StorySpaces: Sharing stories to re-imagine Africa

Many new ideas are coming in every week via the VC4Africa website. On a regular basis the VC4Africa team places a new venture in the spotlights. Let’s meet Simeon Oriko, one of the founders of Kenyan start-up StorySpaces.

Can you describe what StorySpaces is and how you got the idea?

StorySpaces is all about sharing stories. We believe that StorySpaces will allow collective mentoring through the African storytelling tradition. Stories have always been powerful mechanisms for teaching and sharing knowledge. StorySpaces started as an initiative of The Kuyu Project. The Kuyu Project is a digital literacy initiative aimed at teaching African youth how to fully utilize social media and other digital tools to effect social change in their communities and to achieve their personal objectives.

StorySpaces grew out of our team wanting to create a mobile and web based social media application aimed at enabling different communities to interact and participate in global storytelling. The world is full of stories; stories about business start-ups, inspirational stories, creative stories and anecdotes from everyday citizens. We think modern storytelling will be both mobile and will spread via social networks. Stories, which embody personal experiences, are rich material for creating personable relationships and translating them into offline action.”

How will StorySpaces make an impact in Kenya and Africa?

“We believe that StorySpaces will be a valuable tool to empower Kenyan youth and others across the continent to recreate and re-imagine Africa. We will deviate from existing story lines and succeed in establishing a new powerful vision of change across the continent.

StorySpaces plays on serving personal experiences to peers, which allows people to relate to or identify with the content they receive. This sort of content provides raw material for translating global conversations in digital spaces into practical offline actions with a local scope. We believe this will help make a practical impact among African youth.”

Who are you targeting?

“Our primary target is the Kenyan youth, but we intend to scale to include all the youth on the continent. Content consumption is shifting away from the desktop and towards mobile devices. This is very evident in the increasing number of mobile phone users. Africa has half a billion people connected through their mobile phones. In Kenya, 25 million out of the total 40 million own a mobile. Our mobile strategy is squarely targeted at meeting the growing needs of this group.”

How are you planning to monetize this idea?

“We plan to offer services for StorySpaces customers. We think that some businesses, non-profits, and news organizations may want to expand on specialized services within a StorySpace. More details about the specialized services will be available soon. We also believe that businesses have unique stories to tell and we envision a new form of advertising that allows for sponsored StorySpaces where businesses can more fully interact with their customers.

This model will help advertisers target their ads in a personable way to the intended audience with a higher click through rate primarily because people will be able to identify with the ad. Lastly, we are exploring partnerships with mobile advertisers here on the continent such as ‘inMobi’ to help initiate and sustain the initial revenue stream.”

Can you describe what it is like to do business in the mobile apps scene in Nairobi today?

“A lot has changed in the last two years in the mobile apps scene in Nairobi. We’ve seen an increase in the uptake of new technologies and platforms such as USSD and SMS applications and apps for the Android mobile operating system. Developers have zoned in on these two major technologies, primarily dictated by market consumption as well as the developers need to earn from their efforts. USSD and SMS are perhaps the easiest ways for local developers to earn an income.

Generally, the technical expertise in Nairobi and in the region is growing but unfortunately lacks support, such as investment. Locally, we still don’t have a culture of investing in ‘new money’, like intellectual property. People still believe in ‘old money’ such as real estate. Innovation in the tech scene in Kenya and the rest of the region has mostly followed a community model where ideas are bounced of different people and teams formed in a similar manner.”

What have been your main successes and challenges so far in connection to StorySpaces?

Our greatest success is our recent win in the finalist round of the Google Android Developer’s Challenge for our StoryDroid App. In the challenges we face are not very different from other start-ups’ experiences. Perhaps the exceptional one I can single out is that our team is dispersed around the globe. We work either individually or in small groups of about three people in four different time zones. We in certain circumstances count this as a success but it has its downsides as well.

Regardless of this, we’ve managed to do build a web app, Android app and our API in the past nine months through virtual interaction but we do look forward to the day when we can meet in person on a regular basis.

What, in your opinion, prevents more entrepreneurship on the African continent?

“The primary challenge in promoting entrepreneurship resources is the lack of investment capital and other resources such as mentorship directly to the entrepreneurs. A lot of funding is going into capacity building for entrepreneurs and not into the start-ups. Again, referring to the “old money, new money” examples mentioned earlier, we still have a task to change the way people look at entrepreneurship and perhaps educate them on its benefits. This argument could translate into a lack of literacy levels on the subject.”

How can VC4Africa members contact you?

“Anyone who is interested in what we are doing can contact me via my VC4Africa profile, Twitter, Facebook and e-mail: simeon [at]”