We’re running a monthly series on the finalists from the ShelterTech Accelerator Kenya program. This month of March we spotlight, The Vlage, a startup redefining modern living in Africa by offering furnished and serviced co-living spaces for young professionals and startup founders. We discussed their experiences in the accelerator, what they’ve been up to and the next steps and in honor of Women’s History Month — women in the housing and real estate industry.
What was your experience in the accelerator program?
The Vlage: The accelerator program created brilliant opportunities for us. Pangea offered us mentorship and partners who guided us in taking our idea to market and gave insights on the do’s and don’ts. We also got a lot of support from the accelerator program team in developing a unique product. They did this through iteration of ideas and testing the ideas in the market to validate, basically, does the market need this product? Through this process, we realized what we had initially conceptualized didn’t fit the market 100% and Pangea gave us valuable advise on how to approach the problem.
What we enjoyed the most in the accelerator program was the networks and industry access we got, especially through the “Meet the Corporates”,it reduced the amount of time it would have taken for us to build a relationship with corporations and streamlined a better B2B model for us.
What have you achieved so far?
The Vlage: We’ve made some good wins so far. Currently, we have acquired one 3-bedroom house that accommodates up to 5 people. We’ve been working extra hard on our marketing and we have customers on wait list, 5 of whom will occupy our space from 1st April 2020. We also received catalytic funding to help us scale — we won’t share more details on this because it’s a surprise :)
We think we’ve been able to achieve this because customers see value in what we are offering. Our unique selling point is that; we are offering a product
for Nairobi price points and offering a full inclusive package, that is, you don’t have to pay for internet, cleaning, water and electricity separately. Another value for our customers is the community engagement activities where members can network with each other during events we host to bring the community together.
What 3 lessons you’ve learnt from accessing this funding?
The Vlage: Accessing funding isn’t easy so being patient is important. Many startups want a quick-fix solution to accessing funds, and we get it, but as an entrepreneur, sometimes you have to trust the process.
Another lesson for us was the value of being clear and precise in how you’ll utilize the funds. The clearer your work plan, the easier the conversation with an investor or funder. It also helps them see what areas you want to put laser focus on and they can advise on any possible pitfalls you might experience.
Lastly, to any startup out there, make sure you get your documentation right!
What are the next steps for The Vlage?
The Vlage: Our long-term goal is to have the concept of co-living in the country and not just in Nairobi. To build and engage with our community we are hosting an event for young professionals. We want to share and hear the experiences of young professionals in living and working in the city. How are they navigating these spaces?
Long term, we’d like in the next five years to bring affordable housing to young people and drive people to embrace new ways of living in the city. We are championing for young people to live conveniently from their workplaces in decent communities. We say this because we know that Africa has the youngest population in the world and is rapidly expanding so, we need to make life in cities livable compared to what we have now.
What’s The Vlage’s stance on gender equality?
The Vlage: Working in the housing and real estate industry, we’ve seen amazing women trailblazing, but, more women entrepreneurs should be supported. In boardrooms too, we need to see more women invited to take up these spaces and decision make.
At The Vlage, our co-founding team is not only led by women but also our shareholding. We are leading from the front and for us this is how we can build an equal society for all.
About ShelterTech Kenya Program
The ShelterTech Kenya Accelerator program was created with a mission to find, train and support the most promising entrepreneurs addressing challenges in housing.The six-month, milestone-based program was supported by Habitat for Humanity International’s Terwilliger Centre for Innovation in Shelter and implemented by BDO East Africa in collaboration with Pangea Accelerator, and supported by the IKEA Foundation and Hilti Foundation.