Hilda Moraa is a Kenyan fintech entrepreneur. She is the founder and CEO of Pezesha, a peer-to-peer micro-lending marketplace for Africa that provides access to affordable financial services and credit scores to low-income borrowers. She previously founded Weza Tele, which in 2015 became on the first African tech startups to be acquired by another business. In 2016, she was named one of the 30 Most Promising Young African Entrepreneurs by Forbes. Here she speaks about her entrepreneurship journey and her passion to make an impact through technology.
How did your interest in technology and entrepreneurship develop?
My interest in technology started back in school. I fell in love with mathematics and physics and I knew I wanted to do something related to engineering. I enrolled at Nairobi University to study electrical engineering. We were a handful of women in a class of about 200 students. This was very discouraging and we had to stick together to stay motivated.
I later got a scholarship to Strathmore University in Kenya where I studied business and information technology. It was here that my interest in entrepreneurship developed. I started my first business providing printing and computer services to students after I observed that these services were not readily available. Computers were very central to our course and yet at the time computer costs were still too high for most students to afford a personal computer. I started the business with money I borrowed from my parents even though they didn’t think it was a good idea for me to start a business while at university. Like most African parents, they wanted me to concentrate on my studies, but I managed to convince them that I would focus on my studies and that this problem of a lack of computer access for students was one that I was passionate about solving.
The business grew rapidly as it was solving a real problem, and making money at the same time. However, when the university started offering the same services a few years later, I couldn’t compete as I had limited resources as a student and that was the end of that business. But the whole experience made me realise that my passion lies in helping to solve challenges and improve the lives of people around me.
Why did you decide to leave a budding corporate career to start a business?
After university I got an opportunity to work with Coca-Cola where I led projects, deploying solutions for their distribution network. This allowed me to get close to, and understand, the challenges facing small-scale distributors in low-income market segments. I also gained experience in creating technology-based solutions to address these challenges.
However, I found that I couldn’t move at the pace I wanted within the environment of a large corporate. I needed to have the freedom to innovate fast, iterate and learn from my mistakes. So, I decided to move on to start a business called Weza Tele, which was focused on solving problems and increasing visibility in the supply chain to empower small-scale distributors. Looking back, I think I was a bit naive but very determined. I remember my boss tried and failed to convince me to stay at Coca-Cola. This was around the time when the tech ecosystem in Kenya was just beginning to take root.