The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s D-LAB program, which offers one year of mentorship and learning to social entrepreneurs introducing poverty-alleviation solutions, will provide six startups from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda with $20,000 each. The six entrepreneurs have all been selected for the competitive MIT D-LAB Scale-Ups Fellowship, a position that allows the innovators benefit from reduced risk and receive assistance towards best positioning for investment attraction.
Fellowship manager Jona Repishti said, “We are excited to work with a vibrant cohort of East African entrepreneurs whose expertise is grounded in their lived reality. Working with local founders has certain advantages – they reflect the demographics of the markets they serve; their lived experience helps them identify unique, scalable, market-based solutions overlooked by outsiders.” Repishti noted that local founders “are more likely to commit for the long haul,” an important battle to consider before backing any kind of innovation.
Another point of consideration for investors is the scalability of the idea they’re buying into. Repishti thinks these six startups have founders who “have great change potential for their regional economic systems.” One of the six entrepreneurs Repishti speaks so highly of is Winnie Gitau, founder of Kwangu Kwako, which provides safer, healthier, and more secure housing alternatives in Kenya.
Another Kenyan is Dsymus Kisil, founder of Solar Freeze, a pioneer of mobile cold storage units powered by renewable energy, useful to protect smallholder farmers against postharvest waste. His project has already helped more than 3000 farmers. The third Kenyan Peter Mumo Nyamai, founded Expressions Global Group, a social venture which supplies innovative, durable, and eco-friendly rainwater harvesting products to improve irrigation and productivity among rural smallholder farmers in his country.
In Tanzania, Christian Mwilage founded EcoAct Tanzania, a for-profit social enterprise that develops chemical-free and energy-conserving technology which transforms post-consumer waste plastics into durable plastic timbers for use as an alternative to wood. His compatriot is Prince Prosper Tillya, who founded FixChap, an e-platform where users can book repair requests and get connected instantly to verified local handymen. Ugandan Chrispinus Onyancha completes the list, with his clinicPesa, established to make healthcare financing accessible to East Africans who may want to pay medical bills or buy medications at any clinicPesa-registered clinic, hospital, or pharmacy.
Explaining the impact of adding knowledge to scale innovations, Repishti said the year-long fellowship will “tackle the knowledge gap by putting fellows in the driver’s seat.” He said MIT D-LAB relies on entrepreneurs to guide it in the provision of support “tailored to address their pain points,” suggesting that the curriculum is mutually-derived, to maximize benefits to these selected entrepreneurs.
East Africa continues to lead the continent in solution-based innovations, ensuring that the region remains highly rated abroad as a competitive and prolific idea factory. This can only improve the region’s prospects as a serious hub for idea-driven development and follow-through execution, meaning that more foreign venture capitalists will pay close attention to startups emerging from there. In the near future, the rest of Africa will be watching these inspired innovators lift their nations from generational poverty. Remember these names.
By Caleb Ajinomoh