5 Expectations: Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) Nairobi Event

By Mbwana Alliy  |  July 18, 2015


We are a week away from one of the largest gatherings anywhere around entrepreneurship and the spotlight will be on Nairobi to host the event with 100s of investors and corporates flying in during the next few days ahead of the event. The 6th Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) should be an amazing event with lots of opportunities for African startups and interested investors.


The Kenyan Government and US state Department seems to be doing a great job so far of raising awareness and even making the arrival and visa process smooth- many are taking advantage to see Kenya’s national parks, important in helping revive the tourism industry in the wake of recent security threats.

When it comes to Entrepreneurship, here are the expectations I have for the event:

  • Investors need context set if its their first time in Kenya or indeed the continent: Some of my colleagues or in the community know what I am talking about in recent years experience. Big name, big time VC after reading the “Africa rising” narrative and a few examples such as M-PESA, show up looking for the hottest startup and either disappointed or inspired by the potential. When a startup pitches at a GES event and they say they signed up 100 users with $1,000 revenue in first month, investors need to understand that is often a big deal in a nascent market vs what they are used to in Silicon Valley- especially if they did it with ZERO investment.
  • The Donor vs Venture Capital Driven Debate needs to be laid out clearly: Nairobi is often crowned the centre of Africa tech, but we should not forget that historically there are a lot of donors in markets or “sectors” from healthcare, education to agribusiness. How startups describe their audience and objectives in the context of a high growth startup vs social enterprises needs to be made explicit or risk confusing everyone whether foreigners should choose Kenya as a “charity case” or “investment destination”. We should not shy away from this debate.
  • Local Angel investors need to come out of hiding in face of foreign investors at their doorstep: There are many wealthy Kenyans out there who have been sitting on the side lines in the early stage investment scene leaving it out to foreigners to take risks in “m-vitus” (m-things in swahili). One of the first question many investors visiting Kenya will ask is how is the local angel scene thriving and can they co-invest/rely on others for local context- so I fully expect this to be laid bare and hopefully encourage the Government to put in schemes to invest in their own people vs investing in real estate or overseas. Africans investing in Africa is going to be something we can’t ignore- it has been improving in Kenya, but not as fast as in places like Nigeria. If this issue is not tackled, we will see the usual ventures like M-KOPA, Bridge Academy get all the attention from investors and less focus on the native local innovators. On the same point, we should recognize the pioneering work that folks like iHub, Nailab, 88mph have done to support local innovators.
  • Local Corporates need to go beyond using the event as CSR: I have started seeing certain Corporates set up events and offering prizes from $10-75k in various pitch panels- this is often the easiest (and where classically the scene started over 5 years ago) and well meaning thing to do, but this often comes out of a marketing or CSR budget vs real intention to support the startups in the years of struggle to come. We should call out organizations that simply see GES as a branding/CSR opportunity vs real opportunity to take real risks to support promising disruptive startups. We can expect many new funds and initiatives to be announced, from Obama to Kenyan Govt to your far away Philanthropic Impact Fund. On a similar point, international tech corporates such as Airbnb or Paypal who will be present at GES need to be encouraged to set up offices in Kenya but in the process support the startup ecosystem. Uber has been a great example of this so far having launched a few months ago in Nairobi.
  • Startups need to act local and think global to capture imaginations: Finally, startups will have a big responsibility to prove they have what it takes to join the global entrepreneurship movement. This also includes foreign startups adding local co-founders and creating jobs as well as local startups from their own African countries showing they can compete globally beyond home country. I would guess that less than 5% of startups from Seed to Growth stage are operating in more than one African country. Some of the challenges should be made aware to both US and Kenyan Governments, especially as it pertains to the East Africa Community-  beyond infrastructure projects such as Konza Tech city but to forget to include soft aspects such IP protection, tax incentives and visas/work permits. Without African countries trading with each other and opening up markets, we can’t expect startups to get there by themselves- its often too hard but necessary step to unlock even more financing beyond seed rounds.

Its going to be an interesting week- I apologize in advance for being frantic, I will be running our 4th Accelerator Demo day, attend Pivot East, numerous side events and hopefully the city will still be allowed to function despite the need for security restrictions.

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