The Key to SME Survival and Growing the Global South Economy

Julian Kyula, a serial entrepreneur from Nairobi, first gained experience in the credit and tech sectors and has since moved on to managing two firms: one which supplies engineering equipment and another in real estate. He shared with Kountable the challenges facing SMEs today, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, and how he scaled his businesses despite them.

While working with Alegis Group in Houston Texas, Kyula scored Citibank and Amex as a client; he also was an Operations Analyst and Collections Manager for Nationwide Credit Inc. in Houston. Soon after, he founded Quest Holdings, and in 2010, started Mobile Decisioning (MODE), which in only two years, won the IBM Global Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

“MODE gave me a lot of exposure, “said Kyula. “[It] helped me grow my mind to understand the world a lot better, understand the world of finance and technology and understand where technology is going.”

MODE is a technology company that provides value added services to mobile network operators in emerging economies. Its main product is Airtime Credit Service, which allows prepaid mobile customers to get emergency airtime credit when needed and payback when he or she reloads.

“We were in the business of giving small loans through the mobile phone,” explained Kyula, “mostly for airtime anywhere between $.50 to $3-5 USD, depending on the market. The phone companies worked well with us because we […] turned prepaid customers to daily post-paid customers, which made a big improvement on their numbers.”

The service MODE increased ARPU (relative usage of airtime per person, per month), which meant larger profits to phone companies. Kyula explained that for every market MODE entered, it quickly generated 15-20% of sales for the mobile company in that region. After launching in Kenya, MODE grew to 28 countries across Africa, including Indonesia as well as India, with over 300 million subscribers.

Scaling to this size wasn’t easy though. In fact, one of the biggest obstacles facing SMEs today in the Global South is the lack of financing. According to The World Bank, “About half of formal SMEs don’t have access to formal credit. The financing gap is even larger when micro and informal enterprises are taken into account. Overall, approximately 70% of all micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in emerging markets lack access to credit. While the gap varies considerably region to region, it’s particularly wide in Africa and Asia. The current credit gap for formal SMEs is estimated to be US$1.2 trillion; the total credit gap for both formal and informal SMEs is as high as US$2.6 trillion.”

“In emerging markets, most formal jobs are generated by SMEs, which also create 4 out of 5 new positions. However, access to finance is a key constraint to SME growth. Without access to capital, many SMEs languish and stagnate” (The World Bank).

“I understand that banks are not in the business of investing in startups,” said Kyula, “and that’s fine, but that’s the missing link for a lot of SMEs in this part of the world.”

MODE was even one of the more fortunate startups that began with a hefty sum of seed money from angel investors, and was still turned down for a bank loan when it scaled past 10 employees.

“As the business started to grow,” said Kyula, “we needed the bank to start financing us for where we needed to go. We went to the bank and asked for $100,000 USD of credit and it said, ‘Absolutely not, you are not qualified.’ And we said, ‘What are you talking about; we just moved a couple million dollars through you. Here’s our business this is what we are doing.’”

“They said, ‘You have to be in business for at least three years; we need to see at least three years of financial statements.’ I said it was ridiculous, ‘If I could show you three years of statements; if I survive that long, I am not going to need you.’”

“SMEs play such an important role [in the economy]; here we have employees and are starting to build something,” said Kyula. “In 2017, we had over a billion transactions in MODE, and this was a company that nine years ago the bank said, ‘I am not going to touch you. I don’t think you are a business that I understand.’”

In emerging economies, formal SMEs contribute up to 60% of total employment and up to 40% of national income (GDP)” (The World Bank).

Kyula added that he understood though the hesitancy on the bank’s part to give loans to SMEs, since 80% of businesses fail in the first two years. High risk and small returns don’t help; however, Kyula raised the important point of who then finances this group which plays such a vital role in economic growth and especially in the Global South?

“There is a missing piece in the ecosystem; there is a missing middleman,” Kyula said, “and that middleman is the one that helps. You have different ways to raise capital in different parts of the world — you’ve got the three Fs — friends, fools [and] family. You’ve also got angel investors: people who start to help you bridge.

“That’s [what] excites me about Kountable. When you find groups like that who can actually come and play in that space — the more there are, the better it will be for the economy.”

