Shaping up the Kenyan Startup Ecosystem.
I have been attending a number of functions all revolving around startups within Nairobi and one thing is sure; the enthusiasm. Young people are in a race to match the world in terms of technological advancement. Well, I am not sure if the startup environment in Kenya has been really developed to help this young people compete with their counterparts across the world. At the end of the day, the balls gets kicked back to the developers on what they are doing to scout for the leveling up of the ecosystem to boost their growth.
A recent visit to the C4D lab at the University of Nairobi, one cannot fail to notice the branding by Cisco. Well, it tells of a partnership between the two organizations to support startups in Kenya. Not that alone, there is the IBM lab Kenya along Chaka road. The presence of these global giants mean that there can be a possible collaboration between them and local startup companies. In simple words, anything is possible. Not this alone, there are local startup enablers such as those that offer working spaces as well as technical help such as C4D lab, Nairobi Garage, Ihub, Nailab, The Mint hub among others. If you are conversant with the story of Steve Jobs and Apple, you could be aware of the Homebrew Computer Club. Startup open spaces are very key to innovation and growth within our Silicon Savannah.
This brings me to the concept that we now have three types of people who are contributing in every way possible to ensure the development and growth of the Kenyan startup ecosystem to match the competitive level of the world startups from the US, India, Israel and the rest of the outer world making major ripples and changing how we interact with each other.
First we have the startup entrepreneurs, then there is the startup supporters who come in form of investors, mentors, trainers and advisors. And lastly there is another class of startup enthusiasts. In the last class lies individuals like me who follow up on the startups growth and write about them and at the same time offer support in terms of unsolicited feedback and criticism aimed at making those startups proper businesses in every way possible.
At the end of the day, we may be inspired and become startup entrepreneurs as well because by interacting with these other entrepreneurs we get to have an inner glimpse of their thinking and way of coming up with innovative ideas. It has been said a lot that you become what the most five people you interact with are. So enthusiasts are a very critical part of the growth of a startup.
While following on the startup journey of AirBnB, one of the founders indicated that they did all they could to make sure they were written about in the papers. To them it didn’t matter if it was an enthusiast from a college magazine as long as they found someone who believed in their venture. In my life I have come to realize that you don’t need the whole world to believe in you, you only need one individual to believe in you and that is all.
The founders of AirBnB actually were part of the customers of their product as they got to understand the pain points. This was a good point in getting feedback from the early adopters of a product who are an integral part of a product development cycle. Early adopters are part of the enthusiasts. In Kenya, the early adopters are mostly the enthusiasts who want to test the product first for review purposes.
The other category which is that of the investors involves those individuals who invest the cash as the business is under development. This category is very critical also because they are the returns people. They will look at your product and will pinpoint how you can make money out of your product, how to maximize the cash returns and even will go ahead to help you build a team that will take you from the zero revenue to the million shilling revenue. These guys are always looking at how they can make a maximum return on their investment. The beauty is that as they look at how to maximize on their individual investment, they are helping the young business grow and make money also.
At the same time, most of these guys are always willing to sit in your board of management which means access to a huge resource in terms of advice and business perspective. For most of these guys, their game is the money and how to make more of it. They can sniff a business that will make it big from a distance and go into organizing it to be that big business they envision it to be.
The challenge is that these individuals are not so many in this country. Some could be there but are after other things other than ethically driven business growth and success. Others who tend to label themselves as such are far from it. But then there are some very great investors and investment companies from which we can tap into and enable our startups grow. At times startups can go for global sourcing but they must always spell out the rules of engagement properly from the very onset to avoid being short changed.
For the startup entrepreneurs, their work is to imagine and build the prototypes, patent them and then begin organizing them into formal business. As they do this, those of us who are investors and enthusiasts will come at some point in the early or later journey and together we will make it happen. So startup entrepreneurs, keep building, keep imagining, keep coming up with new ideas and let’s change and make this world a better place.
So readers, wherever you fall in these categories, play your part and be part of the shapers of these world. The universe will never forget you.
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