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Meg Whitman, President William Ruto, and Brad Smith Pitch Kenya in San Fran

Last Friday, US Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman took her "Kenyan Roadshow" to Silicon Valley. She made the case to invest in Africa, and specifically in Kenya. Her full comments are here. Kenya President Ruto also spoke at the event, and afterwards visited big tech (Apple, Google, and Intel) to pitch Kenya.

I particularly liked this line from him: "I have learnt something fantastic from Ambassador Whitman. Kenya has innumerable marvelous attractions that we have grown up with and often take for granted.”

There are plenty of others who have summarized the event well (MPesa CEO, CrossBoundary, and pictures from The Star). My key take-aways:

  1. I'm thankful that we have a world-class executive in Meg Whitman serving as the Ambassador. She brings a level of world-class excellence, savviness, and intensity that is rarely seen in this kind of post.

  2. Whitman's pitch to invest in Kenya: (1) Supply chain diversification. COVID and the Ukraine War have taught us all that single-sourcing for anything is not wise; and (2) Climate change mitigation. As businesses are pushing for net-zero emissions, Kenya is already powered by 93% renewable energy. (3) Talent. Whitman: "Every firm I have talked with raves about the quality of the Kenyan workforce." (4) Kenya as a Gateway to East Africa. Kenya is home to the Silicon Savannah, a regional financial and logistics hub, and home base to numerous multinational headquarters.

  3. Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, speaking on a panel, also shared his bullishness about Kenya. He spoke of the rapidly developing digital ecosystem, the pervasiveness of MPesa, and low taxes coupled with a high standard for rule of law. Smith spoke proudly of their 493 engineers working in Nairobi, working on every product in the MSFT suite. He said the tech talent in Kenya was "a little bit of a secret that I don't really want to disclose because now you will go after our talent." (And then playfully mentioned that Google is already doing so, so you "might as well get in on the action.") In fact he was so convincing, Ambassador Meg Whitman (half?) jokingly encouraged him to become the next Ambassador to Kenya. ;)

  4. I was surprised at the new (to me) positioning that Kenya is vying to become a manufacturing hub. Highlighted once again was Moderna's commitment to build a $500M vaccine manufacturing facility in Kenya-- its first in Africa. Semiconductor manufacturing is also starting in Kenya with the hiring of 80 Kenyan engineers at STL. As someone who started my career in highly technical manufacturing, I believe the technical part is hard, but the talent / culture part is harder. But totally possible! Most people don't realize that the majority of the pharmaceuticals Americans consume are produced in India. Finally, Whitman noted, "Last year Kenya recorded its highest ever apparel exports to the United States, over $540 million, employing nearly 200,000 Kenyans, mostly young women."

  5. MPesa has been the largest mobile money network for more than a decade. 59% of Kenya's GDP flows through MPesa. There are 60,000 developers working on MPesa-related apps. 60,000!?

  6. I saw Sam Altman at the San Fran event (with his security detail). Anyone know what's going on there?

I was honored to speak on a panel about VC, alongside Lyndsay Handler of Delta40, Ronald Mincy of BlackRock, and Randy Lewis of Wilson Sonsini. Kenya is one of the leading markets in Africa for foreign direct investment and VC investment.

Building a deep network on the ground having over 700 coffees with entrepreneurs and investors, I've been investing in early-stage companies in Kenya -- approximately one deal per quarter -- since 2016. I've learned a few things along the way. I believe "Africa risk" is severely misunderstood. Mostly, I'm thoroughly impressed by the entrepreneurial talent I've met -- many are second or third time founders, have significant international experience, and are motivated to solve billion-person problems. And that's what motivates me to keep investing -- now with a new VC fund we've set up, the Verdant Frontiers Fintech Fund.

(Photo Credits: AP News)



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