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20 Kenyan web and tech innovations worth watching

Kenya is abuzz right now. The outlook for technology and innovation in Africa has never been brighter, and Kenya is positioning itself strategically in anticipation of a wave of groundbreaking web and mobile emerging market products and services. The resources being put into the Kenyan IT sector currently demonstrate how seriously the country is taking the challenge to become Africa’s Innovation hub.

The Kenyan Government, through its ICT Board,  recently closed the window for proposals for its $4-million grant towards local content and software applications using mobile and/or the web. This was a concerted effort by the government to meet its mandate to make Kenya a Top 10 Global Tech hub. The government made a call to innovators and entrepreneurs to propose both innovative applications and content for the Kenyan Government as well as the private sector. The response was remarkable with over 2 000 proposals sent in.

Fast Facts on Kenya:

Another reason for this wave would be the development of open spaces, hubs and labs fostering innovation in the region. Places like the iHub, Nairobi’s Innovation Hub, are set to play a key role linking technologists, innovators and investors. Similar spaces are also appearing across Africa including Geekspace in South Africa and the newly announced Hive Colab in Uganda as well as the Cameroonian Limbe Labs.

The Nailab, also based in Nairobi, is an incubation space for ICT-based and “ICT-heavy” start-ups, including small and medium-sized businesses. Nokia has also been proactive, putting their efforts behind a Research and Sub-contracting Lab and User Experience Unit at the University of Nairobi.

One innovative product getting world-wide attention is the mobile payment platform M-Pesa. Launched by local mobile service provider, Safaricom, the service stands at more than 9-million registered users. Twenty four billion (approximately $300-million) in monthly transactions, and the figures are growing exponentially. It is fast becoming a staple in transaction payments across Kenya, and is an integral part of many of the East African nation’s start-ups.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the start-ups at the forefront of Kenya’s current revolution:

Maduqa

This startup targets Kenyan business owners, providing them with a simple online store to conduct business and position themselves online through the platform. It also doubles up as a classifieds business listings site available for these and other businesses.

EatOut

The online restaurant guide has quickly filled the niche in the market and secured its place as the go-to guide for people dining out. It offers restaurants a chance to upload profiles, share their information and also gives consumers the chance to share reviews.

Wazua

The finance and investment forum gives users market information and threads where market information is analysed, shared and discussed. The site caters to a wide range of investors and businesspeople, from those in informal investment groups, known commonly as chaamas, to those in the stock market, real estate and the bonds markets.

PesaPal

The payment gateway, aggregating both mobile, bank and web payments, has steadily gained traction. It recently launched their school fees payment program SchoolPay, which allows schools to manage mobile payments. PesaPal CEO, Agosta Liko, is set to share his experiences as one of the speakers at the upcoming Tech4Africa Conference in Johannesburg.

Ufahari

An interesting addition to the list, this startup is the only one on the list yet to formally launch, but still worth watching. It first drew attention by attracting close to 2 000 followers in a few months on Twitter by sharing content in anticipation of their launch. Their Twitter feed indicates that they will provide you with “a regularly updated news website, featuring some of the world’s most intriguing business concepts and people”.

Virn.net

The group of websites on the ViRN Network features a News and Blogs content sharing platforms as well as Wallapa, a video-based tourism and travel site among others. All of which will serve ads through Metro — their Advertising platform. Powered by WebC, an authenticated login, messaging and web analytics system, users get a ‘Passport’ to ViRN’s group of sites.

Essential Africa

The portal aims to claim the position as one of Africa’s “go-to” search engines for African content. It doubles up as a web classifieds directory with comprehensive listings that cover all African countries on one single virtual platform.

Mocality

The web and mobile-based business listings and directory application has registered some remarkable milestones, among them registering approximately 11 000 businesses in Nairobi. Backed by Naspers-owned, MIH Internet Africa, they’re offering business owners in Nairobi a free platform to promote and advertise themselves, equipping them with 400 free SMS’s a month, a contact list and mobile business cards to promote themselves.

Bagalicious

The e-commerce site focusing on the selling and delivery of womens’ handbags, purses, accessories and jewellery has made some strides in the local e-commerce market; its payment platform is powered by PesaPal.

Sembuse

Having earned the title of being “East Africa’s first mobile social networks” Sembuse has developed into an SMS messaging and content-sharing network in a similar vein to Mxit. Sembuse spread predominantly through a downloadable Java application to get to its estimated 6 000 registered users.

