Business Management

Why East African startups should take PivotEast seriously

Since 2011, PivotEast has been holding pitching events for startups in Kenya. In successive years the event has spread its wings through the East African region encompassing countries such as Burundi, Ethiopia and Tanzania.

But why is this event the single most important one in the region? Virtually every successful and well-known startup has gone through the hands of Pivot East. From Kenya’s first successful mobile game, Ma3racer, to leading payment system leveraging mobile money, Kopo Kopo, this competition has nurtured East Africa’s next generation tech firms. Despite only being four years old, you could even argue that it is the longest running and most successful startup event in East Africa.

“In 2011 we were only showcasing app developers,” Sheilah Birgen the acting lead at m:Lab East Africa told IDG Connect. m:Lab East Africa is the organizer of the event and incubates the finalists to nurture their success.

“But with time we have shifted from apps to businesses. These days you could have an enterprise registering for Pivot East as opposed to an application,” Birgen said.

Birgen added that the competition is now seeing more market-ready products from all over the region, signaling the growth of the tech industry in East Africa.

Some of the companies that are making waves that have gone through the Pivot East process include: Sendy, the uber for motorcycles, EnezaEducation a mobile learning platform, UbongoKids a children edu-tainment platform, Kytabu a digital book lending program, SleepOut a commercial hospitality listing site among many others.

The process usually starts with the call for entries. Industry experts then select the most innovative ones from a group of semi-finalists, then the finalists, who pitch to a host of investors at the event.

Initially the overall winners (in each category) would win a case prize. However, according to Birgen, a recent survey of the Pivot East alumni revealed that the cash prize was not the greatest reward that the event offered. Most participants highlighted the invaluable nature of the skills learnt, along with the networking opportunities at the event itself. So this year, the organizers have scrapped the cash money reward and concentrated on helping the businesses scale their offerings.

The event aims to engage the entrepreneurs in workshops that sharpen their skills in business, team building and pitching skills to help them even participate in other regional competitions. This year, there will be workshops running even after the event, to benefit those who did not make it to the finals. These cover numerous educational points for startups including business finance, legal issues, intellectual property and copyright, customer development and product research. There are also insights for startups that are ready to talk to investors or even apply for the Pivot East event.

“Getting a good team is very important,” Birgen said.

“For any startup, success is when you have users,” she added. “Getting a product out in the market is also very important. Especially when someone is paying for the service you are providing it means they believe in it.”

She continued that there is never a ‘final’ product and that startups should not shy away from launching their products and getting good or bad feedback. The organizers have already selected top 50 East African innovations, which will fight to make the final 25, and will pitch at the event on July 22nd 2015.

Pivot East now sees more applications from the region, thanks to the partnership with regional incubation centers. Last year, the organizers entered into agreement with Outbox (Uganda), HiveColab (Uganda), Kinu (Tanzania), Buni (Tanzania), kLab (Rwanda), iceaddis (Ethiopia), iBiz Africa (Kenya) and C4DLab (Kenya).

The semi-finalists for 2015 range from finance, enterprise solutions, entertainment, society and utilities categories. Great submissions can be seen from the use of Bitcoins, mobile software to mobile app creation software.

This year, the organizers expect to have many more investors showing up for the event, including the many local funds that have popped up in recent years. As the Pivot East will coincide with the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya, more international investors are likely to attend.


Discover more about PivotEast which takes place in Nairobi on 22nd July 2015 here.


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Vincent Matinde

Vincent Matinde is an international IT Journalist highlighting African innovations in the technology scene.

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