Tech entrepreneurs in Kenya have been advised to look beyond mobile money innovations. The success of M-Pesa, the revolutionary mobile money transfer service, has inspired many startups in the East African country.
Speaking to How we made it in Africa, Danie Steyn, the East Africa general manager for Intel (the world’s largest semiconductor maker), said technology entrepreneurs and developers should widen their horizons and focus on other sectors where needs are yet to be met.
“Don’t get stuck only with the mobile money side of [technology],” said Steyn. “You can use mobile money in your solutions but look at the rest of the needs [around you].”
Steyn noted that many technology startups in Kenya are focusing on mobile money innovations because they are convinced that this is where the money is. He also said that while there have been a number of interesting innovations around mobile money that are poised for growth, entrepreneurs should focus on developing technologies that fix problems in other sectors, such as education, health and agriculture.
“Maybe some of these things are not going to [have] the M-Pesa phenomenon. M-Pesa is unique in a sense because it addresses everyone’s needs, across the population,” he cautioned. “But if you look at the population, we see that the majority of the Kenyan population is below 20 years old. So there are needs that the youth have – education being one of them.”
Steyn added that the technology revolution in Africa should be led by Africans themselves. He argued that people from other parts of the world, such as the West, are not going to come up with the solutions to the continent’s problems.
“They look at Africa through their Western mindsets,” said Steyn, adding that Africans look at problems with a mindset that is less influenced by how things are done in mature markets.
“That is why M-Pesa was successful. The Western world would go ‘just deploy more ATMs and more banks and everything is fine’,” he said.
While some industry stakeholders have criticised the comparison of Kenya’s Silicon Savannah with the much more established Silicon Valley in the US, Steyn believes Kenya’s future in technology is promising.
He cited the case of India, which he said “in a few years became one of the big countries in terms of business process outsourcing [and] software development that is consumed by people across the world.”
“In a similar way, Kenya can very quickly develop into that,” he said. “The only thing that we need to do is to give people the ability to dream. If you expose people to limited points of view, they will work within that environment. If you open their minds to what can be done, then suddenly they start dreaming bigger.”