June, 2015


Top 25 Startups to Compete in PIVOT East 2015 Competition

Finalist, PIVOT East, PIVOT EAST 2015

June 23, 2015

After an intense evaluation process by a panel involving over 15 investors, we are happy to announce the top 25 exceptional startups that will participate in PIVOT East 2015. The finalists, 5 from each category were selected from the 50 semifinalists announced two weeks ago. The finalists from across the region will compete to win market recognition and investor interest during the pitching conference which will be held on 22nd July in Nairobi, Kenya.
The startups that have made it to the finals are;


  • Finance category:Hisa Play, BitFinance, Eko Biashara and Shield from Kenya and V-Money from Tanzania
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  • Enterprise category: Djuaji Research Limited, Mobu Limited, SaniCMS, Tenderpreneur and Duma Works all from Kenya
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  • Entertainment category:Makarao and Game 254 Studios from Kenya and Guumzo, Moview, and Soka from Tanzania
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  • Society category: FeedBack-RT – NATKOM from Uganda, Politk, Arifu, Bookex and MySecurity from Kenya
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  • Utilities category: Snapp Builder and ENT-Mobile Labs from Kenya, SafeMotos from Rwanda, Nikweli and Africa Fashion from Tanzania

Here is the full list of the finalists with a brief description of their product.
Out of the 25 startups that made it to the finalists, 17 are from Kenya. 6 of the startups are from Tanzania. Uganda and Rwanda are represented in the list by one startup each. For each category a 6th best startup has been placed in a waiting list and may pitch at the conference if a finalist drops out for any reason.  Startups in the waiting list are; Bangaiza App, Ekodi, Softballot and SpotMe – Skillence from Kenya and Yanguwa from Uganda
Investors that formed the finalist selection panels were among venture capital firms, angel investors and impact investors.  Some of the venture capital funds involved were Savannah Fund, Kuramo Capital Management LLC, Novastar Ventures, and TLcom Capital LLP. Other venture capital funds involved were Gray Ghost Ventures, ACCION’s venture labs, the Invested Development, Kaizen Venture Partners, Inventure Management Ltd, and Investec Asset Management
The individual angel investors were from thriving startup ecosystems such as Silicon valley, Berlin among others. Here is the full list of judges with brief descriptions about themselves.


Ubongo Kids team from Tanzania pitching during PIVOT East 2014 conference which was held at the Panari Hotel

This year, the finalists of the competition will receive training, coaching and mentorship in the weeks preceding the pitching conference and also after the pitching conference. These activities assist  the finalists to improve key elements of their business models and the positioning of their startups to the rich audience at the conference. Startups in the waiting list and the other semifinalists who did not make it to the finalists will also benefit from the training, coaching and mentoring given to the finalists.
Since 2011,  PIVOT East competition has identified and supported 100 mobile startups as finalists of the competition. The m:lab has funded 20 of these startups through PIVOT East to the tune of US$200,000 thus far. The funding was mostly split into two halves, the first of which is a $5,000 grant and the other portion $5,000 investment. Unlike the previous editions, this year the m:lab will not provide funding for the winners of the competition. The competition will emphasize for competitors to persuade the investors present at the competition to provide funding.
PIVOT East competition aims to facilitate discovery and nurturing of the next wave of high potential mobile innovations into sustainable business,  ensuring that mobile innovations are high in the agenda of regional, governments, corporates and development agencies for amplified development impact and to raise the quality of mobile startups in the region.
The competition has supported mobile startups and entrepreneurs to grow their businesses in terms of revenues, access to fundings and other enterprise growth indicators which in turn has contributed to creation of jobs and ultimately to the growth of the economy.