Although Kountable does not give loans to SMEs, it has funded nearly 200 projects from SMEs in East Africa, estimated at $54 million USD, by buying the goods required on behalf of the entrepreneur. This kind of partnership in trade immediately puts the SME at an advantage and Kountable gets paid only at the completion of the project.

“I think what Kountable has done is give you a great financial operations management set up without having to spend it for your SME,” said Kyula, “and that’s priceless. You immediately move to almost […] a tier two, tier one company without the direct expenses of setting that up.

“I have seen many people file [for] bankruptcy, or go into serious debt who are holding very good supply paper. They basically got over excited about it and didn’t form a business process, and make preparations for it, and they ended up spending their money before they [were] ever paid. That’s dangerous. Kountable will just help counter a lot of this thinking and thought pattern.

“It’s very important to have a partner who can teach you how to work your business,” said Kyula. “If I had Kountable for my first company, I would have been the happiest man on earth. But I had to go to the university of hard knocks to learn how to build and understand that right.”

Hear more from SMEs who have partnered with Kountable and the impact it’s had on their business.

Transform Africa Summit Fosters ICT Growth in Region

KIGALI, RWANDA – This week, Smart Africa hosted its fifth edition of its flagship event, The Transform Africa Summit under the theme “Boosting Africa’s Digital Economy.” It’s a bold and innovative commitment from Africa Heads of State and government to accelerate sustainable socio-economic development on the continent, ushering Africa into a knowledge economy through affordable access to broad usage of information and communications technologies.

The Summit featured the second Transform Africa Economic Forum, a government to business engagement where attending ministers and cabinet secretaries engaged with a targeted audience of business leaders and high net worth investors on investment opportunities and areas of collaboration. The event also featured young entrepreneurs pitching to investors and the third edition of the Miss Geek Africa, a competition designed to inspire African girls to be part of solving the continent’s challenges using technology.

“It is a collective responsibility to ensure that Africa is not left behind in the digital revolution that is sweeping across the globe,” said Lacina Koné, Direct General of Smart Africa. “Our focus should not be about just being part of the revolution, we should be leading it.”

Kountable, a global trade marketplace, attended the event along with 4,000 participants, including Heads of State and Government such as President Kenyatta from Kenya and President Kagame from Rwanda, First Ladies, UN Broadband Commissioners, Ministers, Regulators, Mayors and Governors, industry leaders and international organizations.

Kountable believes that Africa must lead the digital revolution. Founded in 2015, Kountable launched its first market in Rwanda because it saw the opportunity to work with Rwandan SMEs to create a unique solution to challenges that hamper global supply chain efficiency and limit the availability of top quality products, supplies and inputs not just in Africa, but across the Global South. Connecting the best SMEs building to meet the opportunity that Africa’s future presents requires efficiency.

Kountable’s innovative technology-enabled marketplace for global trade connects the best SMEs in Africa countries to the best suppliers of top quality goods everywhere, to deliver the goods and supplies needed to support innovations in healthcare, ICT and Infrastructure development. Today, the company has offices in Rwanda, Kenya and San Francisco.

The tech company focuses on aggregating the demand side in trade by partnering with high quality entrepreneur owners of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), bringing access to world class goods to underserved markets and accelerating progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs).

“Kountable combines local knowledge with global expertise in a truly collaborative manner,” said Kountable President and Co-founder, Catherine Nomura. “Our platform allows players of all sizes from large global suppliers, to local SMEs, logistics providers, banks, and buyers from government, NGOs, and the largest multilateral institutions and foundations to collaborate effectively to bring the right goods to the right places on time and on budget to deliver innovative projects in healthcare, education, ICT and infrastructure development so that everyone wins.”  

Nomura added, “Transparent, inclusive supply chains unleash the power of African SMEs to form the core of an entrepreneurial ecosystem that drives growth and development and builds Africa’s bigger future.”

Read Kountable Launches Its Marketplace for Global Trade at Bootstrap Labs AI Conference.

Kountable is Changing the Game for ICT Sourcing in East Africa

For more than 30 years, Phil Santoni and his companies have been working on complex IT integration projects for his clients. He’s currently the CEO of Nikia, a Tampa-based digital transformation consulting company that helps supply Kountable, a global trade marketplace, with ICT goods to be delivered to East Africa. He describes himself as a technology integration entrepreneur and explained simply why he works with Kountable: “they care about making a significant impact on the world.”

