East Africa’s burgeoning circular plastics sector needs more capital

POSTED: 14th Jun

Ethiopian entrepreneur Kidus Asfaw is using the plastic waste crisis to address Africa’s affordable housing shortage. His startup Kubik, founded in 2021 and based between Ethiopia and Kenya, saves plastics from landfills and turns them into bricks for easy-assembly houses. The lego-like components fit together without glue or cement, both carbon intensive materials. 

The startup hit two sustainability criteria at once: it removes plastic from the environment while also reducing the demand for building cement, one of the most carbon-polluting and heavily used materials in the world. In April 2023, it won the Global Startup Award for startup of the year in Copenhagen, Denmark. 

Kubik’ first plan is to supply building materials for construction companies in Ethiopia but eventually they want to sell across the African continent. Supporting these ambitions will be the $3.34 million seed funding they won earlier this year.

Obtaining multi-million dollar funding and a high-profile award in one year is no small feat for a young African business, especially one working on sustainable development issues. 

Structural barriers and a fear of the unfamiliar mean young businesses in Africa and Asia are often overlooked by venture capitalists, overwhelmingly concentrated in developed regions. Of the $145 billion in risk capital given out globally just over one percent goes to Africa, a disparity placing a chokehold on a continent that needs to shift towards a sustainable economy. 

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