Book Review: "Digital Kenya: An Entrepreneurial Revolution in the Making" edited by Bitange Ndemo & Tim Weiss
The editors of Digital Kenya: An Entrepreneurial Revolution in the Making describe it as a ‘book of arguments and ideas’ and this blogger agrees with this analysis. Published in 2017 and originally published in 2016, a copy of the e-book is freely available under open access. The focus of the book is Kenya’s entrepreneurial revolution in the tech sector. Digital Kenya is authored and edited in a very interesting way; 14 key figures in the Kenya’s tech startup scene were interviewed (including Jay Larson, co-founder of the Tunapanda Institute discussed in a post here) and they provide a unique insight into the inner workings of the Kenyan tech scene and what it takes to be a digital entrepreneur, in addition the book was written by professors, contributors and scholars and edited by Bitange Ndemo and Tim Weiss.
Digital Kenya is part of the Palgrave Studies of Entrepreneurship in Africa series, the series aims to cover new and ground breaking areas including innovation, technology and digital entrepreneurship and their social and cultural implications for Africa. The book offers a unique perspective on the tech scene in Kenya and explores themes and subjects such as the inner life of tech entrepreneurship in Kenya’s “Silicon Savannah”, how digital startups in Kenya address voids and create market infrastructure, i-entrepreneurship changing lives through technology, the impact of the the smartphone on Kenyans and the Kenyan impact on the social media scene including the exploration of famous hashtags such as #SomeonetellCNN and #Someonetelltheworld made famous by #KOTs – Kenyans on Twitter, the “K.I.N.G.S” (Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa) of Africa’s digital economy; the first tech wave in Kenya was characterised by tech hubs such as iHub and Safaricom’s M-Pesa. It is worthwhile to note that another interviewee in Digital Kenya is iHub’s founder and CEO of BRCK Erik Hersman is interviewed as 1 one of the fourteen key tech figures in Kenya’s tech scene and he offers his take on the ideal role of government, NGOs, angel investors, and universities for tech entrepreneurs or techpreneurs. Some of the other interviewees are Judith Owigar of AkiraChix, Ory Okolloh of Omidyar Network Africa and Timbo Drayson of OkHi.
Digital Kenya identifies the challenges of technology entrepreneurship in emerging markets as explored with Nairobi (as a case study). The role of innovation hubs is highlighted as a key driver in nurturing tech entrepreneurship through business and start-up innovation and acceleration in Nairobi. The question is posed as to whether the novelty of techpreneurship in Nairobi creates additional challenges, due to it being a new form of entrepreneurial activity in an emerging market? The question of whether there is too much or too little seed capital is also posed? To answer this question, Digital Kenya states that entrepreneurs, innovation hub staff and investors have contradictory views on the availability of funding and capital for tech start-ups. Entrepreneurs see a disparity between the investment they seek and the investments available, staff at the innovation hubs express an overall lack of capital, while the investors grumble at the availability of too much funding for startups. In addition, one of the other challenges identified by techpreneurs as stated by innovation hub employees is the inability to design products for the existing market. Solutions to these challenges put forward in Digital Kenya include the encouragement of reflection through discourse by the entrepreneurs, innovation hubs and investors, the need for techpreneurs in Nairobi to release its context-specifity as well as the need for the 3 key players in the tech scene i.e. innovation hubs, entrepreneurs and investors to articulate a shared objective.
Digital Kenya is very well researched book which this blogger enjoyed reading and liked the fresh perspective on the digital entrepreneurship scene and Kenya’s “Silicon Savannah” with insights into the workings of startups, innovation hubs, innovation in Kenya, the journey of the internet in Kenya, social media among a host of other tid-bits about Digital Kenya.