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Fifteen Kenyan startups awarded in COVID-19 Innovation Challenge

NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 9 – Fifteen startups from different parts of the country were awarded Sh10.3 million in the Great Covid-19 Innovation Challenge.

The challenge that attracted over 300 applicants sought great ideas in the Food System, Health, and Decent work occasioned by the pandemic.

The challenge was co-organized by the Association of Countrywide Hubs and Konza Technopolis, in partnership with United Nations Development Programme, UK Kenya Tech Hub, US Embassy Alumni Exchange, HSF Foundation, and GIZ Kenya.

“Out of 316 applicants nationally, 40 were shortlisted for a hackathon producing top 15 who have undergone three months of acceleration. The selected teams got a chance to pitch live, an exercise that produced winners, every team awarded Sh300, 000. However, the top four were awarded cash prizes of Sh800,000, Sh700, 000,  Sh600,000, and Sh500, 000 respectively with the total financial resources invested in this project over Sh10 million,” said David Ogiga Founder Sote Hub and Chairman, Association of Countrywide Innovation Hubs.

Among the winners of the Challenge include Homabay based startup – Startup Suites – which is helping businesses digitize their business processes and transition smoothly from office teams to working remotely.

Garden Fresh, an innovative vertical garden was also among the winners. The firm is creating a localized agri-food system that transforms idle, unused, and unutilized urban spaces within the city (rooftops/community open spaces) into the food-producing landscape for local supply and distribution.

Zinake, a cloud-based platform that connects skilled professionals to temporary job opportunities across sectors in real-time was also among the top fifteen. Zinake has to date signed multiple deals with local estates and SMEs to connect workers in the blue-collar sector to well-paying decent jobs.

The other firm that emerged in the top fifteen in the competition is Swift Lab a medical logistics company using drones to deliver critical medical supplies in remote hard to reach areas. They have developed two drones: a long-range drone that has a payload of 4kg and has a range of up to 70km and a short-range drone that caters to a small payload over a short distance and can carry 0.5kg payload for a period of 30 minutes. The drones are offering last-mile connectivity and transport of highly needed medical supplies.

The acceleration program has seen the startups make great milestones, developing products and testing the market, they have all identified potential partners with some of them signing MoUs with partners and clients, and they have all attracted seed funding from multiple partners including UNDP and the UK Kenya Tech Hub helping them to lay the foundation for their enterprises, with some of them more than doubling their income.

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Currently, over 90 percent have witnessed increased market access translating to increased sales and some have grown their staff capacity to match the startups demands.

“As a long-term investment in development, UNDP recognizes the importance of research and development, and ideation of innovative technology as key drivers for the Government of Kenya to leapfrog its development trajectory. We are therefore keen to support the use of technology with the aim of providing opportunities for the youth to gain skills and new opportunities for knowledge generation, resulting in job creation in various sectors of the economy,” said Walid Badawi- Resident Representative, UNDP Kenya.

The startups will showcase their products on Demo Day at the Konza Technopolis on Thursday.

“At Konza Technopolis we are committed to working with our partners in building a vibrant innovation and startup ecosystem that will enable anyone with good ideas to successfully take it to the next level so as to contribute to Kenya’s economic growth bridging the gap that exists in jobs and wealth creation especially amongst our youth,” said John Tanui CEO Konza Technopolis.

Going forward, the Association plans to localize the innovation challenge to specific sectors in each county or groups of counties for example in agriculture, education, circular economy, and smart cities.

“This unique program salvaged the dreams of young innovators and entrepreneurs whose ideas were threatened by the onset of Covid-19 pandemic. The Association of Countrywide Hubs will be with them all the way and cannot thank enough the partners who walked with us along this journey,” noted Chepkemoi Magdaline, Founder of EldoHub also serving as the Head of Resource mobilization at the Association.

On her part, Sheena Raikundalia, Director UK Kenya Tech Hub said the Hub will continue to support the initiative.

“UK- Kenya tech hub is extremely excited to collaborate with Konza Tech and the Association of Countrywide Innovation Hubs on this initiative.  I have been there personally from the start when the initiative was launched by ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru, These entrepreneurs have shown how they will be the future of their communities and Kenya,” Raikundalia said.

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