Kenya: A Mobile Tech Economy, Ripe for Innovation

The proliferation of mobile phones integrated with financial technology in Kenya has opened up opportunities for innovation and investment, according to OnFrontiers telecommunications Expert, Les Williams.

“Kenya stands out because of how it has leveraged the mobile platform and smartphone technology,” Williams said.

In particular, Williams pointed to the success of M-Pesa, a mobile payment system operated by Kenya’s largest mobile provider Safaricom and developed by British multinational telecom Vodaphone.

Launched in 2007, M-Pesa has provided access to financial services, like paying bills and transferring money, for hundreds of thousands of Kenyans, many previously excluded from the country’s banking system.

While the technology was developed abroad, it has laid the foundation for other innovations.

M-Kopa, for example, sells solar panels in rural areas and slums, where the energy infrastructure is lacking. The majority of customers typically cannot afford the panels, which cost about $180 each, but they can go on payment plans using M-Pesa through their phones.

“M-Kopa has innovated in the energy sector, delivering services to folks out on farms and areas that are off the grid, by using innovative apps on the phone,” Williams said.

Thus, businesses that are able to integrate with mobile payment systems like M-Pesa can reach new customers and also create opportunities for developing new mobile apps required for delivering their services.

It is the mobile software development sector that Williams sees as a major area for growth in Kenya, particularly through investment in domestic engineering talent.

Andela, a startup that operates in Nigeria and Kenya, provides software development services for multinationals. Williams likens it to the model Indian tech companies have used in providing IT services to US companies.

While Andela is currently focused on providing services for other companies around the globe, Williams said its engineers are in a position to develop new software.

In June, the company secured a $24 million investment from Facebook to help train more engineers and spur tech innovation across Africa.

“That type of a talent pool that’s being built with a focus on software development meshed with the power of mobility, is allowing countries like Kenya to innovate faster,” Williams said.