Re-envisioning fintech innovation in Kenya

Authored by: Akansha Kasera
October 28, 2019 - 3 mins 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 regional chapter in the country, alongside our partners FSD Kenya and UKaid, during a lunch event entitled “How Fintech Contributes to Kenya Vision 2030” at Nairobi Garage to accelerate fintech innovation in Kenya. 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

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 Global’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 CashTuracoSokowatch, 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:


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.

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