From Dar to Nairobi — Merging East Africa’s fastest-growing startup ecosystems.
A great week in Nairobi — meeting old friends and forming new ones. In a spirit of collaboration, how can we grow together the East African startup scene?
Tunasikia “Mama” anaupiga mwingi sana.., a bolt driver, asked me about my opinion on the current and the previous regime in Tanzania. I asked him about “Baba” and “Hustler” and who is the voting for..; the guy smiled. Enough of politics; Tanzanians and Kenyans have always been “Ndugu”, and we share a lot. My good friend, Hazem Hafify, the founder of Summet Technologies, wanted to experience a road trip between Dar and Nairobi. It was my first time doing it, and it will be the last time doing it. It wasn’t an easy one, but the experience was exquisite.
Our Mission in Nairobi
Among other things, our primary mission in Nairobi was to bridge the two startup ecosystems; “Silicon Dar” and “Silicon Savannah”. Is, without a doubt, Nairobi has one of the most vibrant startup ecosystems on the continent. We met and engaged with more than 10 VC firms in a week, and we did many VC pitches and were involved with different ecosystem actors. Our first meeting was with Maria Inziani of the Baobab Network. We learned about their accelerator program and their insights and advisory work. I’m a big fan of Baobab Intelligence reports on African startups and the investment landscape. Their approach of both accelerating and investing is something that Sahara Accelerator is currently exploring.
We didn’t stop there; we engaged with DoB Equity, Acumen, Unconventional Capital, Lateral VC, Victoria Ventures, and Raisin Capital. We were doing 90 per cent of the meetings at Java like a true “Kanairo”. It was a great experience to learn how the city's investment landscape works, who the key players are, what types of deals they are getting, the quality of the pipeline, and everything else. What fascinated me was the relationship between the VC firms, angels and accelerators in Nairobi. It is a small community of people whereby everyone knows the other. The networking events and meetups have made an ecosystem a community. My key takeaways from the meetings;
- There is an opportunity to build strong VC/AI networks in Tanzania by learning from the “Silicon Savannah”. We are already exploring it under Victoria Ventures' advice, our Nairobi partners, and the East African Venture Capital Association (EAVCA).
- The quality of the pipeline matters, “Silicon Dar” and “Silicon Savannah” need to invest in building a solid pipeline of investor-ready businesses, and we can capitalise on the regional investor networks.
- It is essential to have small founder-focused events whereby founders share the experience with emerging founders to avoid repeating mistakes and learning a complex way. We can also have regional founder’s meetup events. Sahara Accelerator is currently exploring quarterly “Founders Meetup” with founders in our portfolio companies.
15,000 Kenyan Shillings.
The total amount we had to pay for my Bolt trips in Nairobi. It tells you how much we navigated the city. For some time, I have wanted to visit the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and learn about the work at the university’s industrial park. I’m glad I was able to do that this time. I was moved by all the fantastic products; laptops, projectors and tablets produced by the project. For some reason, I feel this is the strategic direction African universities need to take. There are some faults here and there and things that need fixing and improving. Still, if we are serious about wanting to build a digital-savvy society and capitalise on the digital economy, then we can not afford not to produce our gadgets. My key take ways from the visit;
- With the Digital Tanzania Project on the way, it is about time the government, through the Ministry of ICT, started to explore possibilities of establishing assembling plants for digital products in Tanzania to accelerate skills transfer and creates employment opportunities. Already Tanzania has a proven market for low-cost digital devices.
- Tanzanian ICT universities can explore this project on campus. It is a unique opportunity to equip students with relevant digital skills for future work. It is also an excellent platform to try light manufacturing of local digital products. I had an unplanned meeting with a local startup in Nairobi, Numeral AI; I liked their work. We need similar ventures in Tanzania.
Tanzania is Ready For Business
The excellent problem with Nairobi is that everything happens in Nairobi. We also had a chance to attend the East African Venture Capital Summit organised by EAVCA. It was an excellent opportunity to meet and network with early and later-stage investors investing in regional businesses. The discussions to unlock investment opportunities in Tanzania were among the ongoing conversations during the event. Investors wanted to know what was happening in the country. A good friend, Michael Strain, Partner Clyde and Co., did a great sales pitch about the country and the investment opportunities. He deserved honorary citizenship. Unfortunately, I’m not a president. It is, without a doubt, strategically located and with a rich natural endowment; Tanzania provides a unique investment destination for regional and global investors, but there always have been discussions about the regulatory environment. My key take ways from the event and the discussions;
- Tanzania needs to do more sales pitches and showcase herself as the most reliable investment destination. It is evident that “MAMA” is doing a fantastic job, but it is not enough.
- We need more high-level public-private sector dialogue to discuss ways to unlock capital from PE/VC for early-stage businesses and high-profile development projects.
- It was great to see colleagues from AfricInvest and Iungo Capital keen to explore Tanzania as an investment destination. We need to encourage more VCs in our markets.
Tanzania and Kenya need each other. In 2022, Kenya’s imports from Tanzania stood at $501 million, and exports at $403.9 million. Recently, The Democratic Republic of Congo joined the East African Community, and the size of the market is estimated to reach $250 Billion. Kenya and Tanzania have a tremendous opportunity to capitalise on the market. The future is bright; as the guy who is running for Juja Constituency says, “we can turn Juja into Singapore” if we work together.