Kountable’s sourcing provides resellers and their customers in Africa with vendor certified technology equipment with full support and warranty addressing many concerns from previous practices of counterfeit and non-supported technology.

“When people buy ICT equipment on the grey/black market,” said Santoni, “there is no guarantee. It might work at first, but if in a year it breaks, who will support it then? Customers want more than trying to get support from a vendor only to be told that the product or serial number is not valid.”

For a number of reasons, SMEs often find themselves forced to turn to the black or grey market for goods. Kountable positively changes this experience by providing access to certified quality products. This is critical in a time that large customer purchases and RFP’s are now requiring first-class, legitimate and supported ICT equipment in the award contracts.

“Kountable now has relationships with suppliers in the US that ensures world-class, competitive pricing as well. Quality ICT equipment, with volume discounts, and the ability to ship a complete order to the client in one shipment brings a level of service not often provided when products are sourced from several suppliers,” explained Santoni.

“That’s a significant advantage because if a Kountable reseller has a competitor who’s piecemealing an order, it could take two and a half months to deliver versus Kountable being able to deliver a complete order in three weeks or less. Kountable sourcing allows for a better end user customer experience.”

Santoni added that customer service improves with ICT sourcing from Kountable and removes the stress from the local reseller, because it gives them back time to engage with their customer. “If you didn’t have to spend your time price haggling and piecemealing shipments on the phone with some computer supplier in Dubai, you could actually spend it understanding more deeply your end user customer needs.”

He emphasized that resellers can then do what they do best: “manage the customer relationship, the sales process, installation and build a lasting relationship with the customer.”

“Kountable resellers in East Africa are good at understanding what the customer’s challenges are and quoting them for what they need,” he said. “Kountable provides the valuable quality sourcing of ICT equipment to help these SMEs grow and serve their clients in a better way.”

Working with Nikia, Kountable is able to deliver this capability to source ICT goods for its clients in order to help them buy high quality supported products and at a better price.

“The Kountable sourcing process is facilitated through high-volume technology distributors in the US and being aligned with the largest computer and technology manufacturers in the world,” said Santoni. “That’s the game-changer for supplying these markets.”

Read How Kountable is Becoming the Trade Network of Kenya.

Celebrating Women Entrepreneurs at Kountable

For Women’s Day on March 8, 2019, Kountable is highlighting these incredible women entrepreneurs who we’re honored to call our partners. Every day, these women do the impossible – balance careers with families, scale their businesses while contributing to the growth of their local economies and take risks to breaks norms. In short: they are changing this world and for the better. They are finding solutions to problems in their communities; they are writing rulebooks where there were none before. They are disrupters, game-changers, innovators and role models. Discover their stories here and their legacies in the making.

Story: “Women Supporting Women in Business”

Entrepreneur: Frida Owinga

Business: PassionProfit

Location: Nairobi, Kenya

Quote: “I did a lot of professional development there that strengthened my skills around coaching, mentoring, small business management and nurturing people,” said Owinga. “Then in 2009, I started feeling that all this is great, but I think it’s needed more at home than here. I started thinking of how to come home and give back to my country.”

Story: “From Nursing to Business, This Woman Never Stops Caring for her Patients”

Entrepreneur: Venantie Mukarivuze

Business: Biopharmacia

Location: Kigali, Rwanda

Quote: “I thought, why not create a small company? At least, I would make sure that quality products would be delivered. My company relies on quality and, since I am a nurse, I am demanding it.”

Story: “ATIC’s Business is Big, Buzzy and Busy”

Entrepreneur: Angeline Wibabara

Business: ATIC

Location: Kigali, Rwanda

Excerpt: Angeline Wibabara’s Kigali-based company ATIC is both an agritech company and a consultancy, and currently works in four Rwandan provinces. Their beekeeping business is special to Ms. Wibabara, a former government worker who aims to build a successful, profitable business and also empower others to create viable businesses of their own.

Story: “Building Kenya’s Future, Today: Petoma Works Limited”

Entrepreneur: Caroline Mukiri Kiambi

Business: Petoma Works Limited

Location: Nairobi, Kenya

Quote: “We are a service-oriented company,” says Caroline Mukiri Kiambi, who is among Petoma’s directors as well as its chief administrator. “We supply end-to-end solutions to clients, meaning we can do design; we do design of buildings, design of roads, design of structures like warehouses, community-based projects like churches [and] schools. Our products are basically services; we offer services in the construction industry.”

