In evaluating the history of innovation cities like Silicon Valley and Kenya’s Ngong Road tech hubs, three vital ingredients are noted. Their mix ultimately determines the scale of success.
First, innovation hubs have the ability to attract “dreamers”, those who dare to venture out to uncharted territories; secondly the potential to catch the eyes of funders and finally the availability of a high population that adopts the products.
While Upper Hill has dominated Kenya’s healthcare scene, anyone following the goings on will not fail to notice the rise of the Eastlands. In particular that square area bounded by General Waruinge Street down to Eastleigh Second Avenue, back to Juja Road and finally Forest Road is emerging as the new epicentre of healthcare enterprises.
A renaissance brought about by financing from returnees and foreigners with an acquired taste keen to transplant ideas is possibly a reason. Here’s the interesting fact though: the average age of a health entrepreneur in the area is below 30 at launch as opposed to Upper Hill’s 40’s.
The magic catalyst is the close clustering of enterprises. Less than a kilometre separates facilities creating immense competition, in turn fuelling innovation. Nearby informal settlements with pilots for health financing solutions of prepaid health schemes offer lessons to the ecosystem.
The epicentre, Eastleigh, for a long time has been a bargain hunter’s destination. If you need well-priced electronics, furniture or clothing, this is where to go. The arrival of health entrepreneurs has seen a pool of all three types jostle for space: for-profit ventures, donor-subsidised entities and public clinics. Despite the higher percentage of out-of-pocket resident payers, it also attracts patients in the upper strata from lower income families in downstream neighbourhoods.
Could the same “bargain attraction” work out for health services? If the local business community gets a few other things right, we could see a medical hub emerge right in the Eastlands. The tipping point will be when it starts attracting more mid-level corporate clients.
On the plus, the Eastleigh Central Business District Association is vibrant and one of the few in the greater Nairobi that luckily happens to have inherited relics of a colonial numbered streets and avenues system, albeit partially.
The area’s proximity to the city centre will attract millennials opting for quicker commutes in the future and the government’s Ngara Civil Servants estate as well as other housing developments nearby have certainly boosted this.
Granted there are a few negatives within the area, with garbage, poor road drainage and congestion being serious issues, but these are solvable with political goodwill from local leaders.
If this works out, it has the blueprints of an ecosystem able to serve all client pools.
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