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Tackling crime in Kenya

with Eric Murithi and Vincent Awino

April, 2024

Eric Murithi and Vincent Awino, two dynamic engineers from Nairobi have launched Upesy — a mobile application that connects individuals who are in danger to their friends, family, private security agencies, ambulances and more. Once users press the power button of their phone, the app sends the live location of the individual and audio recording at the point of the incident emergency service providers listed in the app.

Eric was inspired to launch Upesy when he became a victim of a robbery in 2016. A group of men pushed Eric and his friend into a banana plantation and robbed them of their phone and money. Eric had heard of similar incidents happening in the neighbourhood. In such situations, people feel helpless and vulnerable. They are not able to call out for help. Upesy offers a user-friendly solution in such dangerous situations.

To build Upesy, Eric and Vincent received support from the Kenya National Innovation Agency (KeNIA) and HiiL. Both funders provided financial support and coaching to commercialise the app. Launched in 2019, the app currently has 8000 registered users, and 400 paying customers. Together, they have reported 2500 incidents on the app. 

Upesy’s example shows that the state can take the support of entrepreneurs like Eric and Vincent to tackle complex problems like crime. They are resilient, not afraid to venture into new waters and committed to safeguarding people’s well-being. Vis-a-vis, the entrepreneurs also need support from the government and investors to scale their services and meet the needs of people. Supporting such entrepreneurs is a win-win for all, the people, the entrepreneur, and policymakers.

A nationwide assessment of justice problems in Kenya reveals that Kenyans frequently face crime related to property, theft, burglaries, domestic violence and violent crime1. Plus, recent reports show that femicide, where women have been murdered by their intimate partners, is common2. Taken together, crime seems to have cast a dark cloud on the lives of people. However, the country’s startup ecosystem offers a ray of hope; it is cultivating entrepreneurs who are committed to safeguarding people.

Chief among them are Eric Murithi and Vincent Awino, two young and dynamic engineers from Nairobi. The duo launched Upesy, a mobile application that connects individuals in distress to friends, family, and private security agencies among others at the click of a button. Upesy means ‘quick’ in the Swahili language. Users of the app can press the power button of the phone or a button on the app if they are feeling unsafe. The app will then send the live location of the individual and audio recording at the point of the incident to emergency service providers listed in the app.

Eric and Vincent are graduates of HiiL’s 2021 Justice Accelerator programme that supports entrepreneurs who work on the justice problems of people. In a candid conversation, the co-founders shared what inspired their startup, the support they received from various actors in scaling their business, and the challenges that come with operating a startup.

The inspiration and team behind the startup

Eric recounts a harrowing experience that propelled him into launching Upesy. He says,

"I lived in the neighbourhood of Uthiru, a few kilometres from the city centre of Nairobi 3. My friend and I were walking past a patch of banana plantation one day when a group of men dragged us into the trees and robbed us of our phone and money."

Eric knew that this incident was not isolated. In Uthiru, home break-ins were common. Thieves would break into people’s homes and terrorise them until they gave up their valuables. In such situations, people would be too traumatised to scream. Robbers would also threaten people with injury if they raise an alarm. So people are unable to call out for help. Watching people live through such moments of danger and vulnerability spurred Eric into action. He decided to launch an app using which people can reach out for help when their safety is at risk.  

The next step for him was to bring together teammates who could complement his expertise. He says,

"I am an electrical engineer. To build Upesy, I needed teammates who would have expertise in geographic information systems (GIS) and computer science. I was on the lookout for people with those qualifications when my wife connected me to a company owned by her university professor who worked on GIS. That’s where I met Vincent, a GIS software developer. From my network of friends, I met Edna Kendi, a software engineer. Leveraging our collective strengths, we co-developed Upesy."

