Yes there are many big innovations in Kenya apart from MPESA

Written by

The other day Francis Waithaka of shared with me a video interview which was done on Citizen Power Breakfast show. The theme of the show was Opportunities in ICT in Kenya. On the panel with David Makali were the former PS Dr. Bitange Ndemo and Eng. Martin Obuya from iHub. They talked about many things but there is one part which remained stuck with me and it is one question that commentators in Kenya keep on asking

Other than M-pesa, Kenya has nothing to show in terms of innovation. Too much hype?


The dominant view among many Kenyan tech critics is that Mpesa is the only innovation they can see. So today I want to dispel some myths about Kenyan innovation and what Mpesa/mobile money represent. To me innovation is finding a new way or process of doing things. World over Technology or what people call innovation is defined by incremental development and in most cases it take years before a true milestone or a breakthrough is achieved. Talk of conquering the Space, talk of Computers, talk of the internet, talk of mobile phones. Those were major breakthroughs that changed how people do things. And you can add to that list Mobile Money and hence Mpesa. After every major breakthrough, there are incremental development which most people call innovation.

In Kenya we have seen many incremental development coming on mobile money which most commentators and writers usually avoid talking about. Most of those development constitute innovation and should basically answer that nonsense question. But you could be asking yourself why Kenyan pundits are not seeing this. Well, the reason is simple, most Kenyan commentators wait until something is covered in major Western Media before they can pick it up. It is the same reason why Kenyans don’t quote other Kenyans but go for some of those old tired phrases from the west to illustrate their points.

For you to clearly see the incremental tech developments that have taken place since the first day of Mpesa, you first need to look at Mpesa as the baseline. Compare it for example with invention of the internet, and then imagine how many things have been done since then on the internet. Or compare it to the invention of mobile phone and then look at how many different models and versions are there. So the fact that you can pay for DSTV while sitting in your house should be something that people should appreciate. The fact that you can buy tickets to an event from your mobile phone means a lot. The fact that you can get your money from your Bank to your phone while lying on your bed is something that should be celebrated. I want to say it today that, the next time somebody ask you that stupid question of what else apart from Mpesa, pinch his nose and then tell him to open his eyes.

Ok, so now that that is out of my chest, let us move to the Next Big Thing. Although we have done a lot so far, it is important that we keep on improving and coming up with new big things. To compete, on the Global Space, Kenya has to try and move away from the obsession with Land to Knowledge based ways of making money. And nothing provide the opportunity for doing that better than the IT industry. That is why we should be happy and ready to support initiatives such as those taken by the likes of Nailab, iHub, iLab Africa. The other one which we need to highlight here is the Next Big Thing by Nation Media Group. The Next Big Thing competition is now in its 4th Edition. The competition is about helping you make your idea come to life through support, sponsorship and mentorship. For the current edition, 10 great ideas will be picked by a panel of experts who will then guide you on how to present your idea to the business gurus and investors.

Participants will be expected to go to to create a profile with their bio and contact details. The idea ‘details’ will be given as per the evaluation criteria. Judges will later access the ideas and grade them accordingly and even put in comments; include a comment section for the judges.

With supportive partners and sponsors to see through implementation of ideas for ultimate winners, The Next Big Thing’ will shed light on the various ideas which means exposure to the respective industries and markets.

The competition runs in three stages;

Stage 1

As a (Kenyan) participant, you’ll need to sign up on this web site and use the platform to submit the idea(s) that you have. This will be done as per the criteria set out so as to make it easy to pick out key points. Each idea must have an accompanying image or video link, and your profile details must be filled in before the deadline.

A panel of judges selected from different areas of expertise and a team from the Business Daily will select and shortlist the best ideas. The applicants who submitted those ideas will then be contacted and informed that they have qualified to move to Stage 2.

Stage 2

When your idea has been selected to move to Stage 2, you will be granted access on your profile allowing you to add a Business Plan based on the details below:

  • Proof of the concept or idea
  • Patent details
  • Details of a Marketing plan
  • The financials of the idea
  • The competitive analysis

Face to face interviews will be done for all the finalists emerging from Stage 2. There will be a further shortlisting to the final 20 who will be selected to move to Stage 3.

Stage 3

The 20 Finalists will then undergo training and preparation for the presentation. They will be guided on how to present their idea to the potential investors. The training will be done by the knowledge partner/sponsor. Finalists will make the presentation to the top business gurus and venture capitalists on the selected dates.

The Final 20 Innovators will be published two to three weeks after the presentation day in the Business Daily.

Participants’ ideas have to be in relation with the 12 categories provided to be in the competition; Agribusiness and Agri-processing, Business and Professional Service, ICT, Manufacturing and Construction, Transport and Logistics, Tourism and eco-tourism, Sports, leisure and entertainment, Health and nutrition, Renewable Energy, Media, Water and Sanitation, Environment.

The main prize for this competition is a chance to pitch ideas to investors for mentorship, support and investment. This opportunity will be awarded to the top 10 finalists picked by a panel of experts.

However, the Business Daily will award a cash prize of USD 3,000 to the best idea in the Media and Entertainment category. Winners in the Agribusiness, Renewable Energy, and Water & Sanitation categories may also receive (where necessary) a proof of concept grant of USD 25,000 from the Kenya Climate Innovation Center.

Interested parties will be expected to drop their applications before 5th of February 2015


What is your opinion on the topic?
Kennedy Kachwanya
Lead Blogger at
Kennedy Kachwanya is a technology blogger interested in mobile phones both smart and dumb, mobile apps, mobile money, social media, startups ecosystem and digital Savannah. New media must not forget the strength of old tech.
Kennedy Kachwanya on FacebookKennedy Kachwanya on Twitter
Article Categories: