Novastar is a venture catalyst firm assisting the next generation of exceptional entrepreneurs who are designing and executing innovative business models to profitably serve East Africa’s aspiring mass market.
These ‘New Stars’ are the catalysts for innovation, accountability, efficiency and the accumulation of wealth for the common good.
While we are managing a pool of capital, we do not think of ourselves primarily as fund managers. The fun and focus of our work is partnering with entrepreneurs to help bring ideas to life and multiply their impact.
From our base in Nairobi, we are close to the businesses and teams we back, and intimately familiar with the markets they serve and the challenges they face.
While we are local, we are not parochial. We are a multi-national team that has created, supported and managed businesses in Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States.
Time and money are inevitably in short supply for the start-up. We are investors who can move quickly. And if we decide not to invest we’ll give constructive feedback right away.
Novastar is a multi-round investor with flexibility and firepower. We are prepared to invest as little as $100,000 in an unproven business model with high potential. And Novastar can fuel the rapid growth stage of the business through multiple capital rounds with up to $6 million.
We understand that it takes time to build a significant business from scratch in this region. Novastar provides support that is tailored to the company’s stage of development.
We are a team of experienced practitioners in search of businesses where positive social impact for lower-income households is a result of commercial success, not an end in itself.
Co-founder and Managing Director
Steve’s professional career combines 18 years’ strategy consulting and business leadership experience with six years of professional grant-making in frontier markets and seven years of investing in early stage businesses serving the mass, low-income markets in East Africa. He believes Novastar is the vehicle that makes sense of this eclectic professional journey.
Co-founder and Managing Director
Andrew was born in Lesotho and spent part of his youth in Ethiopia and Kenya. After 20 years in Venture Capital managing 12 different funds across Europe and Asia, his experience now encompasses business creation, corporate finance, capital markets as well as operational experience in innovative, high growth sectors. Having started investing in emerging markets in 2008, co-founding Novastar has been the excuse to return to his ‘roots’ in Africa and apply his skills and experience here.
Kim is a successful serial entrepreneur and private investor who is dedicated to fighting poverty through enterprise and helping others do the same. Having created and sold three biotech ventures himself, Kim is intimately familiar with the entrepreneurial journey. Raised in rural Malaysia, he also has a first-hand understanding of the challenges of entrepreneurial life ‘on the frontier’. With more than 15 years’ experience investing in sub-Saharan Africa, Kim supports Novastar and its portfolio on a part-time basis.
Born and raised in Kenya, Sapna’s international banking experience has focused on working with entrepreneurs and SMEs at various stages of their business lifecycle in the UK, US, Europe and the Middle East. She returned to Kenya in 2012 to continue her passion for working with entrepreneurs, this time as an investor, and co-founder of a start-up. She joined the Novastar team in May 2015.
A native Kenyan, Niraj leverages his international professional experience as an actuary, management consultant and entrepreneur to support entrepreneurs and their businesses that generate large-scale social impact as a result of their commercial success.
Born and brought up in Addis Ababa, Bethel left to study in the UK, returning to Ethiopia in 2013. Bethel brings her previous experience working as an Investment Fund Manager in Ethiopia to her role as Novastar’s Investment Manager for Ethiopia. She is based in Addis Ababa.
Born and raised in Kenya, Brian’s career has been an entrepreneurial adventure across West, Southern and East Africa. Immediately after graduation, he joined the management team that started Jumia, a leading and award-winning e-commerce platform across Africa. He headed the general merchandise department of the business and helped grow profits across product categories month on month.
Florence joined the Novastar team in April 2016, taking responsibility for our finance and accounting function. Before joining Novastar, Florence worked as an Assistant Accountant for East Africa Reinsurance which conducts business in local and international markets.
Entrepreneurs with the character, competence and ambition to build businesses that can transform markets and grow rapidly to scale…
… By addressing latent demand for basic goods and services in the largest markets in the region…
…Employing innovative business models to widen market access, reduce cost and price and improve quality…
…So that the growth and commercial success of the business naturally results in significant social benefits for the aspiring mass market.
PayGo Energy, based in Nairobi, Kenya, is a distribution service that harnesses the power of pay-as-you-go-technology to unlock clean energy for those who cannot otherwise afford it.
PayGo is developing smart metering systems that enable customers to pre-pay for clean burning liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) using mobile money. These smart meters monitor credit and gas consumption to predict usage and measure out gas as it used. This provides PayGo customers an uninterrupted supply of clean, affordable cooking fuel. With this convenient, affordable model, PayGo can serve a growing urban population of 377 million people in sub-Saharan Africa currently cooking with dirty, inefficient fuels like charcoal and kerosene, which expose households to health and safety risks.
Lynk is a technology platform that safely and conveniently connects households and businesses with qualified informal workers across a wide range of services including plumbing, housekeeping, carpentry and cooking.
