Kenyan start-up MESH, the country’s first online community for young entrepreneurs in the informal economy, today announces it has reached 150,000 members.
Launched to mass market in November 2021, MESH connects young entrepreneurs and small business owners to vital networks, tailored training content, and for the first time, access to opportunities and services in the formal economy. This new growth milestone follows a one-year partnership with Mastercard Strive Community, a philanthropic program of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth and Caribou Digital, which provided early stage grant funding and technical support to develop and scale MESH.
With additional early stage investment from Shujaaz Inc and funding from TRANSFORM, MESH was founded with a mission to unlock the potential of the informal economy in Kenya, which, it’s estimated, is where 41% of the country’s GDP is generated. New research also shows that 95% of young Kenyans work in the country’s informal sector, with 15-24-year-olds adding USD 520 million to the Kenyan economy every month.
But young entrepreneurs in the informal sector face significant barriers to growth. Often loans, services and work opportunities in the formal economy are out of reach, their networks are limited to family and friends, and they don’t have access to the relevant tools and training they need to start up and scale up their businesses. Meanwhile, major corporations – from multinational fast-moving consumer goods companies (FMCGs) to telecommunications providers and financial institutions – say they are struggling to reach this sizeable consumer market and tap into the potential of these entrepreneurs.
With the backing of its early stage supporters, including Mastercard Strive Community, MESH is changing things by challenging traditional conceptions around employment and redefining what the future of work looks like in economies like Kenya’s.
Anuj Tanna, Co-Founder and CEO of MESH, commented: “The early stage grant funding and support of Strive Community has been instrumental in enabling us to build, start up and scale MESH. We’re so proud that MESH is now connecting 150,000 young entrepreneurs to each other – and for the first time, to valuable gig work and training opportunities with our growing community of commercial partners. In particular, the partnership with Strive Community has been instrumental in helping us to refine, test and scale our innovative learning models that are enabling thousands of small business owners to build the real-world skills they need to thrive.”
The funding from Mastercard’s Strive Community has supported MESH in testing, designing and scaling its innovative training model, enabling young people to learn in bite-sized, peer-led, digital-first formats – in their own language and on their own terms. The skills programs available through the platform are also enabling MESHers to build their own digital ID and directly unlock new valuable work and services opportunities with MESH’s commercial partners.
Natasha Jamal, Vice President of Social Impact, Strive, Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, said: “Facilitating access to networks for entrepreneurs is core to the work of Strive Community; the early success of our collaboration with MESH highlights the impact we can have when we combine this access to resources with the transformative power of digital technology. The milestone MESH has achieved in reaching 150,000 entrepreneurs in Kenya is proof positive that we can bring life to economies across the globe by empowering small business owners with digital solutions that not only meet their needs, but help them make progress toward their biggest goals.”
MESH is also demonstrating sustainable demand for its product, as a range of commercial partners from multinational corporations to local start-ups join the platform to unlock direct access to the growing MESH community.
Brian Amwayi (27), MESHer, Nairobi, said: “We are ambitious – we have goals to achieve. But after school most youths have to opt into hustles. We don’t have an option. That’s the way it is. MESH is a great platform – young people connect, exchange ideas, and share their skills. There are products that I get from Unilever that I get through MESH, that I can sell to my friends, at work, and even some retail shops. I’m hoping for the best from MESH. Maybe one day, it will be the game changer.”
Violet Otieno (28), MESHer, Nairobi, said: “As much as school is the key to success, which success? Business is for financial security. Even in high school, I would go with biros and sell them to my friends. Then I saved and saved, and rented a stall, but business has challenges, you need skills. Then, I found MESH. I use the app on my phone to connect to other young people, find products, and then, if you are applying for a loan, what to look out for. MESH helps people connect to businesses that are not even within Kenya. Since I found MESH, my business has improved.”