Read Kountable, Our Journey so Far…

Women Supporting Women in Business

By Michelle Boise, Kountable

Frida Owinga was always an entrepreneur. Her start in business was at the age of 18, selling exported handcrafts to the US, Japan and Australia. After that she opened a tour business, and at some point she owned a salon and even a fast-food restaurant. Being in business seemed to be part of her DNA. In fact, her mother was her first role model and at a time when women entrepreneurs were extremely rare.

“From an early age I saw my mom do her own business when women just sat at home and waited for their husbands to fend for them,” said Owinga. “Today, you’d call her an entrepreneur but we just knew her as a businesswoman.”

Her mother was in petty trade and sold tie-dye clothing to an American for distribution in foreign markets. While her father worked at a job, her mother did this on the side.

“What I learnt from my mom was what was modeled for me. It wasn’t like we sat down and she told me stories. It was what I observed her do,” said Owinga.

Even after her father retired and her parents moved back to upcountry, her mother still worked — this time making fried cakes and selling them to the local market.

“That made me come to the conclusion,” she said, “here’s Mom who never went to school, learnt to read her Bible by herself and she’s making all this income on the side. If a business can compliment an employment income, why don’t I just start a business and have all I want?

“That’s where I got that notion from.” Owinga added, “Of course, I didn’t know how hard it would be to balance my books and all that, but here I am.”

In 2010, Owinga started a company called PassionProfit School of Entrepreneurship. After a decade in the US, studying leadership and small business management at Regent University and the University of Georgia, she decided to return to her home in Nairobi, Kenya.

“I did a lot of professional development there that strengthened my skills around coaching, mentoring, small business management and nurturing people,” said Owinga. “Then in 2009, I started feeling that all this is great, but I think it’s needed more at home than here. I started thinking of how to come home and give back to my country.”

When she returned to Nairobi, people asked her for work in her community, assuming that she had plans to open another business. She soon realized though that people were asking for more than a job.

“People who I talked to looking for work had an education, a good education. Some even had a master’s degree. They also already had jobs,” Owinga explained. “But I noticed that they didn’t like the jobs they had, and even though they had education, they were not sure how to convert this education into a revenue-generating activity.

“That’s when the light bulb came on for me: it’s not really work they’re looking for; these people are looking for fulfillment.”

In order to meet this need, Owinga set out to inspire others to create jobs for themselves that not only gave them a fulfilling life but also stimulated the economy of Kenya.

“I wanted to help people create life and work that they absolutely loved and enjoyed,” said Owinga, “because if you’re doing what you love, then you’ll have the income to hire more people. It really is my way of helping create gainful employment in my country with the skills and tools people have.”

PassionProfit started with workshops and seminars, but Owinga soon discovered that entrepreneurs were yearning for a community and needed more hand-holding or support at the beginning.

“Because Kenya is an entrepreneurial nation, there is a lot of technical academic stuff available,” she said. “But there really isn’t somebody doing mentoring and coaching, which I found as a great enabler for capacity development beyond the technical help.”

In light of this, Owinga created a peer-to-peer mentorship model which proved invaluable to her clients. The idea was to have entrepreneurs encourage each other to aim higher in business with the support of someone who “got it.”

“It’s like having a mastermind peer,” said Owinga, “or an accountability partner who asks, ‘What are you trying to achieve and which areas do you want to be held accountable?’”

When one succeeds then in reaching a goal, it’s a celebration and pure empowerment, described Owinga. It also fosters a longer scope of what success can look like. It is not just about doing bigger projects but about building a bigger business.

This notion came from her colleague and long-time friend Bramuel Mwalo, who is currently the Kenyan country director of Kountable, a global trade marketplace that supports SMEs in trade deals. In 2017, PassionProfit partnered with Kountable to launch a pilot program for women entrepreneurs who had government tenders to supply goods in ICT and healthcare. The aim was to help women who had a vision to build a bigger business.

“We took them through our services and taught them how they could grow their business through Kountable,” said Mwalo. “We taught them how to bid for bigger projects with help with sourcing, pricing and timing.”

