Why you should go to East Africa as an Entrepreneur

Recently I was on a Startup Tour in East Arica with my entrepreneurship club PionierGarage. More accurately in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. In two and a half weeks we visited more than 20 Startups and Startup Hubs throughout the countries.

So after 17 days of intense impressions and experiences I believe East Africa is the best place for an entrepreneur. Let me tell you why:

Africa has the most potential in Entrepreneurship

For Entrepreneurship, as the process of starting innovative, problem solving projects, there is no place like Africa. Not in a way of working in a hip co-working space while sipping on your iced latte. But as a necessity.

In Africa, about 41% of the population is under the age of 15. Many people don’t have a job or no job that provides them financial coverage. 22 of 24 of the countries with “low human development” are located in Africa according to the Human Development Index.
In conclusion: There are a lot of problems to solve. But there are also many people with energy, the need, and as we found, the inspiration to tackle those problems. Necessity is the mother of invention, right?

The Mastery of broad problems

If you want to build a startup in an industrialized country like Germany or the US, you really want to tackle one specific problem. You want to be the one specialist, that can do exactly this one thing best.
In Africa it is the opposite: there is no structure you can imbed your solution in. When building a solution for a problem, you permanently come across another problem that also haven’t been solved either. So you have to solve it first which can take you years.

Sounds stressful?

It is. But think about the opportunities that come with it. Solutions can be broad, radical and have large-scale impacts. Products are not invented for people with spare money to spend, but invented to make a broad difference.

Intriguing challenges

So there are broad problems and there are many of them. Is this not the perfect baseline for an entrepreneur? At least I was fascinated and extremely inspired by all the opportunities.

It makes you think very differently about problems and possible solutions. Solutions you would never come up with in an industrialized county. For an entrepreneur that is a huge advantage.

Realistically you need to have a long term approach. Africa is thriving, but it’s not there yet. However if you are willing to work there now, building an infrastructure for yourself already, you will be one of the rising stars when it is the time for Africa.

Children watching a herd of cows in Nairobi city centre. Right in front of a startup office building.

Huge emerging market

Africas population is huge and growing. In 2050 it is expected to be at 2.4 Billion people, about 900 Million of them in East Africa. That makes it a huge, growing market and it’s also an emerging market. 27% of the population is urban, phone penetration in Kenya (forerunner here) is at 90%.

East Africa may not be the most profitable market yet, but it will be at some point. And that is when you want to be there already, knowing the culture, local problems and opportunities.

Africa has skipped industrialization and the breaks of it

Many entrepreneurs start up businesses because they don’t want to work in an old fashioned, deadlocked and slow company. And a startup gives them the opportunity to scale fast, be flexible, without rules and old systems?

It seems like you can transfer this to the industrialized and the developing world (kind of).
For example: Mobile Internet. It is very inexpensive and good. It has to be because, at least in cities, a phone is essential for survival. People handle their money, lent microloans or even get jobs on platforms like uber via their phone. People have found ways to use the things around them for solving problems dynamically.

Also there are few legal challenges when starting a business. This makes it harder to scale because you don’t have as much security, but in a startup environment it makes things much easier. In Rwanda for example you only need to sign some papers to register a company and it takes just a few days.

You have a high impact

So it lies much economic potential in East Africa. As an entrepreneur, you want to also make a high impact, right? Starting a business there (as long it’s useful and sustainable) is definitely going to have a high impact.

The things we learned in the industrialized world can, to an extend, be well applied and helpful in Africas journey. Building a startup in East Africa is therefor almost our duty. You are able to take some of your learnings there while profiting from a young and dynamic society.

The most important thing

The most important thing when operating in Africa: business has to happen at eye level. In order for the continent to thrive, African entrepreneurs have to play the leading part. If you want Africas Economy to get going, you need to understand that it’s an ecosystem you can only profit from, if you empower local entrepreneurs. Not with arrogant, pitying help, because it’s Africa, but with approval and on an equal business and human level.

Now you want to know more about Africas ecosystem? On our tour website you can find information about the startups we visited. The latest news about Africas ecosystem are published on digestafrica (also a startup we visited).