Rwanda: Thousand Hills, 35 Startups.

Rwanda: Thousand Hills, 35 Startups.

by Réna Kakon. August 2023.

The perfect country to pilot.

Rwanda is known for its political stability, safety and traffic cops are more honest than elsewhere in Africa. Often cited as a model for many Africans, Rwanda’s recovery from the genocide has been impressive under the (police state 🙊) leadership of Paul Kagame.

On the international scene, the country shines! It has efficiently implemented public health & safety policies, created an enabling environment for foreign investors, and established itself as an innovation champion. Things work!

🌱 Kigali is a well organized and clean city where every single motto driver is wearing an helmet and plastic bags have been forbidden since 2008 - it makes great photo; contrasting with the rest of the country though… I mean let’s be real!

💰 From an investor perspective, everything is done to attract capital and welcome foreign investors. You can create a company in 24h - faster than in France!

🚀 Rwanda wants to support innovation by encouraging public-private partnerships. The country made headlines for being the ideal country to pilot for startups in Africa and working with regulators. Zipline has largely taken advantage of that to launch its blood delivery drones 7 years ago, and has become the national drone delivery service.

Motto taxi drivers in Kigali.
Motto taxi drivers in Kigali.
Zipline operations center in Rwanda
Zipline operations center in Rwanda

Why is Rwanda the perfect proof of concept country??

  • Easy to test fast. Small country but a decent market size with 13M people, concentrated in Kigali.
  • Low barrier to entry. Private sector driven economy.
  • Predictable and attractive. Fiscal and non-fiscal incentives.
  • Support from the government. There is a strong willingness to create an enabling environment for startups and innovation
  • Located at the heart of East Africa. There is direct access to other markets (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi) and also direct flights from many countries (you can’t take that for granted in other countries in Africa).

In this country report

I am sharing with you :

👉 my experience of the Rwandan culture and living in Kigali.

👉 my insight about Kigali’s startup scene.

And, as always see at the bottom of the report some tips to make your stay in Rwanda as wonderful as mine … of course climbing another mountain was part of the fun activities and I was lucky to meet a family of mountain Gorillas snacking on the hiking trail 🤭.

Mount Bisoke. Photo credit: Pauline le Rolland
Mount Bisoke. Photo credit: Pauline le Rolland

Quick facts about Rwanda

👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 Population: 13.4 millions (2022)

🌍 Urbanization: Ivory Coast has experienced rapid urbanization over the past few decades, with an estimated 52% of the population living in urban areas as of 2020.

👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 Population: According to the latest estimates, Abidjan has a population of around 5.1 million people, making it the largest city in Ivory Coast.

🗺️ Ranking: Abidjan is also one of the largest and most populous cities in West Africa, ranking third behind Lagos in Nigeria and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

👶 Fertility Rate: The fertility rate in Ivory Coast is 4.0 births per woman as of 2020, which is higher than the global average.

💹 GDP: $2,000 per capita, but the country has consistently posted strong GDP growth, averaging around 7% per year from 2012 to 2019
  • This makes it one of the largest economies in West Africa, and the third-largest in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) after Nigeria and Ghana.
  • 💵 Diversified Economy: The country is the world's largest producer and exporter of cocoa, and also has significant production of coffee, palm oil, and rubber. In addition, there is a growing manufacturing sector, particularly in textiles and food processing.
  • 📈 GDP Growth: Over the past decade, Ivory Coast has consistently posted strong GDP growth, averaging around 7% per year from 2012 to 2019. This growth has been driven by a combination of factors, including government investment in infrastructure and social services, an expanding consumer market, and foreign investment in key sectors.
  • 💰 GDP Per Capita: Despite its large GDP, Ivory Coast's GDP per capita is relatively low, at around 2,700 USD per year. This reflects the fact that the country's population is quite large (around 28 million people), and is growing rapidly.
💰 Currency: Rwandan franc
👍 Inflation rate: 11.9%
💼 Unemployment rate: 13%
👮‍♂️ 🚨 Rwanda requires a visa for French citizens to enter the country.