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Investors to determine the list of 25 finalists for PIVOT East 2015


June 12, 2015

Last week, we announced semi-finalists of PIVOT East 2015. The 50 semi-finalists will go through a vetting process to determine the top 25 startups that will pitch their businesses to a rich pool of investors and industry players at the finalists conference on 22nd July. This year’s edition saw a good number of startups from Tanzania reach the semifinalist compared to the previous years. 7 startups from Tanzania made it to the top 50 semifinalist compared to 3 startups in both 2014 and 2013 editions.
A panels of judges consisting of more than 15 active investors among them venture capital firms, angel investors and impact investors, have been enjoined in the vetting process which has started. The judges include locally based investors as well as those from other thriving startup ecosystems in the world.
The judges are in five panels for the five competition categories. Judges in the panels include; Andreata Muforo an Investment Director at TLcom Capital Partners, Matthew Papakipos who is an angel investor and Engineering Director at Facebook, Eric Osiakwan an angel investor, Niraj Varia an Investment Director at Novastar Ventures, Marcello Schermer the regional manager for Africa at Seedstars World and Joe Hurd the Managing Partner of The Katama Group, LLC.
Other panelists are Sarah Ngamau the Vice President at Kuramo Capital Management LLC, an independent investment management firm, Philipp Kandal the Co-founder of Skobbler which was sold to Telenav last year,  Svein Mork Dahl Managing Partner of Inventure Management Ltd, Jochen Baumeister, Mbwana Alliy the founder and managing partner of Savannah Fund, Isis Nyong’o Madison founding principal of the strategic advisory firm Asphalt & Ink, Sean Nowark the Vice President at Kaizen Venture Partners, Bahniman Hazarika the Director of Investments at Gray Ghost Ventures, Bruce Wilson the founder and Executive Director of The Relay Foundation, Brent Malahay is an investment analyst with Investec Asset Management and Amee Patel a senior investment officer with Venture Lab.
The criteria used by the panelists to  vet the startups helps to evaluate the strength of the products. This includes the problem, opportunity and customer segments, the solution and its fit to the problem, the revenue model, and analysis of the competitive landscape. Other criteria items help to evaluate the calibre of the team and the startups’ focus to grow into sustainable enterprises. These include the team composition and commitment, current market traction, and projections for milestones and key metrics. Pitch videos and demo videos are also evaluated for seriousness and drive among the founders.  Demo videos are also checked for
Getting active investors to select the finalists of PIVOT East is meant increase the quality of startups that get to the final pitching stage on 22nd July. We really appreciate the sacrifice and contribution made by the judges to PIVOT East competition and the East Africa’s startup ecosystem at large. Here is the full list of judges with brief descriptions about themselves.

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PIVOT East 2015 Semi-finalists Announced


June 4, 2015

PIVOT East, a startups competition geared towards nurturing the growing ICT talent in East Africa, has unveiled semifinalist for this year’s competition. The competition opened the call for applications in April 2015 with startups from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia applying through an online portal ( This year also saw startups from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Burundi and Israel applying to join the competition.
The criteria used by the judges helped to evaluate the startups’ purported customer pain, opportunity and customer segments, the solution and its fit to the problem, the revenue model, and analysis of the competitive landscape. Other selection criteria items helped to evaluate the calibre of the team and the startups’ focus to grow into sustainable enterprises. These included the team composition and commitment, current market traction, and projections for milestones and key metrics.
PIVOT East aims at facilitate discovery and nurturing of the next wave of high potential mobile innovations into sustainable businesses. It is more than a competition – its a holistic platform for mobile startups organizational development and business model refinement. The competition is organised by m:lab East Africa – a consortium comprising iHub, eMobilis and University of Nairobi. This year’s finalists conference will be held on the 22nd July in Nairobi, Kenya. The venue will be communicated at a later date.
The competition, in it’s fifth edition this year, will have some significant changes in the structure and the focus of the event. When PIVOT started in 2011, it was an app developer competition. It has since grown to a startups pitching event, with an aim of exposing East Africa startups to Investors, corporates, researcher, development agency and the public. The event also provides startups with a platform to meet, share and network with fellow East Africa entrepreneurs.The event’s prize money structure has evolved over the years from grants, to grant and investment. This year the competition will emphasize for competitors to persuade active investors to provide funding.
A big thank you to our judges who took time out of their busy schedule to evaluate the startups. Now without further ado, HERE are the semifinalists of PIVOT East 2015. Congratulations to all the semifinalist.