Lynk manages the interactions between informal workers and customers: screening and vetting workers before they access the platform, connecting customer job requests with qualified workers, ensuring satisfactory job fulfillment, and facilitating payment and follow-up with the customers and workers. Through satisfactory job fulfillment and positive customer ratings, informal workers can expand their work, increase their income and develop their careers.
80% of the labour force in Sub-Saharan Africa is in the informal sector. Lynk intends to become a pan-African solution to formalizing this sector, beginning in Nairobi and expanding to other large urban markets in the region.
iProcure is the largest agricultural supply chain platform in rural Africa, connecting smallholder farmers with the high quality agricultural inputs they need when they need them.
The market for agricultural inputs in Africa is broken: manufacturers lack visibility and reach to the large but diffuse smallholder market, wholesalers and retailers lack the information and working capital to stock what is needed, and smallholders suffer high prices and sporadic access to the right inputs.
Leveraging a proprietary ERP platform, mobile technology, and its own depots, iProcure operates a demand led, data-driven solution to these problems, connecting input manufacturers directly with smallholder farmers. In addition to complete procurement and last mile distribution services, iProcure provides business intelligence and data-driven stock management, delivering great value to both suppliers and farmers alike.
Penda Health is building a chain of outpatient medical centres to bring high-quality healthcare to East Africa’s aspiring mass market families.
Aspiring mass market families in East Africa are poorly served by their healthcare options. Each Penda medical centre offers comprehensive care and quality that a family can trust. The company offers consultations, medicines, lab tests, diagnostics, dental services and other specialized medical services all under one roof. Penda plans to offer this high quality healthcare through a network of medical clinics across East Africa, ensuring that these services are available to 6 million underserved low-income consumers in the region.
poa! provides low cost internet to individuals and small businesses in low-income neighborhoods in East Africa. poa! offers customers access to affordable and reliable data that is 40% cheaper than network operators, free content and free online services and tools.
poa! services are delivered through a Wi-Fi network that blankets an entire neighborhood, enabling access to the internet on any Wi-Fi enabled device at any time. Unlike competitors, poa! offers transparent pricing, data bundles that are not time-limited and free content and online services such as job boards and marketplaces.
Hivisasa is a local news site tailored for the mobile web. Hivisasa connects local news writers to readers, and brings free county-level news to any internet-enabled phone. News stories are sourced from ‘citizen reporters’ (i.e. anyone wanting to report the news) who are paid via mobile money for each article editors publish.
Hivisasa involves and engages an increasingly diverse, connected, and mobile audience into news gathering and reading. Streaming directly from the source to the news room, Hivisasa amplifies news content otherwise unnoticed or suppressed.
Soko is an ethical fashion brand leveraging a proprietary mobile technology-enabled distributed manufacturing platform that is scaling to serve other brands and designers.
Currently, Soko designs ethically sourced fast fashion jewelry from more than 1,800 low-income Kenyan artisans. Soko sells to consumers in North America, Europe, Japan and Australia through fashion boutiques, large, established retail chains, online marketplaces and direct through their own website.
Through its proprietary mobile artisan management system, Soko offers an expanding network of talented artisans access to a global marketplace for their products, which are made from up-cycled brass, horn and bone among other materials. Through Soko, independent artisans increase their incomes by 5x on average.
Komaza is a vertically integrated micro-forestry-to-wood products company working with subsistence farmers in Eastern Kenya to address a large and fast growing market for wood and wood products.
Farmers in Eastern Kenya live on acres of semi-arid land that has little potential to generate a decent livelihood. Africa’s vast unmet demand for wood products offers a solution. Komaza helps dry-land farmers turn fallow land into small-scale, income-generating tree farms. This innovative company has the potential to profitably address the vast underserved demand for wood in East Africa, while slowing deforestation and transforming the lives of thousands of smallholder farmers.
SolarNow was established in 2011 to answer the pressing demand for affordable high quality solar home systems amongst 4 million off-grid households and entrepreneurs initially in Uganda, with planned expansion to other countries in East Africa.
The Company designs an innovative, modular product range (50Wp – 500Wp) that is sold through SolarNow branches in rural Uganda. Products include appliances such as radios, TVs and refrigerators amongst others, and come with a 24-month credit facility. The operations follow a simple, highly standardized and low-cost design.
A state-of-the-art back office system ensures complete client information is available in the field at all times, allowing management to intervene based on real-time information when needed.
MFarm is an agriculture services and technology company seeking to create an SMS & web-based commodity exchange for the 5 million smallholder farmers in Kenya.
Smallholder farmers are recruited and supported by MFarm agents who aggregate and coordinate produce collection.
