Africans have been called intelligent beings due to the innovative and creative nature of individuals and Kenya is top of the list as one of the most industrious country there is in the continent.
As a result of a country flooded with ideas, problems and solutions for these problems, incubation hubs have been put up to nature and grow these maiden ideas in different parts of the country. Over the years innovators have graduated from the start-up hub as a sign of readiness to operate in the bigger space. However, the start-ups still cry wolf claiming of un-ready markets, inadequate resources and also limited government support.
For the longest time, I shared this predicaments with innovators but now that I have seen better days around start-ups and innovators, I totally disagree with this analogy of foreign start-ups having a better footing or rather foreign support counting more than our own.
A relaxed start-up community
Maybe I am not yet well travelled to compare the two scenarios but I am lucky enough to have colleagues and close ones who have interacted with this environments. Speaking to Leila Khalif CEO and Founder of Taskwetu the other day, I realised start-up incubation programmes have been taken for granted in Kenya.
Startups are very particular about the kind of incubation they need to grow in the market which over time has been made to look like the ultimate goal. Today, startups land incubation programmes and relax in the spaces with their only aim being to get funds through pitches around the world when really there is not much they do to grow their innovation.
According to Ms Khalif, start-ups in Kenya are lagging behind due to lack of aggressiveness. Her emphasis on the non-aggression affecting the industry came out strongly during our chat. “Most start-ups from other continents have already began scaling in Africa. These start-ups are only one year old or below yet they are aggressive enough to venture into Africa and other continents.”
These ideas introduced to the African scene are not new, in fact, Africans have already invented them and actualized most of them in their countries. The only difference is that local innovators do not have aggression enough to put word out there and sell their ideas across boundaries. The lack of bluntness to present an idea is the reason Kenyan start-ups are still lying around blaming the government.
As a matter of fact, Kenyans feel safer using products and services created from outside the country as opposed to homemade solutions. Mark Howard* (not his real name) has over the last one year been running a start-up in the education sector which provides e-learning for consumers in which they get to learn the American history. The start-up has thus far scaled in 3 continents Africa being among them.
According to the founder, Kenya is keen on learning and exchanging culture knowledge compared to other African countries. Even with e-learning services provided in the country, most Kenyans are not aware of these platforms which is a problem by founders who restrict their ideas to the hubs.
Africa Tech challenge participants
Valerie Kamanda, student advisor to the Kabete TTI team that participated in the Africa Tech Challenge 2014, when asked about what she thought of the competition and the opportunities and eye openers it presented.
“I walked into this workshop and all I could think of was: why we are wasting such resources? why are we not utilizing what we have to the maximum? The equipment in this room has the ability to produce items which we are constantly importing. These threading and milling machines are just lying here, idle. This is a gold mine that we need to take advantage of.”
Valerie Kamanda was describing the equipment at the Technical University of Kenya workshop.
The participants of the Africa Tech Challenge have been using these machines to produce different types of spare parts during the competition. Thanks to the Africa Tech Challenge, this workshop came alive and has seen the production of high quality spare parts by the participants.
“As a country all we need to do is believe in our technical ability and support this industry. We import a lot of items which can very easily be produced right here in Kenya. Our students are quick to learn and all they need is motivation. Their technical dreams are killed when they go out of their way to produce items, only for them to be rejected by a market which appreciates and entrusts items from foreign countries.