In recent years, Kresten Buch has become a name strongly associated with the emerging mobile-based startup scene in Kenya. The Berlin-based “serial investor” is behind several projects and initiatives designed to support the wealth of young entrepreneurs and innovators in Kenya and the rest of the East African region, mainly through the seed-investment company 88mph, and through the professional social network, HumanIPO, which he co-founded.
Kresten’s latest venture, Startup Garage, is set to open in Nairobi in mid 2012, and will be the largest coworking space in East Africa to date. He also plans to introduce a desk-exchange between coworking spaces in Nairobi and Berlin, in which betahaus will take part.
You initially worked within Denmark and Northern Europe. How did you become interested in Kenya, and what made you eventually change your focus to East Africa?
It all started when I sold a company in 2006 to investors in Eastern Europe. As part of that sale, I had to build a company in Eastern Europe, so that was what first got me out of Denmark. Following that, I decided to take a 14-day business course at Stanford University, and it was there that I then met David Owino, then the COO of Kenya Data Networks Limited. At that time, I was looking to start investing in tech companies, and he told me a lot about what was going on in East Africa: about mobile money and the growth of the mobile industry. Soon afterwards, I decided to spend a week in Kenya to see this for myself, and that’s how eventually started working there.
There’s plenty of talk about mobile business leading the way in regional development, not only in East Africa, but in a lot of developing regions of the world. How widespread throughout the economy and throughout Kenyan society are the benefits of this development – are they limited to only certain economic sectors or certain classes of people?
Mobile technology has really increased its presence in Kenya these days. For instance, the biggest mobile operator in the country, SafariCom, has over 22 million subscribers, and the population of Kenya is 40 million. One thing mobile technology has brought to a lot of rural Kenyans is the ability to have a bank account. SafariCom offers subscribers access to banking services, so they not only get access to a phone - something they may not have had before, but also the opportunity to send or receive money from the cities, or from abroad, with their mobile bank accounts. Phones prices are also much lower these days - you can easily get a perfectly-functional, Chinese-made smartphone running an Android system for about 80 USD.
Despite there being such a promising, talented population, Africa is still unfortunately associated with poverty, corruption, political instability, and the resulting capital flight, which, of course, deters potential investors. Do you believe that, through the growth of the mobile start-up scene - this so-called "mobile revolution" - this stereotype can eventually be overcome in the international community?
That’s definitely one of the more interesting challenges we are trying to face. There needs to be a change in the way people look at Africa – too many people only associate it with poverty, charity work, and so on. Africa also needs to be seen as a land of opportunity that is attractive to investors. We hope that we can eventually create some kind of regional success story through our work which would spread worldwide thanks to social media, ultimately changing everyone's perceptions of Africa for the better.One thing I’ve noticed is that, when you’re in Kenya, you feel surrounded by growth – strong population growth, economic growth, and so on. You’re able to take on projects which may not have the same impact on the markets in Europe. For instance, we founded a football website, Futaa.com, which found great success in the Kenyan markets - something that would not have happened as readily in Europe. A lot of people who do show interest in investing in East Africa mainly see the region as a source of cheap labour, and ignore the true potential of the local population and markets.
Will this also change the way in which business is conducted between Europe and Africa, as people become more aware and more respectful of the local population and business culture?
Of course. Obviously, I encourage Europeans to go down to Africa and start something. It’s great for the local population to be able to collaborate with foreigners, exchange skills, experience and expertise, and to eventually start their own companies based on that. I think that all successful economic growth is based on interaction between nationalities. In order for the economies in East Africa to grow, the local population has to be a part of it; and as equal players. I would love to see small companies being formed by a mix of nationalities – that’s one of the reasons why I’ve decided to start a desk-exchange with betahaus and other coworking spaces in Europe.
HumanIPO has just announced a desk-exchange between coworking spaces Berlin and Nairobi, and that betahaus will be participating. What are some of the main differences between the coworking scenes in East Africa and Western Europe, and what could either side learn from this kind of exchange?
When you look at Kenyan startups, you notice that the entrepreneurs there are a lot more hungry and a lot more driven than those in Europe. One of our employees in Kenya, for instance, had his taxi hijacked, and was held hostage all night. The next morning, he went straight to work, as if nothing had happened! Needless to say, many European entrepreneurs can at least be inspired by that level of determination. I also find that, in Africa, people are much friendlier and more passionate. This creates a good contrast when paired with Germans, who are more structured, formal, and reserved.The space in Nairobi is almost ready for the desk-exchange; so it’s just a matter of enough people from Berlin applying for it. Our newest space, Startup Garage, is about to open, and should be ready in a week. The space has about 120 desks – not quite as big as betahaus, but so far the biggest coworking space in East Africa. Mind you, coworking is still a relatively new trend over there, as many Kenyan companies still hold on to a very traditional, hierarchical office mentality. However, there are more and more young, educated people today who are embracing the concept of coworking - of working openly with others. We’re hoping that, by allowing Kenyans to work in German spaces, and vice versa, we can not only promote coworking in Kenya and in East Africa, but also change the perspective many people in Europe have of Africa, and of doing business there.
