The postnatal kidney is predominantly composed of nephron epithelia with the interstitial components representing a small proportion of the final organ, except in the diseased state. This is in stark contrast to the developing organ, which arises from the mesoderm and comprises an expansive stromal population with distinct regional gene expression. In many organs, the identity and ultimate function of an epithelium is tightly regulated by the surrounding stroma during development. However, although the presence of a renal stromal stem cell population has been demonstrated, the focus has been on understanding the process of nephrogenesis whereas the role of distinct stromal components during kidney morphogenesis is less clear. In this Review, we consider what is known about the role of the stroma of the developing kidney in nephrogenesis, where these cells come from as well as their heterogeneity, and reflect on how this information may improve human kidney organoid models.