As a French citizen, you can apply for an electronic visa (e-visa) online to visit Ivory Coast. Here are the steps and costs:

👮‍♂️ E-visa: You can apply for an electronic visa (e-visa) through the official website of the Ivory Coast embassy in France:

📝 Steps:

  1. Fill out the online application form with your personal details, travel information, and passport details.
  2. Upload a digital copy of your passport, recent passport-size photo, and your travel itinerary.
  3. Pay the visa fee using a credit/debit card or PayPal.
  4. Wait for the visa to be processed and sent to your email.
  5. PRINT it before entering to the country!
  6. At the arrival Airport there is a dedicated space for e-Visa. The immigration officer will verify your documents, take your photo, and may ask you a few questions about the purpose of your visit.

💰 Cost: The cost of an e-visa for Ivory Coast varies depending on the duration of your stay and the number of entries. Here are the current fees:

  • Single-entry visa (up to 90 days): 87 euros
  • Multiple-entry visa (up to 90 days): 102 euros

Note: The e-visa is valid for 90 days from the date of issue and allows a maximum stay of 90 days in Ivory Coast.

🇷🇼 Distinctive fact: National & International Math Olympiads to promote and encourage the development of mathematical skills in young students. In 2023, Kigali hosted the PAMO (Pan-African Math Olympiad). Team Rwanda getting 4 Silver Medals + 2 Bronze.
📲 Smartphone penetration: 23.5% despite 99% network coverage.
The mobile market is dominated by two major players: MTN and Airtel, when you travel in the country you’ll see towns painted in yellow (MTN) or red (Airtel).
🌐 Internet penetration: 26.3% (2022)
🏦 Bank account penetration:

Distinctive Tech Initiatives and Key players

🎉 Eden Care. 1st YC company.

  • Summer 2023 is the first YC batch with a Rwandan startup.
  • Eden Care designs, underwrites, distributes, and manages group health insurance plans in Africa. We help employers provide affordable health insurance plans for employees.

💰 Norrsken. 1st Africa Hub for Startups.

  • Beautiful nordic style co-working and event space for startups in Kigali founded by Norrsken Kigali (Swedish based organization sponsored by the founder of Klarna). They choose Rwanda for their first Africa hub.

👨‍⚖️ Irembo Gov. 1st GovTech startups.

  • Irembo is on a mission to digitize and maintain public services.
  • It is a model of public/private partnership. The government of Rwanda holds a significant stake in the company. Irembo is a for profit business which charges a commission on the digital services which creates an incentive to provide the best services and make them accessible to users.

🖌️ African Leadership University. Kigali Campus.

  • ALU is a network of universities launched in 2008 by Fred Swaniker. In 2019, ALU made it to the Fast Company’s list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative companies!
  • The main campus opened in Mauritius in 2015, and in 2017 the second campus in Kigali. This is huge for such a small country to attract an institution witch such ambitions for education in Africa. Great PR for the country!

Startup Scene

The startup ecosystem in Rwanda is tiny with only 35 startups which raised more than $100k, 2 Series A startups, and 1 Series B startup. What are our learnings? - All startups which raised a significant amount of VC money are operating in Kenya (and founded by a foreigner but who cares we need success to create more generations of tech entrepreneurs in Africa). - Rwanda is definitely an attractive country to set up HQ and pilot fast your product before expanding to other East African countries. - Rwanda masters PR and has a good reputation. - Attracting more technical talents and training local talents could accelerate its startup lab & innovation country’s ambitions. Let’s Go!

Startups Overview

Etablished Startups
raised more than $1m
raised more than $1m

Founded in 2015

Serie A ($4 million + $9M debt)

Mobility. Assembles and finances electric motorcycle. Developed a network of battery swap stations allowing drivers to swap batteries faster than refilling a tank with petrol and shields vehicle buyers from the high upfront cost of a lithium battery pack.

DFCTotalEnergies VenturesEcosystem Integrity Fund

Founded in 2017


Digitize and maintain public services.

Rwandan Gov

Founded in 2018


Healthcare. High-quality medical supplies and equipment throughout Central and East Africa through an innovative data-driven procurement platform

Beyond Capital Ventures
Hence Technologies

Founded in 2020

Seed ($2.6 million)

LegalTech. We help companies establish efficient legal processes that support collaboration, AI-supported learning, and smarter decision-making over time.


