Six East African startup entrepreneurs from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda will receive $20,00 each from MIT D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellowships program. The one-year MIT D-Lab Scale-Ups fellowship program supports social entrepreneurs to bring poverty-alleviating products to the market at scale. The program aims to help the entrepreneurs to reduce risk and position their ventures for investment, partnership, and growth.
“We are excited to work with a vibrant cohort of East African entrepreneurs whose expertise is grounded in their lived reality,” says Jona Repishti, who manages the fellowship. “Working with local founders has certain advantages — they reflect the demographics of the markets they serve; their lived experience helps them identify unique, scalable, market-based solutions overlooked by outsiders. What’s more, they are more likely to commit for the long haul, developing local talent and infrastructure along the way.”
“As individuals and as a cohort, these fellows have great change potential for their regional ecosystems,” Repishti notes. “And by bringing them into D-Lab and the broader MIT community, we hope to advance not only their ventures, but also the D-Lab and MIT approach to social entrepreneurship.”
The entrepreneurs include Winnie Gitau who is the founder of Kwangu Kwako, which provides safer, healthier, and more secure housing alternatives to the traditional informal settlement structures in Kenya, Dysmus Kisil, the founder of Solar Freeze, a Kenya-based enterprise that has pioneered mobile cold storage units powered by renewable energy to help rural smallholder farmers reduce postharvest loss, and Peter Mumo Nyamai the founder of Expressions Global Group, a social venture which supplies innovative, durable, and environment-friendly rainwater harvesting products to improve irrigation and boost productivity among rural smallholder farmers in Kenya.
Others are Christian Mwilage the founder of EcoAct Tanzania, a for‐profit social enterprise that has developed a chemical-free and energy-conserving technology which transforms post-consumer waste plastics into durable plastic timbers for use in construction, Uganda’s Chrispinus Onyancha, the CEO of clinicPesa, a platform established to provide access to health care financing to individuals in East Africa to offset medical bills and buy medications at any clinicPesa-registered clinic, hospital, or pharmacy and another Tanzanian Prince Prosper Tillya who is the founder and managing director of FixChap, a digital platform in Tanzania through which clients can book repair requests and get connected instantly to verified local handymen, sourced from vocational training institutions.
Launched in 2012, the D-Lab Scale-Ups fellowship program has supported 39 fellows working on four continents in sectors including agriculture, energy, water, health care, housing, mobility, recycling, education, and personal finance. At the close of last year’s cycle, Scale-Ups fellows had raised $11.1 million in funding, generated $10.2 million in revenue, created over 700 direct and 6,700 indirect full-time equivalent jobs, and reached 1.5 million people living in low-income settings with their product and service offerings.
“Over the course of the 12-month fellowship we tackle the knowledge gap by putting fellows in the driver’s seat,” Repishti explains. “Our entrepreneurs guide us to provide support that is tailored to address their pain points, delivered fast, and focused on the essentials. Our curriculum is experiential, dynamic, and focused on transforming mindsets, just capabilities.”