“In Kenya we call themtenderpreneurs,’” said Owinga. “You have to pre-qualify for what we call a tender. It is almost a way of life. So it’s a very different dynamic. When you’re working with the government, you don’t get orders all the time. It’s a cycle. So my goal was to help them complete tenders but also think beyond the tenders, think beyond that process and think of what other things you can do to grow a business and have a legacy.

“I do three things: mentoring, networking and access to capital,” said Owinga, “and access to capital I do through partners.”

Kountable was the perfect partner because of this aligned vision for entrepreneurial growth. Since the for-profit company began, it has funded hundreds of projects for SMEs in East Africa.

“Kountable wants to support female entrepreneurs,” said Mwalo, “because they are an underserved entrepreneurs with huge potential. One of the biggest opportunities women have is the 30% access to public procurement opportunities and we thought we could try and see how we could build their capacity. The idea was for them to actually go for bigger deals and opportunities because bigger deals and opportunities mean more margin and that means growth.”

Owinga said, “I wanted them to understand that with Kountable there is also funding to get bigger projects. One of the biggest hurdles, though, was trying to explain that Kountable is totally different.

“Human beings are creatures of habit, so there is a way they’re used to doing things,” explained Owinga. “‘I get a deal, I go to the bank, I get an LC (letter of credit) or I need to do this or the other and then I’ll get the money. Because of habits that they have had before Kountable, it’s kind of like they need a paradigm shift before they can wholly buy Kountable.

“What I say all the time is, ‘Are you looking for financing for deals without collateral?’ I know the pain of the tenderpreneur.’ The pain of the tenderpreneur’ is funding and lack of collateral. So I tell them Kountable will help fund your project and you don’t need collateral.”

Kountable’s business model is to partner with entrepreneurs to buy the goods required to fulfill big projects on their behalf so they don’t need to carry that cost on their own balance sheet or borrow to cover it. The company also offers the benefit of connecting the entrepreneur with top of the line suppliers and products, even managing trade logistics to get the job done.

Owinga describes major mental blocks of some entrepreneurs: fear of something new, of what people will say and of not making enough money. She talks of the problem with corruption as well and the problem with the belief that this is the only way to do business.

“There are so many other people reselling and not going that route,” said Owinga. “I say, ‘Why don’t you try with the skills and strengths you have to do something that will be more honorable. You don’t have to go down this path.’”

Of the 10 women who went through the 6-month training, three women had their deals in healthcare funded by Kountable. Owinga described that one the reasons these women were selected was the willingness to get away from the norm. All three already had stable businesses but these were willing to take a risk and do something different.

While Owinga refers her tenderpreneurs’ — both men and women — to Kountable, she finds that women entrepreneurs have the largest return because they are not just transactionally driven but also relationally.

“This life is about people. It’s not just about money, but it’s about money for a bigger goal, which women care about,” she said. “A woman in business is not just putting money in her pocket. A woman in business is taking care of her family, sometimes taking care of her extended family — her sisters, her sisters’ children, her uncles’ children. Because women are relational, they always care about other people, so a woman’s dollar goes longer.”

In Kenya, with women having access to 30% of government procurement opportunities (AGPO), it would seem that more than ever they are an integral part of the economic development plan. And from partnerships with organizations like PassionProfit and Kountable, entrepreneurial growth for women is a tangible reality.  

“I won’t create jobs for everyone,” said Owinga, “but I’ll help create organizations that will be sustainable for this generation and the next generation. I will also create jobs that strengthen our economy.”

In her lifetime, Owinga believes that PassionProfit can get 1000 businesses to a million dollar profit margin. She also plans to be a role model for her granddaughter.

“Our lives are modeling something to somebody every minute,” said Owinga. “I want to model for her the possibility of life as an African girl. Because I notice that as little people we dreamt a lot and what stopped us from dreaming is when we were told, ‘Don’t. Don’t,’ and that just hampers our potential. So in as much discipline, I want to allow her to dream. Because I’ve been around women and I’ve seen what an unlimited worldview can do to them at an older age.”

Kountable Wins Runner-up for Doing Business in Africa Award

Utrecht, Netherlands – Of the four companies nominated for NABC’s 2018 Doing Business in Africa Award, Kountable has won Runner-up. It’s the first time the global trade network has been nominated for the prestigious award, which NABC’s members give annually at their African Ambassadors’ Dinner. This year, 25 countries were represented at the ceremony.

