What’s driving Kenya’s entrepreneurs?10 March 2015


Beverly Amira

This last week has been consumed in a flurry of activity for Maarifa in Nairobi – a company set up by a serial entrepreneur who believes in the power of education to lift and propel a nation. Maarifa’s CEO Scott Royster is a man on a mission. He is already successful, having floated a media company in the US, so he has nothing to prove, so what is it that now drives him? Like many other entrepreneurs working in Africa today, I believe Scott is driven by profit with purpose. He won’t deny he wants to make money – in fact it is essential to his private equity investor, ECP, that he can show a return on capital. And it’s essential to the universities that Maarifa invests in that Scott and his co-founders know how to make money. World class tertiary education is not sustainable on a shoestring.

Being able to challenge the status quo, make a difference and turn a profit is a tall order. But entrepreneurs – successful ones, at any rate, are extraordinary people who can do just that. Which brings me to another entrepreneur, Njeri Rionge. Gong has been working with Njeri for a while now, helping put the power of her personal brand to work. Oscars night was made all the more special for having a Njeri on the red carpet. She hasn’t added film producing to her impressive skillset, but she has appeared as the ‘talent’ in a new ad for Cadillac. ‘Dare Greatly’ is a new multi-channel campaign that features a diverse mix of talented people from Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Wozniak to Boyhood film director, Richard Linklater. Njeri is there for her great daring as a former hairdresser who propelled herself to the point where she brought internet connectivity to ordinary Kenyans in the form of Wananchi – the company she founded. It’s extremely gratifying to see Kenya represented in that line-up, let alone a black woman. We’ll watch the fortunes of Cadillac with interest on the back of this new campaign – who knows, it may just qualify as a ‘challenger brand’ with all this edgy new attitude!

Staying with cars, I want to highlight the work of a very different marque – Mobius Motors, a Kenyan company that makes affordable off-road vehicles. They came to our attention through our work for Garden City. Behind the brand is social entrepreneur, Joel Jackson who discovered the big challenge facing rural Kenyan communities is immobility. His vision is to build more affordable cars designed for degraded road environments.

To keep costs down Mobius strips the vehicle of non-essentials, such as power steering, air conditioning and even glass windows (!), and instead invests in suspension and handling. As such, Mobius has dramatically reduced the cost of its cars putting them within reach of small business owners. Like all successful entrepreneurs, Joel has a bold vision; to build Africa’s first mass-market car brand to aid economic growth and create a positive social impact. That’s what I call a driving ambition.