Whive – The mobile social network platform has a network that includes Whive.mobi where users share events, ringtones, games and SMS messages between members. It also took Kenya’s ongoing constitutional referendum as an opportunity and gained some publicity for releasing iKatiba, a series of mobile apps with the proposed constitution translated into 8 ethnic languages and popular urban slang Sheng.

KenyaUnlimited – Though not the most active of the start-ups listed, it’s been at the heart of the blogging community by being the first and most populous Kenyan Blog aggregator. There’s still plenty of room to grow into the more established niches that the popular Afrigator aggregator fills for the continent.

AfricanDigitalArt – The online collective and creative space started by curating digital art, animation, interactive work, short films, graphic art, typography and design and has since grown to become a network of new media artists across Africa and beyond. The community gives artists across the continent a place to showcase their work and portfolios as well as a way to share inspiration and connect with emerging artists.

GotIssuez – Through crowdsourcing the consumer experience in Kenya, this platform gives companies the opportunity to respond and resolve complaints while promoting compliments and sharing FAQs. For customers it encourages participation and engagement while rewarding users as they resolve each other’s issues and engage with the site through web, mobile, and social media. (Disclosure: The author is a partner at GotIssuez)

KenyaImagine – Originally founded to address the gap in quality online content from Kenyan news and magazines, it turned into a nucleus for political, economic, scientific and business content. With heavy influence and readership from the diaspora, it has grown into a platform for creative writing and leading independent opinions within those topics. It is currently expanding to cover the arts.

PataUza – In the race to become “Kenya’s Online Marketplace” there are many contenders. Among these, PataUza is one to note thanks to its approach and execution. The online classifieds site focuses on three main categories: jobs, motor vehicles and property.

Mashada – Thanks to its forums and chat-rooms, Mashada has connected Kenyans for over 10 years. Its use has recently shifted to those in the diaspora, and it’s a melting pot for popular culture and discussion. With additional features including a blog and content aggregator featuring a tweet-stream of members and online influencers built in, it continues to be a stalwart in the minds of most Kenyan digital citizens.

Africa Knows – The photoblog’s purpose has been to tell a different story of Africa and rebrand the continent through words and pictures. The majority of its content comes from Nairobi with a universally African perspective, and it’s a growing repository of stock photography and creative imagery from Kenya’s capital.

Rich Media – The web platform offers investment data, insight and perspective on the Kenyan investment platforms including the Nairobi Stock Exchange. It also has video interviews with local CEOs, directors and management professionals including a series of podcasts from MindSpeak, a monthly Business Club meeting that brings leaders in business together to share their views and engage in debate and discussion in Nairobi.

KenyanLyrics – The local portal for lyrics to vernacular and contemporary Kenyan music has skyrocketed up the rankings locally. It has since expanded to offer artistes the chance to position themselves and create biographies, publicise events and share songwriting profiles and insight behind their inspiration.

Ushahidi is probably one of Kenya (and Africa’s) biggest success stories right now. Its open-source approach and global appeal are what make it a world-changer. Developed in the aftermath of the disputed Kenyan election of 2007 where it was used in conjunction with Google Maps to identify hotspots of ethnic tension, it “uses the concept of crowdsourcing for social activism and public accountability”. Ushahidi received global recognition after it was used extensively during rescue operations following the Haitian earthquake.

On the start-up front, it is encouraging to see the steps taken from government down to the private sector. Now, it’s up to the innovators, technologists and entrepreneurs to “start local and think global”.

37 Comments

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention 20 Kenyan start-ups worth watching | memeburn -- Topsy.com

  2. Kelvin Jayanoris

    August 4, 2010 at 10:03 am

    ….and DukaPress! http://www.dukapress.org

    Thanks for the very interesting list.

  3. Mulutu jackson

    August 4, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Nice article indeed.

  4. memeburn

    August 4, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    unsubscribe

  5. Kilimo

    August 4, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    Just saw one worthy looking @ in your next update to your list.
    http://www.kenyamemorials.com Very interesting.

  6. Tuomas Santakallio

    August 5, 2010 at 7:58 am

    All of these websites are unknown and have no users. Except Mashada forums and Ushahidi. Ushahidi is a Google Maps data crowdsourcing application based on http://sourceforge.net/projects/sahana/ – and the biggest e-commerce distributor in Kenya (controlling about 80% of the market) is Mambo Microsystems.

  7. Casiracarol

    August 5, 2010 at 9:10 am

    @tuonas, u need to surf further, do more research too, b4 concluding that!!!

