Kenya, formally known as the Republic of Kenya, is an East African country on the Indian Ocean coast. With a population of 48m people in 2019, it is the world’s 29th most populous country and also the 48th largest by size. Kenya has a GDP of $100bn in 2020 but this is estimated to increase by $50bn by 2026 according to Statista. Kenya is the third largest economy in Sub Saharan Africa behind only Nigeria and South Africa. Generally, it is Africa’s seventh largest economy. With a Gross National Income (GNI) of 1,460, Kenya is a lower middle income economy and its capital, Nairobi serves as east and central Africa’s major commercial hub. In 2016, Kenya was ranked 92nd out of 190 countries on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index but has since improved to 56 in 2019.
Kenya was one of the earliest adopters of undersea cable technology in 2009 which made internet connectivity relatively affordable. As a result, Kenya has the highest internet penetration rate in Africa which is 85%. When it comes to smartphone penetration, 99% of internet users aged 16 to 64 own smartphones, about 60% own a laptop or a desktop computer and 20% own a tablet.
The Kenyan startup scene is rapidly growing and vibrant. Key catalysts for this include the launch of internet service providers in the early 1990s, establishment of a Kenya internet exchange point in 2000 and sprouting of hubs across the country which support technology entrepreneurs. Kenya has about 48 hubs according to the latest GSMA Report. The launch of the mobile money service, M-Pesa in 2007 by Safaricom also led to exciting opportunities around online payments.
The key players in the Kenyan startup ecosystem include investors, hubs and accelerators.. Some of the major investors in the Kenyan startup ecosystem include Accion Venture Lab that provides flexible financial and post-investment support. They invest $300,000-$500,000 in seed stage startups. Acumen Fund Kenya is a non-profit venture fund launched in 2001 that uses entrepreneurial problems to solve global poverty. It funds companies that provide solar energy, anti-malaria bed nets and agricultural inputs. It has invested over $28m in East African companies.
There is Africa Tech Ventures that invests in high growth startups which increase access to essential goods and services. Its ticket size is usually $100,000 to $5m and takes a significant minority equity stake and the ability to participate in the follow-on financing rounds. Bamboo Capital Partners is a commercial private equity firm that are experts in energy, healthcare and financial services. It has offices in Luxembourg, Geneva, Bogota, Nairobi and Singapore. Founded in 2007, it has close to $400m under management with a portfolio of companies in over 30 countries.
DOB Equity is an investment firm that invests in innovative, scalable and impactful startups in East Africa. Grassroots Business Fund is both a fund and a non-profit that provides both capital and support for long term investment in businesses that provide opportunities in underserved communities. It has an $11m fund for African startups and has invested in BrazAfric, Soko and Wamu in Kenya..
GroFin is a private development finance institution that specializes in the financing and supporting of small and growing startups and businesses. It has made over 700 investments that sustain about 90,000 total jobs across several sectors and industries while Safaricom Spark Venture Fund is a venture fund launched by Safaricom in 2014 to support startups that use M-Pesa mobile money technologies as an enabler. Safaricom invests between $55,000 to $200,000. Savannah Fund is a seed capital fund specializing in making investments between $25,000 to $500,000 in early stage high growth technology startups.
Other investors are TBL Mirror Fund,a private equity fund based in Nairobi that invests in East African small businesses and TLCom Capital Partners which is based in Nairobi but have other offices in Lagos and London and has been investing in startups in telecom, media and technology in Europe, Israel and Sub Saharan Africa since 1999.
The other major players in the Kenyan startup ecosystem are incubators. The most prominent one is Nailab, which was founded in 2011 by Sam Gichuru. It incubates technology based startups and offers 3-6 months long entrepreneurship acceleration programs. Initially launched in partnership with the crowdfunding platform, 1%Club, it secured $1.6m in funding from the government of Kenya for the Tech Incubation Program.
The other prominent hub is iBiz Africa located at Strathmore University in Nairobi. It provides mentoring, access to finance, legal advice and financial expertise to young startups. Growth Africa is another incubator in Nairobi that helps entrepreneurs scale their businesses in and across Africa through a work space and funding. MEST Incubator Nairobi is another incubator that offers support to very early stage startups from launch to scale with funding and work space at its Pan African incubator network.
Other incubators in Kenya are Startup Africa that provides training, networking, pitch competitions and access to capital for Kenyan startups as well as TUMI that focuses on startups that offer transformative, practical, well researched and tested solutions to urban mobility challenges. Startups are incubated for 5 months where they receive coaching and mentorship as well as access to potential partners and investors.