“The Doing Business in Africa Award is primarily meant to recognize our members who do business in Africa successfully and with impact,” said NABC representative, Arne Doornebal. “We selected [these companies] based on criteria like profitability, inclusiveness, job creation and in general conduct of business.”

Delft Imaging Systems, which provides diagnostic imaging devices that diagnose TB, won first place this year. Kountable took second place, based on its achievements in developing middle-class economies through entrepreneurship and its technology-based trade platform.

Thijs Boekhoff, who oversees Business Development at Kountable and accepted the award, detailed the company’s scope: “Most global suppliers haven’t created solutions to access the African marketplace. Kountable’s platform increases access and helps to grow revenue in the biggest African markets by lowering the barriers of African trade with funding, technology and management.

“We support African entrepreneurs to access global markets, and on the buyer side we support payers with transparency in their supply chain, guaranteed in every step and at every level.”

Boekhoff described the nomination for the Doing Business in Africa Award as a jumpstart to communicate the company’s presence in the E.U.

“With more than 6,000 suppliers in NABC and the African countries’ embassy network,” said Boekhoff, “Kountable was able to position itself as a new and innovative solution to one of Africa’s biggest problems to date: access.”

Kountable, along with Delft Imaging Systems and JobnetAfrica, the third-place winner, had the opportunity to present their business model and impact to the attendees of the event.

Boekhoff said, “It was fantastic to get the opportunity to speak about Kountable to so many African Ambassadors at the same. NABC did a fantastic job getting this great crowd and turnout.”

When asked what can be expected of Kountable since winning Runner-up for the award, Boekhoff said, “We help to build, develop, nurture and grow African middle class economies in a sustainable way through entrepreneurship and technology. We will continue to do that. More rapidly and at a bigger scale.”

Read more about the Doing Business in Africa Award nominations.

How Kountable Is Becoming the Trade Network of Kenya

By Michelle Boise, Kountable


A new technology-based trade platform, Kountable, is celebrating more than a year of success in Kenya, its second market place after Rwanda. The company has made a unique business of facilitating trade deals between SMEs, global suppliers and pay masters such as government agencies, NGOs or multi-national corporations.

Since the company has opened its doors, it has funded nearly 200 projects valued at $54 million and $23 million has gone to local SMEs in gross revenue.

“I think 2017 and 2018 were certainly proof of concept years,” says Kountable CEO Chris Hale. “It takes a while for people to understand what we do and why we do it the way we do it. We are not a lender; we’re not really a finance company at all.”

Instead of lending SME suppliers funds to procure goods, Kountable sources and purchases the goods for them, guaranteeing quality and insured product as well as help with trade logistics to get the goods to the paying end customer. They even manage currency risk.

“One of the things that a lot of our customers don’t think about is currency,” Hale explains, “when you’re doing a project that’s going to take six months, you can see currency decay, maybe even by 10-12%, and some of these suppliers’ margins are slightly more than that. So they’re working for free if they don’t think about this.”

Kountable is more than a trade partner though, it really is a trade network, with not only buying power to help complete big contracts but also the valued experience of knowing who to work with in these emerging markets and ICT verticals. Each deal is a collaboration with local SMEs, global suppliers and the organizations that are buying the ICT product.

Kountable has picked the right country to do it in as well.

Last week Kenya was re-elected to the Council of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN specialized agency for ICTs. More, the East African country earned the highest number of votes (140) for membership of any country in the continent. The overwhelming selection of Kenya on this platform is a vote of confidence from the global ICT community.

Confidence in Kenya’s markets wasn’t always there though. In fact, Kountable launched in Kenya during the controversial elections of 2017, a time when political uncertainty forebode economic trouble.

“Nobody knew who the Kenyan president was for a while,” says Hale, “so the macro environment has been a big education. When I talk to our customers and they tell me that last year was one of the most difficult years in their professional years given all that turmoil, and it was our first year, and it was a success, I’m pretty enthusiastic about our future in Kenya.”

Hale emphasizes the importance of relationship building in the country and that the talented team they’ve built there is excelling in it: “I think the human touch in East Africa, and specifically in Kenya, is an asset. And we’ve been lucky to build the team that we have there. We’re a new company with a very new idea, but we have an 80% return rate of our customers.”

