Five startups undergo an intensive Week-long training as part of #InnovateCountiesChallenge

Mombasa is a coastal city. It is the second largest city in Kenya. It’s also one of Kenya’s 47 counties. Most cities are reserved; the aloofness of a city like Nairobi is almost tangible. The buildings like its people feel standoffish. Not Mombasa, from the minute you get into the city you feel at home, a warm hug beckons. It’s welcome and the wind has a characteristic saline smell. Like most cities, Mombasa County is grappling with building a sustainable city and livelihood for its people. While Mombasa has grown by leaps and bounds it is faced with many challenges.

Adeline A Milavi of team Mji Safi

It is for this reason that UN Habitat sought to engage young people in providing workable solutions for the challenge in the cities they live. In a country where the majority of young people are unemployed and most of them are urban citizens with handheld devices and are exploding with ideas, UN Habitat flagged a project dubbed “Innovate Counties Challenge” that would see young people engage the county government and the innovation hubs in their counties of residence to help build sustainable cities. UN-Habitat partnered with Swahili Box, an innovation hub in Mombasa, the county government and WEB4ALL; a Nairobi based IT company. The challenge seeks to give young people a voice in how their cities are operated. This could be achieved via an ICT based platform. In collaboration with various stakeholders young people could use the resources available at the various innovation hubs in their counties to change their communities with their various ideas. After the hackathon the winning teams were to undergo a weeklong training to turn their ideas into a business reality.

Arafat Mukasa (left) and Said Hassan of team Azu Corp discussing during the training. Azu Corps is a startup that develops, and deploys unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) for timely and on-demand package delivery including in remote areas.

The ‘innovate counties challenge” seeks to establish ICT based mechanisms for democratic and inclusive participation at the local level to enhance youth engagement in local governance in Kenyan small and medium sized cities. County governments are bound to deliver services and tangible outcomes for their main constituency, the majority of which in Kenya are youth. County governments are key players in Kenya’s relatively new devolution framework and can use ICT as a tool to improve urban public service delivery, operational efficiency and planning and design. The project thus seeks to build capacity of local government in small and medium-sized cities around the use of ICT as a tool for good governance, planning and youth engagement, ultimately institutionalizing innovative solutions to enhance citizen engagement in line with UN-Habitat’s priorities according to the new urban agenda.

The teams comprised of youth from Mombasa county who have been part of the Innovate Counties Challenge Hackathon organized by UN Habitat and Swahili Box that was held on May 20th — 21st. The Hackathon was attended by 70 youth, the youth were divided into 14 groups, each focusing on a challenge facing the city. Most challenges are specific to the city and for Mombasa the challenges that were identified by the hackathon organisers’ include but are not limited to:

Serikali Category (Governance )

This focused on the challenges facing the county government that young people could come up with solutions to, they would help in the county needs for procurement, revenue collection, funds management, garbage collection and any other solutions that would improve public service delivery.

Economic Challenge Category

Every county needs ways to generate revenue, not only for its prosperity but also to ensure its residents have a livelihood. Mombasa like others has investment opportunities, small businesses and tourism being some of its revenue generators. The groups were tasked to come up with solutions for better access to funds, how to exploit the local industry for the benefit of the residents and create better opportunities.

Youth Challenge Category

The challenge here was to create a platform that would mentor, create opportunities and offers avenues for young people to be creative while avoiding peer pressure that would lead them into degenerative activities.

About the Training

It is a known fact that 9 out of 10 startups fail. Of these startups that fail, 42% fail because they can’t find enough customers to sell their product to or they are simply unable to scale or sustain their product . In other words, there is no market for their idea.

With this in mind, as part of the Innovate Counties Challenge and in follow up of the hackathon held in March 2017 in Mombasa, we created a training program to transform the ideas generated during the hackathon into sustainable ideas with an executable market and the ability to scale .

