Breaking free from being just labs for global companies

Labs are the place for experiments not profits,
Labs are the place for experiments not profits, markets are for the latter. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Another week comes with the announcement of a company with Kenyan start-up roots closing on a round of funding to embark on global expansion after a successful pilot and a decent operational run.

A great story by any measure but one that breaks under close scrutiny where it becomes apparent that there is little extra value added to the country and attendant ecosystem bottom-line as these companies take off.

The problems that we pride ourselves in, viewed through entrepreneurial goggles as opportunity, attract problem-solvers and capital from across the globe from markets where it may be markedly more difficult to make a dent - social or profit, due to market saturation, competition or regulatory moats.

Kenya and the larger African continent offers a soft-landing with odds of success much higher for pretty much any well-baked concept backed by brilliant minds and a bit of runway.

While indigenous entrepreneurs are not blind to the opportunities at hand, the challenges that they face remain starkly in place despite talk and a bit of action from the government on creating a better business climate.


The interventions are a handful but most fall in the league of micro-impact with many people touched but very little scale potential. To power the engines that drive transformational business at scale one needs access to a deep focused purse and strategic assets.

Many of the companies that I refer to as going global have found ways to plug into and leverage these sources through capital, talent and networks. Able to prove that there is indeed a greenfield opportunity by taking a minimum viable product through the motions, the path to follow on capital and support is easy to follow, standardised almost.

Our Achilles heel is that those to whom the duty of this ‘enabling environment’ is entrusted want to associate with success. This means that many of the firms that eventually transcend borders end up being foreign-owned with dual country status that favours the movement of realised value back to the markets that provided capital and networks.

Labs are the place for experiments not profits, markets are for the latter. We need to think deeply about how to model interventions that identify breakout ideas and put proper support behind them in the medium to long-term. We must nurture our talent, products and services to not only scratch a local itch but to become true exporters of value.