Founded in 2014.

Series A ($1M)

Food & Supply Chain. Solution that combines food production, manufacturing, and distribution to build an integrated food ecosystem

VestedWorldChandaria Capital
Fast Growing Startups

Founded in 2016

Serie B ($21 million)

FMCG. Digital retail and last-mile distribution platform for pharmaceuticals and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) with a specific product focus on women’s healthcare needs and household items. Series B in 2023.

Knife CapitalDFCFinnfundBamboo CapitalFive35 Ventures

Founder’s Interview - Remy Muhire, Pindo

@Jérémy Goillot > TO ADD

Kigali Tips

  • Safety: 🟢 Not any issue, very safe city and country.
  • How to move around town: Motto taxi - ride hailing doesn’t work.
  • Where to stay? Kimihurura is my favorite neighborhood to live. There are a few coffee shops, restaurants, a gym, and it’s central. Kigali is very small anyways so you can cross town quickly.
  • Cost voice & data: MTN bundle of 10,000 RWF for 30k MB - take it at the airport but be patient it’s super long.
  • Cost of Airbnb for 1 month: there aren’t many Airbnb, you can find apart hotels for $300 per week.
  • Cost of a meal: $10-$20
  • Cost of a beer: 1000 RWF ($0.70). A few are famous: Impeke Sorghum, Mutzig Lite, Virunga Mist.
  • Favorite restaurants: the restaurant scene is not great in Kigali, even grocery shopping is a challenge (you’ll find a few convenient stores). Indian restaurants are always a safe bet in East Africa 😉. The nice thing about Kigali is that most restaurants are outdoor. Here are a few on my list:
    • Poivre Noir: French restaurant if you are craving steak & frites.
    • Now Now Rolex: an African street food restaurant, super cool vibe.
    • Soy Asian Table: for some asian fusion in outdoor area.
    • Khana Khazana Kiyovu: very good Indian restaurant.
    • Nyurah: a wanna-be-fancy restaurant, interesting.
  • Favorite coffee shops: Rubia Coffee Roasters, Fika Café, Migano Cafe, Indabo Café

Others places to visit in Rwanda

  • Mount Bisoke, at the border with Congo. You can either hike to Diane Fossey’s camp and grave or all the way up to the crater of the volcano where you’ll see water - it is a steep and slippery hike. I did the hike to the crater and was rewarded on the way down by the encounter of a Gorilla family ❤️. The permit to Mount Bisoke is $70 vs. over $1000 for Gorillas trekking.
  • Kibuye, a cute town on the lake Kivu to relax, accommodation is basic with nice views on the lake (e.g. Cormoran Lodge).
  • Nyungwe national park, one of the most beautiful and preserved forest with its famous 2 hours canopy walk. You can also do Chimpanzee tracking - they often stay high up in the trees but it is fun to track them, they’re playful.

The Silverback says hello!
Mount Biskoke
Mount Biskoke
Mom & Baby Gorillas
Mom & Baby Gorillas
Mount Bisoke
Mount Bisoke
Mount Bisoke

Final Thoughts

The reality is that things are pretty slow and not so innovative. You don’t feel the hustling mode that you can feel in other African cities. To illustrate that I love to compare African cities mobility solutions. In Kigali, forget about ride hailing apps, they exist, look nice, but they are absolutely not working 🤭, and be (very) patient if you want to take a taxi.

Overall, I think Kigali is still an amazing place to live if you are looking for a slow life, easy access to East African cities, and if you want to launch a tech company you’ll get full support from the local ecosystem which can help move very fast! You feel super safe in Kigali and everyone is friendly. I spent 3 weeks in Kigali after 1 month in Nairobi, and I have to stay it felt so good to be able to walk in the street safely and cross town without experiencing traffic jam.

Lastly, I was surprised to see that most people speak English rather than French now, especially the younger generation, this wasn’t the case on my first trip to Kigali in 2017.

View from l’Hôtel des Mille Collines where 1,200 Tutsi took refuge in 1994. The movie Hôtel Rwanda is about the story of this hôtel.
View from l’Hôtel des Mille Collines where 1,200 Tutsi took refuge in 1994. The movie Hôtel Rwanda is about the story of this hôtel.

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