The week long training program was done by Liesbeth Bakker of The Entrepreneurs Hub in Westlands, Nairobi that helped the five top teams translate their idea into a business reality. These winning teams are:

  • Mji Safi: Wants to provide a solution helping market authorities manage the flow of organic produce to the markets such that the same may be reduced to the level that is actually needed in order to reduce wastes that result from the unconsumed portion of the supply.
  • Azu Corps is a company that designs, develops, and deploys unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) for timely and on-demand package delivery including in remote areas.
  • Team Veve is a software company with an objective of improving the tourism industry by creating products that facilitate this growth and impact the society.
  • Aqua Harvesters: Aqua Harvesters lives the motto “maji safi kwa wote” (safe drinking water to all). Aqua Harvesters sets out to ensure safe drinking water is accessible to the people of the coastal strip of Kenya at the lowest cost. It has developed a unit that transforms saline water to fresh water safe for human consumption by simple desalination technology.
  • Imara TV is a digital media platform that Crowdsources and Vets Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) information and resources for the Kenyan youth to easily access in a safe and fun way.

Why Innovation Hubs ?

SwahiliBox is the Technology Open Space in Mombasa, Kenya which focuses on socio-economic technology empowerment, inspiring and developing individuals and help them develop new and innovative ideas through networking, access to training and support and professional mentoring and coaching.

Innovation hubs have helped accelerate Kenya’s growing technology and corporate scene. In Nairobi, for example, there are many innovation hubs that have helped create a community that brings together young people thereby creating a network for IT communities, entrepreneurs, start-ups and creative minds. Most innovation hubs run mentorship/incubation programs, event, and training that give young people a chance to showcase and develop their ideas while changing their communities. They provide office space, equipment, and internet access to help these creative minds excel at their trade of choice.

The aim of most innovation hubs is to promote local innovation by encouraging relevant actors to share knowledge early on in the development process and foster cooperation. These hubs support networking among local stakeholders and create links to investors and international organizations.

Click here to read Innovation hubs in Kenya

Lead trainer Liesbeth Bakker during mentorship session with team Mji Safi

The week-long training with the winners of the Hackathon in Mombasa had the participants x-ray their ideas from a dream to a reality. It helped them build a five-year dream and then break it down to exactly what they need to do to get to the five years let alone be successful at the five-year mark. It ensured they look into their customer share and the impact they would have on their businesses and how exactly to go about approaching them.

Nyevu Karisa ,the representative of Mombasa county government department of trade and environment speaking to participants about the operations of the county government

A representative of the county government department of trade and environment -Nyevu Karisa interacted with the participants and sought to learn about their business ideas. In turn, the participants asked how they can partner with the county to bring their ideas to a reality. A member from Imara TV even got a meeting with the county to see how best they can partner in an effort to reduce drug abuse in Mombasa..In a nutshell they had a mini business development bootcamp.

Now that the teams have started the incubation program it’s time to see what the future holds. WEB4ALL as the consultant and the project partners are going to keep tabs on these budding entrepreneurs to see where the journey takes them.

 This challenge has shown us how valuable young people are. Most young people lack the networking opportunities and the resources to make their ideas workable but with projects like #innovatecountieschallenge and the innovation hubs coming up in various counties we are bound to see more collaboration between young people and various stakeholders.

Insights from meeting Mombasa County Government department of Trade and Environment Representative

Nyevu Karisa ,the representative of Mombasa county government department of trade and environment speaking to participants about the opportunities available for youth at the county government

The Mombasa County Government Representative of Trade and Environment was very impressed with the work that had been done by the different teams and she was eager to support where she could. The level of engagement was high and even the most skeptical of participants had to acknowledge that working with the county to make things happen is possible. The county government representative promised to make links between the different startups and her network and to show it was not just words, several appointments were made on the spot. The barrier between the startups and the county government has visibly been lowered.

Certificates and a mini party at the end

Nayla Hatimy , Innovate County Challenge, Mombasa project manager presenting certificates to participants

WEB FOR ALL Ltd (WEB4ALL) is Kenyan based ICT Enterprise that utilizes ICT to improve the livelihood of people in Africa. The company focuses in creating technological solutions that accelerate development and enhance efforts to improve quality of life in developing countries.