Bridge International Academies


The Paradigm Project













Welcome to Novastar Ventures

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.

About Us

We deploy distinctive capabilities to support exceptional entrepreneurs who are creating and growing breakthrough businesses in East Africa.

Locally Present

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.

Internationally Connected

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.

Decisive & Direct

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.

Flexible with Firepower

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.

Who is Novastar?

The Novastar team combines decades of entrepreneurial, competitive strategy and venture fund management experience.
Steve Beck

Steve Beck

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 now more than five 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.

Andrew Carruthers

Andrew Carruthers

Co-founder and Managing Director

Andrew was born in Lesotho, spent part of his youth in Ethiopia and Kenya, and has been searching for a way back ever since. After 18 years in Venture Capital managing 10 different funds across Europe and Asia, his experience 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 Tan

Kim Tan


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.


Niraj Varia

Investment Director

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.

Sapna Shah

Sapna Shah

Investment Director

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.


Isaiah Mutuma


Isaiah joined the Novastar team in September 2014, taking responsibility for our finance and accounting function. Since his arrival, he has set up the accounting department, established our records management processes and implemented our accounting system.


Brian Odhiambo

Investment Associate

Brian is an honours graduate from Yale University with degrees in Political Science and African Studies. A week 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.


Peter Nakitare

Investment Associate

Peter is an American Kenyan who has returned to Kenya to engage in the entrepreneurial and business community as an investor. Having lived in Kenya and the United States, and through his studies in Economics and International Relations at Tufts University, he was made acutely aware of the relative impact capital could have on driving economic growth in Africa.


Mumbi Munene

Office Manager

Mumbi supports the Managing Directors, manages the office, and is Novastar’s communication hub to ensure the effective operation of the team and a warm welcome to our visitors.


Each of our investments represents a breakthrough idea that marries international know-how with an innovative local delivery model

What we look for

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.


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 designs ethically sourced fast fashion jewelry from a growing network of hundreds of low-income Kenyan artisans. Soko sells to consumers in the US through hundreds of fashion boutiques, large, established retail chains 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 4x on average.


Komaza is a vertically integrated micro-forestry-to-wood products company working with subsistence dryland 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 in Uganda and later other countries.

The Company designed an innovative, modular product range (50Wp – 500Wp) that is distributed through a franchise network in rural Uganda. The product comes with a 18-months credit facility. The operations follow a simple, highly standardized and low-cost design.

A state-of-the-art back office system ensures complete and correct client information is available in the field at all times, and for management to intervene based on real-time management information as and 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 the waste is converted into organic fertilizer and other high value byproducts.

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.


The Paradigm Project

Paradigm is now the leading distributor of fuel-efficient cookstoves in Kenya.

Each of Paradigm’s stove models burns more efficiently and cleanly than traditional three-stone wood fires, saving half the fuel (and attendant time and cost) and eliminating 75% of toxic smoke emissions. In the first two years of operation, Paradigm sold nearly 100,000 fuel-efficient stoves, benefiting more than 454,000 rural poor in multiple ways: saving health, productive hours and income.

Paradigm has acquired exclusive rights to two innovative low cost stoves and is actively seeking to expand into Ethiopia and Rwanda.


Bridge International Academies is expanding access to affordable high-quality primary education for low income families.

Bridge International Academies is the world’s largest for-profit chain of nursery and primary schools, working to realize the dreams of every child living below the international $2-a-day poverty line.

Leveraging research, technology, and data analysis in its pupil-centric approach, Bridge is able to optimize learning to achieve superior academic results, keep parent costs incredibly low, and grow quickly.  With new academies opening at a rate of one every two days, Bridge plans to serve 10,000,000 pupils in the next decade.





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 with assets under management (AUM) of €689 billion. 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.



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