Life of a Kenyan small business in 12 charts and 1 side hustle.

After a hectic six months discovering Kenya’s small business scene, LelapaFund is happy to share some insights from the ground with our community. Over 300 companies have joined our pipeline, learnt about a new form of raising equity capital – crowdinvesting – and are actively structuring their companies to benefit from it. Thanks to the countless meetings, workshops, site visits and afterwork nyama chomas, our team has acquired a wealth of knowledge about early-stage investing in Kenya, and built relationships of trust with truly dedicated entrepreneurs. We are most grateful to every entrepreneur for teaching us about their industry and daily challenges, and are excited to fine-tune the crowdinvestment solution to local needs. Happy reading!

From the iHub to the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, we have met with small business owners across the spectrum. Thanks to their high visibility and organisation in clusters, tech startups are the most represented group in our pilot phase. Following that, we’ve seen a strong showing from the consumer goods sector, which includes food production, fashion design, beauty and personal care products.

For the following charts, we define SMEs as companies older than 3 years with at least one sales cycle under their belts, and startups as companies younger than 3 years at idea or prototype stage.


As expected, the capital needs of SMEs fall squarely in the range dubbed the “missing middle” – amounts that exceed what microfinance lenders can provide, but are too small to interest traditional investment funds. It’s a tricky stage of growth to be in: entrepreneurs can either take on more debt which hampers their growth, or find a shareholder who might invest informally for controlling stakes or at unfairly low valuations to compensate their individual risk. The latter has resulted in a high degree of suspicion regarding local investors and a general reluctance to disclose company information. As an equity capital solution, crowdinvesting remedies this by allowing multiple minority shareholders to share risk, limiting their individual exposure and in so doing maintaining fair valuations and keeping control with the entrepreneur.


Unsurprisingly, success favours those who are able to finance the early stages of company creation with money from friends and family. This carries into later stages too, creating a class of family-owned and run businesses. Indeed, more SMEs have raised capital in the $500-$20k range from family and friends than from banks. For startups, the reliance on the former is particularly important. Democratising access to capital is an often-touted merit of crowdfunding, be it donations-based, equity-based or debt-based.



The use of startup capital is predominantly shared between product development and marketing, as founders seek product-market fit before scaling up. Naturally, SMEs require capital to finance their expansion locally and into export markets. Market linkages are often cited as a key motivating factor for SMEs to seek out foreign shareholders – the perceived need is great enough to justify foregone ownership at this stage in the growth cycle. Crowdinvesting can act as a powerful tool for such SMEs, with minority shareholders in the diaspora and beyond acting as simple brand champions or facilitating distribution for their investees.


Thanks to the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurial Program, more than half of startups that applied to LelapaFund have received at least $5,000 in grant funding. The TEEP program funded 168 entrepreneurs across Kenya this summer, and one thousand across the continent. The structure of the funding- $5000 grant plus a potential $5000 loan – was particularly well thought-out given the constraints. With the majority of startups citing their team, idea and creativity as their key asset, this structure may provide a compelling alternative to the incubator model where multiple idea-stage equity investments are not always sustainable or profitable for the incubator.


Over two-thirds of SMEs consider their product and creativity as their key asset. Value creation over the lifetime of an equity investment is likely to build on this through injecting brand equity, consumer experience and product innovation. The long-term vision of SMEs is naturally highly subjective, yet critical to every equity investment. For many SMEs, listing on the stock exchange or taking advantage of local capital markets to drive long-term growth remains a relatively new possibility or ambition they believe is within their reach. Crowdinvesting works efficiently when capital markets are integrated, liquid and accessible for SMEs at every stage of growth. LelapaFund’s investment readiness workshops are thus designed to demystify exit strategies in local capital markets and harness existing structures such as the Growth Enterprise Market Segment of the Nairobi Stock Exchange.

We hope you enjoyed reading this and look forward to having you on board this journey!

To learn more about using LelapaFund for your small business please sign up on – we’d love to hear from you!

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