It has been one of those weeks on two of my most vibrant WhatsApp groups where I get online to hundreds of unread messages but still set aside time to read through all the threads; the first made up of technology entrepreneurs mostly from Kenya and the other of my high school cohort drawn from diverse industries. In one group, the place and models of hubs, accelerators, co-working spaces and the entrepreneurs who patronize them has come under sharp scrutiny while in the other, numerous perspectives were shared on many opportunities that lie plain sight but are seemingly ignored that could bring about business unusual in many industries on the back of well thought out technology.
From this week’s discussions in the techpreneur group, I got the feeling that we are stuck predominantly chasing fads and trying to fashion an ecosystem that supports our current and limited “problem” view. Our obsession with models and antics from the Silicon Valley may have us blind to the real opportunities that the discourse from my high school cohort, balanced by the fact that it is not techie heavy brought to the fore.
If we are to be honest with ourselves, it is truly not common for technology startups in Kenya and I dare say Africa as well, to deliberately position themselves to take a swipe at the core of our most pressing problems. We have been satisfied with skimming the top and iterating on models that cannot scale in the long-term.
Visiting several African states during my Demo Africa tours where we scout for startups developing real-world solutions, worthy of investment and global attention I see segments in our list of twelve; agriculture, health, education, manufacturing, retail, media, communication, transport and logistics, energy, finance and banking, water and sanitation, waste management and recycling that remain ignored primarily because of the difficulty in execution and realization of value. Pan-African trade is a mess, our agriculture is still fed on hope, our financial systems remain siloed, interpersonal relations are low on trust, corruption continues to choking everything; and many other anecdotes shared in watering hole conversations, but not enough people and teams rising up to the challenge.
In our pursuit of the quick and visible wins, we ignore our most painful and irritating itches. It is in the quiet, assumed and unappealing segments where we have resigned ourselves to the ebb and flow of things and remained uninspired that the big opportunities lie. You just need to look a little harder beyond the fad, possibly seed a trend and have the grit to see it through.