
Local startups on the expansion path
Ambitious Kenyan startups need to look at expanding into new markets if they are to scale effectively, so it is heartening for the local ecosystem’s development to see companies doing just that. The rounds raised by the likes of Twiga and Lori, which are being used to power international expansion, gained the most attention, but moves into other markets by startups such as Finplus and Sokowatch hint at an ecosystem that is in rude health and exporting technology internationally.
E-health ConnectMed gets (kind of) acquired
Both parties complained when we called it an acquisition, so we had to alter an article back in April to instead say that Kenyan e-health startup ConnectMed had had its technology acquired by global healthcare firm Merck. The healthcare giant took over ConnectMed’s telehealth applications and related management systems, with the startup ceasing to operate.
Launched in 2017, ConnectMed allows patients to access consultations with medical professionals via video link. The startup had offered telehealth services for acute and chronic primary health conditions in Kenya and South Africa, but Merck is now leveraging its platform in connection with CURAFA points of care in Kenya. Outright acquisition or not, it seemed like a big deal.