These 8 start-ups are helping transform fast-growing cities for the future

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Jonathan Hursh, Founding Partner, Utopia, Jeff Merritt, Head of Urban Transformation; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum

  • Cities across Asia, Africa and Latin America are growing at dizzying speeds and entrepreneurs have a key role to play in shaping their futures.
  • The World Economic Forum partnered with Utopia to highlight leading innovators in eight of the world’s fastest-growing cities.
  • Winning solutions demonstrate the critical role of start-ups in shaping new solutions based on local needs and conditions.

Nearly all of the world’s population growth is taking place in cities across Asia, Africa and Latin America. This rapid expansion can result in increased congestion and overwhelmed city services, while also introducing new risks related to the environment, public health and safety. But, these challenges of rapid urbanisation also present new opportunities for innovation and rethinking city life. Recognising that urban issues are often unique to their context, local entrepreneurs play a critical role in shaping the development of these cities.

In 2021, World Economic Forum’s Urban Transformation platform partnered with Utopia, an innovation group focused on emergent cities in Asia, Africa and Latin America, on an Urban Innovation Challenge to support the development of new businesses, products and services that can improve the quality of life for local residents and mitigate social and environmental challenges associated with rapid urbanisation.

Participating cities included Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Lagos, Dhaka, Jakarta, Kigali, Nairobi, Kigali and Rio de Janeiro.

Over 300 start-ups were nominated for the challenge. These are the eight start-ups that emerged as the winners; their efforts show the unique and essential role of locally-grown solutions to respond to local conditions.


Based in Lagos, Nigeria, LifeBank has built a digital marketplace where hospitals can make orders for accredited medical supplies and have them delivered directly to their facility using a multimodal system that includes drones, boats and motorbikes. This addresses the serious issue of unreliable and unsafe medical supply delivery.


Based in Nairobi, Kenya, Roam focuses on all-electric conversion kits for fleet vehicles with combustion engines, such as light trucks, public transport and buses, as well as electric motorcycles and energy systems. While invented in Sweden, it became the first company to deliver locally designed and produced electric motorcycles and electric buses on the African continent.


Based in Kigali, Rwanda, Ampersand builds affordable electric vehicles and charging systems for the five million motorcycle taxi drivers in East Africa. The company assembles and finances electric motorcycles that are cheaper, cleaner and better performing than the current petrol motorcycle taxis.


Based in Jakarta, Indonesia, Ula is modernising Indonesia’s millions of mom-and-pop kiosks by providing inventory and delivery services, as well as financing. Ula’s end-to-end digital solutions help streamline the retail supply chain network, provide easy credit access to under-banked retailers and empower micro-entrepreneurs in the local community.


Based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jatri is a multimodal transportation platform that makes travel easier. It is a public transport journey planner, digital ticketing, fleet management and mobility marketplace. It drives productivity by helping drivers to offer reliable transport to commuters through its state-of-the-art technology. It aims to address the problem of inconsistent public transportation timetables, payment difficulties and constantly changing routes.

Beep Health

Based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Beep Health offers simplified health services in cities across Brazil. The company is the market leader for residential vaccination in Brazil and its services are available in 110 cities. Its long-term goal is to become a one-stop-shop for healthcare, providing all major health services on a single platform and delivering these services in the comfort of the user’s home.


Based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Greener reduces waste in cities by creating a recycling ecosystem. Its technology platform connects neighbours, businesses, waste hauliers and city governments to divert waste from landfills. Its software integrates with any waste haulier’s operations, reducing costs, preventing problems and maximising service quality.


Based in Bogota, Colombia, RobinFood is the largest cloud-restaurant company in Latin America. Cloud or ghost kitchens are centralised licensed commercial food production facilities where restaurants rent space. RobinFood enables the delivery of affordable, homemade food. The company deploys artificial intelligence to forecast demand and reduce food waste.

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