Now that Kountable has established its position in the country, Hale says the company is looking to deepen its banking relationships, to build institutional partnerships with the Kenya ports and with the government getting involved in the new free trade zone.

“We want to really institutionalize the experience for the large end customers that are benefiting from the reseller community that’s powered by Kountable,” says Hale. “Because the more institutional grade the platform becomes, the more institutional grade the experience becomes. And the more money our customers make.”

This development of the company and its deepening relationship with all of its trade constituents seems like a natural next step.

“The most exciting thing in both [our] markets, but particularly in Kenya, is this partnership model that’s evolving. Businesses in general, but procurements departments of businesses and governments are witnessing the results that we deliver. They’re seeing how effective, efficient and high quality our supplier network is. And so they’re starting to come to us as large payers that procure large volumes of goods through resellers. The more of those partnerships that we can activate, the more effective we can be on behalf of our reseller community.

“One of the things that we’ve learned,” says Hale, “is that Kenya is really dynamic. There’s lots of change and at the highest levels.”

Recently, in an interview with CNN’s Richard Quest, Kenya President Kenyatta stated, “Our position is a very clear one. We have an infrastructure gap that we need to fill. And we are going to work with our partners across the globe who are willing to partner and to work with us to help us achieve our socio-economic agenda.”

The statement comes in the wake of the Kenya and United Nations housing initiative that was announced in September of this year. President Kenyatta has promised to build 500,000 housing units for low-income citizens before the conclusion of his second term in office. It’s estimated the project will require $13 billion in investment to complete.

In regards to the project, Hale says that Kountable has been talking to some of the major participants around that supply chain.

“One of the challenges that comes up when you set up a big goal and you circle the right people around it,” says Hale, “is when you get to the execution phase. You need to know how you will ultimately manage this project.

“When you say, ‘We’re gonna build 100,000 homes,’ that’s more than 100,000 doors, lighting fixtures and refrigerators. All of that needs to be coordinated and inbound and synchronized against a project plan. Not to mention the inputs to the houses themselves — the steel, stone, tile, etc. You need to make sure the product is high fidelity, that it’s corruption free, that the inputs are quality inputs and that they get there on time.

“When you have the will of the people and the will of the government to make something like this happen, Kountable wants to come in and be the platform on record to make sure that it’s run correctly.”

It appears that Kountable is in a position to do just that.


Kountable: Our Journey So Far …

By Chris Hale, Kountable CEO


There’s an entrepreneurial revolution underway in the developing world. Technological progress, access to the Internet, smartphones and a desire for a better life mean that these countries are producing a staggering number of small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs). For many of these capable entrepreneurs, the major obstacle to their small business growth is not geopolitical, cultural or even economic, but simply access to capital.

Oftentimes even the most successful of these entrepreneurs don’t have the required assets to secure traditional financing. Local banks may be unwilling or unable to finance the entrepreneur’s transaction in the required time, while alternative sources might offer financing, but at staggering interest rates.

So how does Kountable work? Using a cloud technology platform we deliver supply chain as a service, helping entrepreneurs with the procurement of goods, logistics and overall trade management of their tender.

We piloted the platform with Bigger Future, a group of successful Rwandan entrepreneurs organized by a successful Chicago based entrepreneur named Dave Ormesher. Every quarter for five straight years, Dave has been flying to Kigali, Rwanda, to coach entrepreneurs and had experienced first hand their frustrations in searching for financing. The night before I was to present to the group, I was up late perfecting the pitch deck wondering how a group of Rwandan entrepreneurs would respond to my thesis, presentation and technology concept. I needn’t have worried – they inherently understood the problem we had identified for they lived it every single day in a resource challenged environment strengthening their social capital and networks in response. They wanted us to build it immediately and agreed to become our first users, partners and champions. That was almost four years ago.

From this initial group we have funded nearly 200 projects valued at $54M, and of that have created nearly $23M in gross revenue to those SMEs. It’s clear that Rwanda was just the beginning.

Our team at Kountable has grown and we now have offices in San Francisco, Kigali and Nairobi. Our entrepreneurial partners have continued to grow rapidly and we are currently evaluating additional markets to grow into as well. Rwanda will always be our birthplace and we look forward to the day we can call it our launchpad as well.