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{RECAP} Can NFC technology be used to build a viable business product in Kenya?

Tech Trend, Workshops

June 2, 2015

Since the offset of NFC technology, several companies and startups have centered their businesses around this technology. We set-up this month’s #TechTrend Thursday edition to discuss NFC technology and its viability. Near field communication (NFC) is a technology that enables smartphones and other devices to establish radio communication with each other by touching the devices together or bringing them into proximity to a distance of typically 10 cm or less.

#TechTrend Thursday an m:lab East Africa initiative that focuses on technology trends in the mobile developer world and mentoring sessions for upcoming mobile developers by incubated startups, individuals or established tech companies.

Several presumptions guarded the discussion:


  1. Why is it that most startups/companies that use NFC technology have been forced to change their business model especially in Kenya?
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  3. Does NFC technology have potential to disrupt economies like GSM or the internet; that have changed how the world does things or will just be another file sharing technology like its similar counterpart bluetooth?

Is NFC the next disruptive technology in Kenya or just a file-sharing utility? This was perhaps the most questionable presumption. Startups changing their business model; big industry players seem to struggle, was this a fair presumption or a myopic view of the capability of the technology?
In Kenya, one of the major ways people have interacted with the technology was in the introduction of cashless fare since the announcement mid last year after the partnership of the government and the matatu owners association (MOA). BebaPay (partnership with Google) was the first to get into the space followed by others like my1963, Equity Card, KCB Card among others. BebaPay however backed down a few years ago leaving the several banks and Safaricom to take-up the battle for the market share.
Its however been notable that the partnerships made between the players as well as the approach been taken involves combination of several technologies to make it work.This has been done in various ways like integration with MPESA, introduction of chipped NFC card, partnership with MasterCard and VISA for pre-paid cards including others. In my opinion however the uptake has not been as envisioned by the various players in the industry. So what went wrong?
Well, apart from file-transfer and money transactions, the technology has far more uses that have proved successful in other parts of the world other than what we seem to use it for here in Kenya. In London for example, the transport sector widely uses the technology.
Some of the universal uses of the technology include: purchase of items e.g.  Passbook on the iPhone and Google Wallet , inventory, retail, access control, smart posters, and other utility operations such as sensing and storing digital data. In attendance was a student from KEMU and Strathmore who shared how they use NFC enabled cards for access control at the gate, library or dining hall.
Different suggestions pointed out that the matatu industry, as much as the potential was great, was the wrong go-to market to introduce the technology. Some of the general factors include fear that came about with ‘tapping’ to pay; as well as different socio-economic problems like touts syphoning money from the matatu owners and corruption.
Security has also been one of the greatest challenges when it comes to uptake of the technology, but has been countered by adding layers of security through apps that allow authentication.
In regards to Kenyan startups using the technology, it was true that they have been forced to change their business models so as not to totally depend on NFC technology. Most startups however are still in the pilot stage and we can’t therefore downplay the technology as a whole.
NFC readers that can print out receipts are also quite expensive for many startups who would wish to role out on wide-scale. The startups were also challenged not to limit themselves to NFC on cards but also think of ordinary forms of things we carry daily like wristbands, keyholders and stickers e.t.c.
One of the startups also pointed out that NFC technology is not a ready-to-use technology and therefore costly to hire programmers to build a stable solution/product.

#TechTrend Thursdays May Edition attendees discussing:Can NFC technology be used to build a viable business product in Kenya?
Posted by m:lab East Africa on Friday, May 29, 2015

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