Re-envisioning fintech innovation in Kenya

Akansha
Akansha
Oct 28 · 4 min read

“…[We need to use] technology to shape the future…rather than simply allowing the future to shape us.” - Alderman Peter Estlin, 691st Lord Mayor of the City of London

Last week, Catalyst Fund launched our chapter in Kenya, alongside our partners FSD Kenya and UKaid, during a lunch event entitled “How Fintech Contributes to Kenya Vision 2030” at Nairobi Garage. We were joined by Alderman Peter Estlin, 691st Lord Mayor of the City of London, the British High Commissioner to Kenya, and a delegation from the UK Government.

Launched in 2015, Catalyst Fund is an inclusive fintech accelerator that supports innovative startups building affordable, accessible, and appropriate solutions to reach the world’s three billion underserved, while working to develop innovation ecosystems across emerging markets.

Maelis Carraro, Director, Catalyst Fund addresses the audience

Mission: “To help build innovative fintech solutions for the world’s three billion underserved.”

Our inclusive fintech networking lunch was attended by 100+ investors, entrepreneurs, accelerators, banks, and other FSPs, along with the UK delegation. Together, we announced our commitment to the local fintech innovation landscape. After an introduction from BFA’s CEO, Amolo Ng’weno, Maelis Carraro, Director of Catalyst Fund, reiterated our program mission: “to help build innovative fintech solutions for the world’s three billion underserved.”

The event featured Catalyst Fund Portfolio Company CEOs and regional heads from Chipper Cash, Turaco, Sokowatch, and PayGo Energy. They pitched and demoed their products, and were joined by some of their customers who walked us through their experiences with the products and the value they derive from them.

Following the lunch event, we sat down with key investors, corporates, and other ecosystem players in the Kenyan fintech market to learn more about the challenges and opportunities faced by the ecosystem. A few key takeaways:

  • It’s time we bet on local talent: The need to bet on local talent came up several times during our conversations. Tamara Cook of FSD Kenya, during a fireside chat with Catalyst Fund’s Kenya Country Manager Michelle Hassan, noted the need to support local founders and bring them into the innovation fold. As we have previously noted, access to mainstream and local angels continues to be one of the biggest barriers for local founders — a challenge that we at Catalyst Fund are committed to tackling.
  • Lack of access to a truly innovative, investment-ready pipeline of inclusive tech startups: Market enablers report that finding a pipeline is not a challenge. However, finding startups that are prepared to take on capital remains a problem. This motivates us to continue addressing the gap when it comes to de-risking fintech startups to better prepare them for investment.
Turaco, a Catalyst Fund company, demos its product alongside its customers
  • Partnerships are vital, but it really takes a village: Corporates find it difficult to identify partners.. “We just speak a different language…we don’t know how to communicate with [startups],” said one corporate representative. While there is agreement on the need for partnerships, building those partnerships is more challenging than people realize. We hope to foster more honest conversations, build trust, and bring key players to the table to find ways to facilitate long-term, sustainable partnerships via our work on local ecosystems.
  • Events are the best way to find new talent and innovation: There was a resounding ‘yes’ when it came to using events to meet people and build new relationships. However, there is a certain fatigue associated with similar types of events, and Catalyst Fund and others need to create more opportunities for networking, as well as differentiators that keep things interesting!
  • “An idea wrapped into a product is not enough”- Founders usually have great ideas, but more often than not, lack soft skills and team management capabilities. On the other hand, some startups have great teams, but are missing a sound or unique business model. Neither scenario is ideal and often holds startups back from success.
  • The market is flooded with knowledge, but not with learning: There is a constant flow of knowledge, but there are few opportunities for cross-learning and ecosystem building. This was an important validation for us because, over the next three years, Catalyst Fund will develop regional chapters in our key markets and foster both country-specific, and cross-learning and also facilitate global conversations between the various regional hubs to help build the innovation ecosystem.

While we’ve already been working with inclusive fintech startups in the Kenyan market solving problems like cross-border payments, we’re excited to officially kick-off our presence in Kenya, and we hope to keep building these relationships to accelerate innovation in emerging markets.

Next week, we are launching the Catalyst Fund Nigeria chapter as part of Nigeria Fintech Week, where Catalyst Fund Director Maelis Carrero will be speaking on a panel about building a local funding ecosystem alongside Johan Bosini of Quona Capital, Oluwadare Owolabi of Xpresspay, Tunde Kehinde or Lidya, and Manish Naulloo from Mauritius Africa FinTech Hub.

Follow us on Twitter @CF_BFA to receive live program updates, and sign up for our newsletter to receive industry updates.


Catalyst Fund specializes in early-stage venture building targeting low-income customers in emerging markets, and fosters learning for the ecosystem to unlock capital and spur innovation for financial inclusion. Managed by BFA, the program was founded in 2016 with the support of the Gates Foundation and JPMorgan Chase & Co. The fund draws on BFA’s expertise from 12 years of using finance to create solutions for low-income people in emerging markets.

Finance for Life

BFA specializes in using finance to create solutions for low-income people around the world. We bring deep expertise in customer insights, business strategy, inclusive fintech, policy and ecosystem development to enable the next billions to strive for better lives.

Akansha

Written by

Akansha

Tech for good | Passionate about Inclusive Fintech

Finance for Life

BFA specializes in using finance to create solutions for low-income people around the world. We bring deep expertise in customer insights, business strategy, inclusive fintech, policy and ecosystem development to enable the next billions to strive for better lives.

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