Transparency, quality control and disintermediation helps farmers improve agricultural practices, achieve higher prices for their produce (and lower prices for agricultural inputs through MFarm’s ‘Groupon’ buying model, thereby increasing smallholder farmer incomes.
Sanergy takes a systems-based approach to making hygienic sanitation accessible, affordable and sustainable in Kenya’s urban slums.
Sanergy builds a network of high-quality “Fresh Life” branded toilets and franchises them to local micro-entrepreneurs. Sanergy employees collect waste from the toilets daily and deliver it to a central processing facility where it is converted into organic fertilizer, insect-based animal feed and other high-value byproducts that address serious challenges in the agricultural sector.
Sanergy’s model ensures increased access to improved sanitation facilities in slums while also providing a safe way to treat human waste and capitalize on its inherent value.
Paradigm is a leading distributor of fuel-efficient cookstoves in East Africa.
Under its consumer brand EzyLife, Paradigm sells clean cookstoves, water tanks, solar lamps, water filters and other life-enhancing products through an expanding network of EzyAgents in Kenya and Ethiopia. Paradigm now manufactures its proprietary EzyStove through a lean manufacturing facility in Ethiopia. Each stove saves half the fuel and 75% of toxic smoke emissions, saving customers money, time and health.
Bridge International Academies is expanding access to affordable high-quality primary education for low-income families.
Bridge International Academies is the world’s largest and fastest-growing education innovation company seeking to serve the 700 million families who live on less than $2 per person per day. Today Bridge serves more than 100,000 pupils in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, India and Liberia.
Bridge partners with governments, communities, teachers and parents to deliver quality education outcomes, operating both government schools that are free to pupils, and low-cost private schools that are directly accountable to parents as Bridge’s customers.
Leveraging research, technology, and data analysis in its pupil-centric approach, Bridge is able to optimize learning to achieve superior academic results validated through independent testing, keep costs to parents and governments low, and achieve scale to meet demand.
Following a final closing in September 2015, Novastar Ventures East Africa Fund I reached its target with $80 million of committed capital. Our private and public sector partners are some of the most experienced investors in Africa’s frontier markets. Family offices, foundations and individuals who share our dedication to supporting the ‘new stars’ of East Africa joined the institutional investors highlighted below.
Founded in 1948, the Commonwealth Development Fund is the most experienced Development Finance Institution in the world, now managing a $4 billion portfolio. CDC selected Novastar as the first fund to receive investment from the DfID Impact Fund, which it manages on behalf of the UK’s Department for International Development.
Founded in 1997, the Norwegian Investment Fund for Developing Countries manages a $1.6 billion portfolio that aims to combat poverty through private sector development.
FMO is the Dutch development bank. Founded in 1970, FMO is a public-private partnership, with 51% held by the Dutch state, and 49% held by commercial banks, trade unions and other private-sector representatives.
The European Investment Bank is the world’s largest international public lending institution. EIB has over 50 years’ experience supporting EU development policies in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, with over €17 billion invested in more than 1,300 projects. The investment in Novastar comes from EIB’s Impact Financing Envelope, deployable through four financing instruments including social impact funds that explicitly pursue social impact goals while targeting sustainability at both the fund and investee company levels.
AXA Investment Managers (AXA IM) is one of the world’s leading asset managers, backed by the strength of the AXA Group. AXA IM provides both local and global investment solutions for a wide variety of clients, ranging from the AXA Group and its insurance companies, to institutional investors – pension funds, insurance companies, corporates, non-profits, family offices and sovereign wealth funds – and distributors – both wholesale and retail.
With a history dating back over 200 years, JPMorgan Chase is a leading global financial services firm with assets of $2.4 trillion. JPMorgan Social Finance invests the bank’s proprietary capital in funds with the dual objective of achieving both positive impact and financial return. JPMorgan is an established thought leader in the impact investment arena by publishing analytical research for investors.
The Investment and Support Fund for Businesses in Africa (FISEA) was set up in 2009. It is held by Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and advised by PROPARCO. FISEA is a EUR 250m fund and one of the main mechanisms for France’s initiative for growth and employment in Africa. It makes equity investments in companies, banks, microfinance institutions and investment funds in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Triple Jump and PwC Advisory manage a mandate on behalf of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the Dutch Good Growth Fund – Financing Local SMEs (DGGF). DGGF invests in funds that provide access to finance and support for small, growing businesses in 68 developing countries and emerging markets.
The investment in Novastar comes from the Hivos-Triodos Fund, a joint initiative between Hivos – an international development organization – and Triodos Bank, one of the world’s leading sustainable banks with assets of more than €10.6 billion. The bank’s mission is to make money work for positive social, environmental and cultural change. The Hivos-Triodos fund provides finance – both debt and equity – to innovative funds and financial institutions that are active in underdeveloped markets.