The Kenyan government has come up with a few programs to help startups in the country. One of them is the Kenya Industry and Entrepreneurship Project (KIEP) which is a $50m project funded by the World Bank and implemented by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives. Its goal is to increase innovation and productivity in the private sector from startups and SMEs through bootcamps and financial grants. Another one is Whitebox by the Information, Communications and Technology ministry and the ICT Authority that catalyzes the successful growth of local ventures to global ventures.
The Most Funded Startups in Kenya
Led by D.Light, the 10 most funded startups in Kenya have raised $998m across 69 rounds of financing which is about $15m per round on average. The most common round of financing is debt financing which accounted for 17 deals followed by private equity, grants and Series B with 7 rounds each. The most funded round was debt financing with $371m or 37% of the amount raised. It was followed by Series B ($135m), Series C($120m), private Equity($114m) and Series D ($89m).
Energy and resources was the most funded sector with 5 startups in the top 10, followed by e-commerce and retail with 2. There was one each for property technology, information technology and financial services. The 5 energy and resources startups raised a total of $650m which accounted for 65% of the entire amount raised while the two e-commerce and retail startups raised $158m (15%). Below is a list of the most funded startups in Kenya.
Founded in 2006, D Light is an innovator of solar energy products that provides solar energy to more than 100m people in 70 countries. Its product line starts from affordable portable solar lanterns to solar home systems that can power multiple lights, mobile phones, flat screens and small appliances. Its solar solutions have won multiple awards for their innovation and design.
D.Light has over 30,000 outlets around the world and has built up a loyal customer base in emerging countries with its strong emphasis on product quality and customer service since its early days. It has a target of electrifying up to 1.2m people in rural Kenya.
D.Light has raised 15 rounds of financing from 2008 up to 2021. Its first round of financing was a Series A of $6m from Acumen, Garage Technology Ventures, Gray Matters Capital, Mahindra Group, Nexus Venture Partners and Threshold Ventures. This was followed by a $5.5m Series B in June 2010. Existing investors in this round included Acumen, Nexus Venture Partners, Gray Matters Capital and Garage Technology Ventures. They were joined by Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Omidyar Network. The same investors funded D. Light’s $11m Series C in February 2014.
On 21st September, 2016, the startup raised 3 rounds of financing in one day. The first one was a debt financing round of $2.5m from SunFunder then a grant of $5m from Shell Foundation and United Nations Capital Development Fund and finally, a $15m Series D from KawiSafi Ventures Fund, Energy Access Ventures, Omidyar Network, New Quest Capital Partners and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. In October that year, it added a $7.5m Debt Financing round from Developing World Markets.
On January 16 2017, it raised two rounds: $5m Series D II from Norfund and a $5.5m grant from Shell Foundation and Beyond The Grid. The European Investment Bank financed its $25m debt financing round in March 2018 before returning for another $50m debt financing round alongside ResponsAbility, Sun Funder and SIMA Funds in April 2018.
D.Light is one of the few African startups to raise a Series E. It got $41m in December 2018 in its Series E from Norfund, FMO, Swedfund International and Inspired Evolution Investment Management. In July 2019, ResponsAbility, SunFunder and Social Investment Managers and Advisors funded an $18m debt financing round into D.Light. Another debt financing round of $5m was funded by Citi Inclusive Finance, Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Ford Foundation in December 2019. Its last investment round was undisclosed. PROPARCO invested $10m in this round in May 2021.
M-Kopa is a mobile phone based solar kit reseller that allows customers in rural areas and lower income households without electricity to purchase a solar kit by depositing $35 and paying for the rest through mobile money transfers from as low as 50 cents for a full year. The solar kit includes a solar panel, multi-device charger, lights, radio and a pay-as-you-go SIM Card.
It also launched the M-Kopa phone, which is a rebranded Samsung Galaxy A10 in partnership with Samsung and Safaricom. Customers could purchase the phone through a subscription model by depositing some money, getting the phone and paying the rest on a day to day basis.
M-Kopa has raised funding fourteen times with the first one being an undisclosed Series A in October 2011. Investors in this round included Gray Ghost Ventures, DOB Equity, Acumen, LGT Venture Philanthropy and Lundin Foundation. M-Kopa then raised an undisclosed Series B from undisclosed investors in December 2012. It received a $10m grant in February 2014 from the Department for International Development, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Shell Foundation. There was also a $10m debt financing in February 2014 from the Commercial Bank of Africa, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, LGT Venture Philanthropy, Imprint Capital and Netri Foundation.