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German Autolabs (Germany)
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To be honest, I sort of fell into it. I was always working somewhere between content marketing and the music industry and around seven years ago a friend of a friend was searching for someone to help him curating music for his boutique surf spot on the beach in Costa Rica. The owner was a big music fan, but he just didn't have time to keep all the music up-to-date. So I got introduced to him, we shared similar tastes, and agreed that I would do the music for his space - curating it and updating it with new music on a regular basis.
This for me was a dream come true. I could finally work with music all day, and at the same time, I could help create an awesome experience for the guests. I saw people's reactions when they heard a song they liked. I saw them dancing, getting a little closer to each other at the bar and that for me was really rewarding.
This was the moment when I realized that there is something special about this idea and I got interested if there is actually market out there. I did some market research, and a lot of interviews with different hoteliers people in the industry trying to get more feedback. And the idea started growing more and more.
Interesting is the story of the last years winner in the category “Creative”. Hamburg based headraft literally took music experience to the next level by creating the world’s first AR Music Video for the German band “die Fantastischen Vier”. Designed for their song “Tunnel”, the cited app unfolds a virtual story world once the track starts playing, giving fans the opportunity to go on an interactive journey with the band rather than being a passive viewer.
Applications are now open! Finalists will be awaited by a curious jury of five leading industry experts. Among others, Kathleen Cohen who was already taking part in the first year will be in the panel of judges again. With a 25-year multiplatform career history under her belt, she is one of the most regarded in the field. As a digital experience expert, she has successfully implemented projects for DreamWorks Interactive and IBM Innovation, to name a few.
Needless to say, the yearly AUREA Award is definitely the place to be. Apply and become a member of the community bringing together all the promising products and solutions in the AR/VR sector.
Well, both. Currently we offer the following two options: shorter publicly available Brand Playlists and long-form private Soundtracks for spaces. For both of them we work closely with the client to understand how sound fits into their brand DNA and what their audience is like.
We believe that the guests’ experience with a particular space doesn’t have to begin and end with their stay. The idea of the Brand Playlist is to be a public brand playlists designed to engage the customers before, during, and after their visit at a space. It’s always accessible for them and serves as a new, dynamic marketing channel.
The Soundtrack is slightly different. It takes sometimes up to weeks of work and is designed by a world-class artist, DJ, or tastemaker. For it we first work with you to develop a deep understanding of your business and style. Then we match you with the perfect artist, DJ, or tastemaker to create unique, always fresh playlists, custom tailored to match your brand.
In both cases, we update them regularly based on guest habits and clients’ needs.
The way we engage with the music community is something really important for us and honestly, what makes us different than other background music providers. A lot of the background music providers out there have internal teams of maybe five or six DJs that do all of the music for their clients. We aim to connect with the local scene and always work with local DJs. There's some kind of magic in finding the exact right artists for the brand.
And on the flip side of it, when we hire artists, we make sure that the project is also inspiring for them and that they would be interested in participating. We always make sure to pay them well. The whole project creates for them a new income stream that they wouldn't have otherwise.
Yes! This was really fun. The objective with the betahaus "betabeer sounds" playlist was to showcase the community side of betahaus. There are so many cool, interesting people in the betahaus community and we thought a playlist could be a perfect way to not only help bring the community together but also show the diverse funkiness of the communities of Berlin and Neukölln, which is why Hazy Pockets, a longtime local Berlin DJ known for his eclectic mixes, was perfect for this project.
This playlist moves from bluesy 60s rock into surf and tropicalia, picking up momentum into Motown and onwards through some laid back disco tunes. Perfect for the betabeer events betahaus hosts monthly!
Oh, there are just so many! Like the Imren Grill for instance where you can find the best homemade Turkish food or Das Gift and Gordon which are both run by great music people. Kohelenquelle in Prenzleuer Berg is my favorite local bar (or rather kneipe). To satisfy my techno / electronic records needs I always go to Hard Wax and one of my most special places is the Zions Kirche steeple, which has an awesome view of the city and a great Weinerei close by.