    Check out 'eatout', u'l be shocked and am sure most of the others too.

    Surely, Mark Kaigwa must have done enaf research b4 putting dis up!!!
    @ Mark, big ups give us more info as soon as u get it!!! good job!

  8. Eat Out Kenya

    August 5, 2010 at 9:11 am

    I beg to differ with your comment. Eat Out Kenya currently has 45000+ visits to the site every month and has booked close to 10,000 seats at restaurants in Nairobi this year. The Eat Out Facebook profile has over 2700 members.

    I'm not sure how you can say that the likes of Mocality, Rich.co.ke, Wazua & PesaPal have no users.

  9. pressto

    August 5, 2010 at 10:15 am

  10. Sara

    August 5, 2010 at 10:54 am

    I hope Zambia can be inspired and that the Government can support this industry as much as Kenya's is. Some great ones to watch!

  11. Tuomas Santakallio

    August 5, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    whive is a very potential company. we need mobile services.

  12. Kamae

    August 5, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    newsupdate.co.ke

  13. weah

    August 6, 2010 at 9:57 am

    There is also http://www.enhols.com -travel site for Kenya and http://www.recser.com – job portal for kenya. http://www.autoassista.com – very extensive automobile website

  14. Ben Parker

    August 6, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Mobile Planet and kasha.mobi? Hardly a startup but neither is Mashada. http://www.mobileplanet.co.ke/

  15. Mark Kaigwa

    August 6, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    I appreciate the feedback, guys. This was certainly not an exhaustive
    list and as pointed out, I did research both of my own, and with the
    crowd through Twitter & LinkedIn.

    It was an open process and I tried to validate the list with other
    Kenyan online citizens to get a fair view.

    I did come across Mzoori as well as Dukapress but this was the final
    list that went up.

    It's up to all the startups (in Kenya) now to make sure their
    milestones and achievements get publicity locally for people to be
    aware of what they are up to.

    This is just the start and there's no reason why a startup that's not
    on this list can't break through and eclipse them all.

  16. Mark Kaigwa

    August 6, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Ben, I think Mobile Planetwith Google & Safaricom as investors in it it's a good example of a Mobile App Development House that's scaled nicely. Looking into Kasha.Mobi and will compile with others for a Mobile-related post.

  17. Mark Kaigwa

    August 6, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Weah, Thanks for sharing those links. I've checked them out and I've bookmarked them though Recser's not populated with information yet.

  18. Mark Kaigwa

    August 6, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Noted.

  19. Mark Kaigwa

    August 6, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Agreed.

  20. Quentin Faulkner

    August 7, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    @Tuomas – Totally disagree! Not sure what you are basing your comments on? Bagalicious has between 80-100,000 hits a month, 1400 registered users, over 2000 Facebook Fans and continually increasing daily sales, showing that e-commerce is working and being used successfully in Kenya. http://www.totallytoto.com (children's clothing and accessories online store created and run by the same people who run Bagalicious) has even more prolific stats as its been running for three years now. Also not sure how you know Mambo controls 80% of the market? 80% of what?

  21. Kioko

    August 7, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    jambopay!! by webtribe

  22. Kevin Mutiso

    August 9, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Great article, gives a lot of necessary insight to the Kenyan IT Sector!

  23. Ojoluoch

    August 9, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Interesting!

  24. Kiokodigz

    August 10, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    Good article.. maybe you should research more.. Web Tribe guys are also drastic in tech…

  25. Mary

    August 10, 2010 at 11:39 pm

    This was a good list am sure you are on track and you will get many more. Good job

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  31. whynnot

    August 25, 2010 at 9:28 am

    mamamikes.com merits mention

  32. Pingback: 20 Kenyan web and tech innovations worth watching – Memeburn (blog)

  33. Ed

    September 2, 2010 at 4:54 am

    http://www.symclub.com is another fresh startup that’s aiming for the list (I think).

  34. Ed

    September 2, 2010 at 4:54 am

    http://www.symclub.com is another fresh startup that's aiming for the list (I think).

  35. Ed

    September 2, 2010 at 6:54 am

    http://www.symclub.com is another fresh startup that's aiming for the list (I think).

  36. Pingback: What does this “Brave New World” of information and communication, openness and secrecy, theft and exposure mean for the future of East Africa « AfriCommons Blog

  37. Pingback: New Media for the Kenyan Journalist | Simple observations on technology & innovations

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