M-Kopa has also raised a Series C of $12.5m in February 2015 from the LocalGlobe, Blue Haven Initiative, LGT Venture Philanthropy and Lundin Foundation. The last round raised by M-Kopa was a $19m Venture deal from Revolution, Virgin Group, Generation Investment Management and Jean Case in December 2015.This was followed by a $4m Debt Financing round in April 2016 from undisclosed investors and another Series D round of $11.6m in September 2016 from CDC Group.
Further investment deals included a venture deal of $6.3m in September 2016 from undisclosed investors and an $80m debt financing round from Stanbic Bank, CDC Group, FMO, Norfund, ResponsAbility, Symbiotics Group and Triodos Investment Management in October 2017as well as a $7m Series D II from CDC Group in November 2017.
It raised a private equity round of $10m in March 2018 from FinDev Canada, CDC Group, Generation Investment Management and LGT Ventures Philanthropy. A corporate round from Sumitomo Corporation followed in December 2018 but the amount was not disclosed. In March 2021, M-Kopa got a $300,000 grant from the African Development Bank.
Bboxx manufactures, finances and distributes solar systems to rural households and Small and Medium sized enterprises through a pay-as-you-go business model. It plans to electrify 2m people through its commercial resources and experience in developing off-grid solutions
It launched a new product in August 2020 called bPower20, which is aimed at customers that have never used electricity. It comes with a 20W solar panel and daily usage of up to 51 watt hours using the new lithium battery technology. Bboxx’s solar systems have supported over 87,000 people and positively impacted over 337,000 school children.
Bboxx raised its first round of financing in November 2013 from Khosla Impact and Synergy Growth. They funded its Series A with $1.9m. In March 2015, Bamboo Finance, DOEN Foundation and McKinnon Bennet and Company invested in Bboxx’s $3m Series B. The same investors funded its $20m Series C in August 2016 and were joined by ENGIE, KawiSafi Ventures and Khosla Impact. In January 2019, Africa Infrastructure Investment Managers put in $31m via a private equity round which was followed by an equity crowdfunding of $6.8m in February 2019 from Trine.
Facility for Energy Inclusion and OffGrid Energy Access Fund (FEIOGIF) invested $8M via a debt financing round into Bboxx in May 2019 but this was dwarfed by the $50m Series D a few months later in August from Mitsubishi Corporation, Bamboo Capital Partners, Doen Participants, McKinnon Bennet and Company and ENGIE.
4.Twiga Foods ($105m)
Twiga is an e-commerce platform in Kenya that uses technology to aggregate demand and streamline logistics in the distribution of farm produce like bananas, onions, tomatoes, potatoes , mangoes etc. straight from the small scale farmers to vendors. It serves about 35,000 vendors and 17,000 farmers.
Twiga has a vendor platform called Soko Yetu, that allows the vendors to access produce from various suppliers. The vendor can also operate various shops under one account. Get access to a wide range of produce and access an e-wallet and shop up to 9PM.
Twiga raised a $1m convertible note in February 2016 from 1776 Ventures and an undisclosed private equity round from DOB Equity in August 2016 which was followed by another undisclosed grant in April 2017 from GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator. It got a grant of $50,000 in May 2017 from the Google Launchpad Accelerator Africa in May 2017 and another grant of $2m on July 30th 2017 from USAID. The next day, it got $10.3m from the Omidyar Network, 1776 Ventures, Wamda Capital, DOB Equity and Blue Haven Initiative
In July 2018, it raised a $7m bridge round from TLcom Capital Partners and the International Finance Corporation. It followed this with a $5m debt financing round in August 2018 funded by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and a $10m Series B in November 2018 from the International Finance Corporation, 1776 Ventures, Wamda Capital, and DOB Equity.
Creadev invested $5m in Twiga Foods in a private equity round in June 2019 before the startup raised two rounds of financing on the same day on October 25th 2019. It raised a debt financing round of $6.25m from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and Alphamundi and a $23.75m Series C from Goldman Sachs, International Finance Corporation, TLCom Partners and Creadev. Its last two rounds of financing were both debt financing rounds in April 2020 and October 2020. The United States International Development Finance Corporation invested $5m in the former and the International Finance Corporation invested $30m in the later.