A Year Ago, a Lifetime Ago

by Chris Hale, Kountable CEO


It seemed funny to ask the bank teller to take my phone and shoot a photo of me signing a wire form, but my co-founder Craig Allen insisted that I capture the moment because it would be the first of many.  Today, I look back on a year filled with dozens of these moments and over $2 Million in projects completed in Rwanda and I’m grateful we took it, Craig was right.  These days I use the tech platform we’ve built at instead of going to the bank but I wonder if that teller remembers me from a year ago today….

Why Rwanda?

By Chris Hale, Kountable CEO


One question we get asked a lot is why did we choose to start our business in Rwanda?

Kountable assesses market opportunities based on a balance of government policies, business friendly environment, anti corruption regulation and technology access. But to answer the question about “Why Rwanda” specifically we need to look back at recent history.

In 1999, after managing to break a 50 year cycle of violence that culminated in the horrific 1994 genocide, the Rwandan government set out some big goals to bring stability and a long term vision to the war torn country—these goals were outlined in a document called Vision 2020 and much progress has been made during the last 15 years towards their implementation, leading to a growth revolution for the country and its economy.

As part of these goals, the government committed to support and develop its entrepreneurial middle class—widely acknowledged as the key to creating a strong middle income economy. They also committed to and have achieved an efficient state with a low corruption, SME friendly policies, and a sound technological infrastructure.

These developments have created a uniquely positive environment for entrepreneurial growth, making it a role model among emerging economies. Rwandan entrepreneurs are tech savvy, internationally connected, and well supported by a government that believes in entrepreneurship.

All these factors and the market opportunity made Rwanda a logical place to launch Kountable. However, we must give credit to a special group of entrepreneurs in its capital, Kigali, for helping us really see the potential of what Kountable could be in Rwanda.

 We were fortunate to be able to develop the business model for Kountable and then run our pilot program with a group of exceptional Rwandan entrepreneurs who are part of the Bigger Future Program, led by David Ormesher, a successful American entrepreneur from Chicago. David has been traveling to Kigali every quarter to coach these entrepreneurs for five years, and my co-founder Catherine had been involved in developing Bigger Future from the start. When we needed a place to test the initial idea that would become Kountable on a real group of developing world entrepreneurs, the Bigger Future group was a natural fit, and the group’s enthusiastic response and willingness to share about their challenges with financing made Kountable what it is today.

On hearing their stories over the course of a year, it was clear that these entrepreneurs were ready to grow much faster than available access to finance would allow. It was a headwind that they would do almost anything to get around, even taking financing at very unfavorable rates in some cases just to be able to execute high-profile deals to prove their capability. Affordable financing was the major missing ingredient in their ability to take on the bigger contracts and projects that would allow them to expand more quickly, hire and train more staff, and develop capacity and learn. In doing so, they would significantly multiply their contribution to Rwanda’s economic & social growth goals.

By working with Kountable, the entrepreneurs we’ve partnered with have been able to keep more business inside Rwanda. Many are providing vital supplies for hospitals, schools and government agencies, allowing these institutions to provide better services for Rwandans. Some of these projects could have been done by foreign companies, but then the know-how, employment and increased capability would not be generated inside Rwanda. Investing in Rwandan entrepreneurs is investing in Rwanda’s future.

Kountable has now evaluated over 500 small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and has partnered with 30 on projects delivering $5 million in gross revenues to these businesses and into the Rwandan economy. Our entrepreneurs there have worked with us in good faith and many are now repeat customers. The challenges we’ve overcome together have helped us strengthen our model and build better tools to make the process easier and more efficient for all. Rwanda has been a great place for us to learn and grow our model while having a significant positive impact.

In the weekend of our official launch in Kigali, we received requests for $12M US in fundable projects. This was the tip of the iceberg in terms of demand for what Kountable offers. The Rwandan institutions we have approached to partner with us to better address this demand have been open and willing to explore new possibilities, and highly supportive of our growth and presence. They understand what this kind of financing can do for the country and its base of entrepreneurs and how important this is in order to reach their ambitious 2020 development goals. As Kountable scales and branches out into other markets, we look forward to continuing to play a role in Rwanda’s growth and development by supporting its inspiring and capable community of entrepreneurs.