Market reach and business model of the startup

When Upesy was launched, the cofounders targeted retail customers as their end users. Soon they realised that their B2C model would not give them the growth they wanted. So they pivoted to a B2B business model and onboarded private security agencies, ambulance providers, fire extinguishing providers, and roadside assistance services among others on the platform. Looking back at the moment when they decided to change the business model, Vincent says,

"I am glad we made that shift. It simplified the process of reaching out to ordinary people who would be the end users of the app."

Users of the app can purchase a monthly or annual subscription to the emergency services provided by the private security agencies and ambulance providers listed on the app. These emergency service providers will respond when the individual’s security is threatened. Previous customers of the security agencies, hospitals and so on can also use the app to call for help in an emergency.

Currently, the app has 8,000 registered users, and 400 paying customers. Together, they have reported 2,500 incidents. Remarking on the use of the app, Eric says,

"Kenyans are unable to contact the police because the police hotline does not function properly. Neither is the police able to respond quickly to protect the person. In the absence of a state-provided safety net, Upesy helps people tap into an alternative safety net where there is trust, solidarity and reliability."

Support from the startup ecosystem in Kenya

The co-founders were bootstrapping the business when they started in 2016. All three of them juggled full-time jobs alongside so they outsourced the development of the app to a programmer.  In 2018, Eric came across a newspaper advertisement in which the Kenya National Innovation Agency (KeNIA) invited Kenyans to apply for the fellowship programme in innovation. He applied for the programme through which the team received seed funding of approximately 35,000 Euros as well as the opportunity to travel to the UK and learn from the Royal Academy of Engineers.

The co-founders used the funds to hire full-time engineers to further develop and market the app. Trainers from the Royal Academy of Engineers also trained Eric in marketing the app and interacting with investors. Soon after, a friend of Eric introduced him to HiiL’s East Africa team after which the duo applied for the Justice Accelerator programme for startups in 2021. HiiL also provided training and funds to the co-founders which they further used to commercialise the app. 

"Support of KeNIA and HiiL was crucial to the success of Upesy. Tech startups need a lot of technical know-how which is expensive. In the early days, Eric and I couldn't recruit competent engineers because we did not have the resources to pay the salary they were getting in the market" ~ says Vincent appreciatively

The ups and downs of the business

The co-founders tried to build partnerships with players in the private sector and law enforcement agencies in Nairobi. Their efforts resulted in varying degrees of success. Speaking of his experience working with security agencies, Eric says,

"The first service provider we visited was Securex. We received a very positive response from them. They embraced Upesy the very first day we approached them. That was very encouraging because it gave us the impetus to keep talking to more potential clients."

Unfortunately, the co-founders’ efforts in getting law enforcement agencies to adopt the app in their everyday work did not succeed. Although Eric and his team conducted a proof of concept at the National Command Center of the Kenya National Police Service, where feedback from end users was positive, due to bureaucratic reasons, the pilot did not scale. 

Vision for the next 3 years

Going forward, Eric and Vincent want to launch Upesy in South Africa and more countries in East Africa. They plan to partner with security agencies and similar emergency service providers in new markets, which has proved to be an effective way of reaching out to end users. 

To tackle complex and harmful problems like crime, the state can take the support of entrepreneurs like Eric and Vincent who are committed to innovation and people’s well-being. They are resilient and not afraid to venture into new waters. As demonstrated by Eric and Vincent, support from the government and investors helps entrepreneurs scale their services and bridge the justice gap for hundreds of thousands of people. By fostering an ecosystem conducive to growth and development, these stakeholders play a pivotal role in empowering entrepreneurs.


[1] The Hague Institute for Innovation for Law (2017). Justice Needs and Satisfaction in Kenya.

[2] Brechenmacher, S. and Nyakora, F. (2024). Kenyan Women Are Pushing for Action on Femicide. They Have a Road Map. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. URL:

[3] Amunga, V. (2021). App Helps Kenyans with Emergencies. Accessed on March 31, 2024. URL:


The story was written by Manasi Nikam after interviewing Eric Murithi and Vincent Awino on February 15, 2024. 

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