5.Greenlight Planet ($92m)
Greenlight Planet operates the largest direct to consumer pay-as-you-go solar distribution and service network in the world. It has 1.3m solar products in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda and is expanding at a rate of 65,000 new rooftop installations per month. Through its brand, Sun King, its products include home lighting, mobile phone chargers, radios, televisions and fans. It uses solar panels and batteries to power these appliances
Greenlight Planet raised a $2m equity crowdfunding round from Trine in March 2019 before a monster $90m debt financing round in September 2020. Investors in this round included CDC Group, Norfund, ResponsAbility, SIMA Funds, Symbiotics Group , Global Partnerships and ARCH Emerging Markets Partners.
.6.Gro Intelligence ($85m)
Founded by Sara Menker in 2016, Gro Intelligence is a startup that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to combat food security and climate change. It works with thousands of clients that include Unilever, Yum! , financial institutions like BNP Paribas and Wells Fargo and governments across the world by providing them with data and analysis on the global agricultural ecosystem.
It ingests and analyses 650 trillion data points from more than 40,000 sources about crop forecasts, satellite images, topography, reports on precipitation and soil moisture among others. It was named by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Companies in 2021. In January 2021, Gro Intelligence raised an $85m Series B that was funded by Intel Capital, Africa Internet Ventures, Eric Zinterhofer, Data Collective VC and GGV Capital.
Cellulant is a leading Pan African fintech focusing on digital payments. It has a payments platform called Tinng, which makes it easy for merchants and shoppers to collect and make payments with different localized payment methods in different countries. Cellulant boasts of offices in 18 countries, 35 partnerships with the largest mobile money operators across the continent and provides mobile banking and payments to 120 banks. It processed over 150m transactions valued at $8bn in 2020 and claims to process 12% of Africa’s digital payments.
Cellulant has been funded three times. It raised a Series A of $1.5m in October 2011 from the TBL Mirror Fund a $5.5m Series B in February 2014 from Velocity Capital Private Equity and a $47.5m Series C in May 2018. Investors in this round included The Rise Fund, Satya Capital, Endeavor Catalyst, Velocity Capital Private Equity and Progression Capital Africa.
8.Azuri Technologies ($53.5m)
Founded in 2012, Azuri is a provider of solar home systems to rural off-grid communities in sub-Saharan Africa. It offers efficient solar energy solutions on a PAYG basis. It has sold over 200,000 solar systems ranging from home lightning to satellite TVs in partnership with Zuku TV.
Azuri Technologies raised its first funds in February 2017 which was a $5m debt financing round from Standard Chartered Bank. It then raised $131,500 which was an equity crowdfunding round from undisclosed investors in October 2017. A debt financing round followed in January 2018. Trine and Electrification Financing Initiative invested $20m in this round. Another equity crowdfunding of $2.38m was raised in April 2018 from undisclosed investors and its last round of financing was a $26m corporate round in June 2019 from the Marubeni Corporation.
9.Copia Global ($53m)
Founded in 2013, Copia Global is a social enterprise that provides an opportunity for customers in rural and isolated areas to purchase high quality and low cost products that they would never have been able to buy. Copia Global partners with a network of agents, usually local business owners in remote and hard to reach areas. They earn a commission off each item ordered at their stores.
Customers visit a local agent and order goods which are delivered to the agent from where a customer can pick them. It employs 400 people in administrative and operational roles, 226 casual workers in warehouses and delivery vehicles. Copia Global has a network of 25,000 agents across Kenya and has processed more than 5m orders. It was named as one of the 10 Most Innovative Companies in Africa in 2020 by Fast Company.
Copia Global raised an undisclosed seed round in January 2013 from Savannah Fund, Opes Impact fund and Data Collective. This was followed by a $4m Seed II round in January 2015 from DOB Equity and a $16m Private Equity round from LGT Group in September 2018. Goodwell Investments funded its Series A of $2m in January 2019 while LGT Lightstone, Perivoli Innovations, Endeavor Catalyst and Goodwell Investments again invested $26m in Copia Global’s Series B. Its Series C of $5m in September 2020 was funded by the United States International Development Finance Corporation.
10.Africa Logistics Properties ($52m)
Africa Logistics Properties is a Nairobi based greenfield commercial property developer. It acquires, develops and manages warehouses across East Africa. It customizes warehouses to fit the needs of every customer. Startups like Twiga Foods and Copia Global are some of the companies that use their warehouses to store goods.
It has raised two rounds of financing, both private equity rounds. It raised $48m from Mbuyu Capital Partners,Maris Capital, International Finance Corporation and CDC Group in March 2017. This was followed by a $4m investment from DOB Equity two months later.
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