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A local business partner paves the way for Estonian companies to enter the Kenyan market

The Estonian company StarCloud, which also participates in this week´s trade mission to Kenya, has found its place in the Kenyan market with the digital learning solution Opiq. Photo: Pixabay

Kenya is home to over 55 million people and has emerged as a hub for successful startups, digital solutions and innovators. The Estonian companies Norvita and StarCloud have also found a place in the Kenyan market.

Norvita specialises in producing spray vitamins, while StarCloud has developed the digital learning environment Opiq. Norvita operates in about ten export markets, including Germany, Norway, and Lithuania, as well as more distant markets like Chile, South Korea, India and Kenya. StarCloud operates not only in Kenya but also in Finland, Uganda, Lithuania, and Kazakhstan.

The founders of both companies attribute their success to their local connections and exceptional persistence in reaching out to the right people, eventually achieving their desired results.

We asked Antti Rammo, founder and CEO of StarCloud, and Sander Murumets, founder of Norvita, why Kenya is an attractive market for them and what challenges and lessons they have faced in that market.

What were the reasons for your company’s expansion into Kenya? What were the deciding factors in making that choice?

Antti Rammo, StarCloud: With the assistance of the Estonian honorary consul, we understood Kenya’s education market and its challenges. We realised that there is significant potential for our product and expertise there. Additionally, the development cooperation project with EstDev (The Estonian Centre for International Development) played a crucial role in helping us start operations in Kenya in collaboration with local partners.

Sander Muremets, NorVita: Our local representative in Kenya greatly supported the expansion. It already had substantial experience with the local market. Enterprise Estonia’s local representative was also helpful. To my surprise, when initially exploring the topic, I discovered how many Estonian companies were already operating in Kenya and how many others were interested in expanding there.

Estonian companies are heading to the Connected Africa Summit 2024 this week to share Estonia’s outstanding digital education solutions. Estonia shines as a leader in digital education and is eager to introduce innovative solutions and technologies such as Triumf HealthStarCloud OÜADM InteractiveNortalAdoptoMediaWisercat and Digiotouch. Learn more about the companies and book a meeting here:

What are the main challenges you have faced doing business in Kenya?

Rammo, StarCloud: Compared to Estonia, a significant difference lies in Kenya’s abundance of various stakeholders and influencers. This requires capability and patience in all business-related activities. Additionally, Kenya’s work and communication culture differs significantly from what we are accustomed to.

Murumets, NorVita: One of the main challenges for a long time was obtaining local company and product registrations. Leveraging our previous experience in the pharmaceutical industry, product quality documentation, and the effective work of our local representative, we successfully registered all our products without any issues. This registration process is a good stepping stone for further expansion into other African countries.

How did you find local partners or clients in Kenya, and what role does understanding cultural differences play in building business relationships there?

Rammo, StarCloud: the Estonian honorary consul, with an impressive network, significantly contributed to finding partners. The development cooperation project initiated with EstDev also played a key role.
Once initial relationships are established, identifying potential partners in Kenya is not difficult, but selecting the right ones requires experience and a bit of luck.

Murumets, NorVita: choosing the right local business partner is essential. When cultural contexts are vastly different, misunderstandings can arise. Just stepping off the plane as a white man on a black continent, you can get cheated quickly. Through local connections and unwavering persistence, one can reach the right people and ultimately achieve the desired results.

What have been the main lessons your company has learned from operating in Kenya?

Rammo, StarCloud: Kenyans are open to new solutions and collaboration, especially in the private sector. On the other hand, implementing changes (at least in the education sector) is a long-term process and requires extraordinary consistency. Kenya is large and diverse, and people’s economic and social backgrounds are diverse, which is both a challenge and an opportunity from the business point of view.

Murumets, NorVita: We have physically visited hundreds of pharmacies, hospitals, and healthcare professionals in Kenya. I recall an online product training session where I introduced our products, their usage, and their advantages. About a hundred local doctors participated in the event, and the feedback we received was very positive. Engaging with local specialists provides valuable new perspectives and market insights.

“Choosing the right local business partner is essential. When cultural contexts are vastly different, misunderstandings can arise.”
Sander Murumets, founder of Norvita

What advice would you give to companies looking to enter the Kenyan market?

Rammo, StarCloud: Be patient, appreciate the openness of Kenyans and align with their needs. At the same time, you must maintain focus on doing your business, of course. The main thing is to understand why you are there and what you want to accomplish. This can only be done by understanding the local context. I am always ready to share our experience and lessons learned with companies who want to start doing business in Kenya.

Murumets, NorVita: Courage, initiative, and persistence! Additionally, networking and collaborating with fellow Estonians can be beneficial. Estonia is too small for internal competition. To succeed in export markets, joining forces and supporting each other makes sense.

Are you interested in trading with Estonia? Enterprise Estonia is providing sourcing service for foreign enterprises. Contact Estonian export advisors or use our free e-consulting service to start trade with Estonia.


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