Search for Kenya’s top innovators begins

Nation Media Group CEO, Mr Linus Gitahi. The Business Daily, has launched  “The Next Big Thing”, a competition targeting Kenyans with big entrepreneurial ideas but without the money to get them started.
Nation Media Group CEO, Mr Linus Gitahi. The Business Daily, has launched “The Next Big Thing”, a competition targeting Kenyans with big entrepreneurial ideas but without the money to get them started. 

The Business Daily, a publication of the Nation Media Group, has launched an ideas competition that will discover Kenya’s top innovators and link them up with venture capitalists for financial and management backing they need to develop into profitable enterprises.

Known as “The Next Big Thing” the competition targets Kenyans with big entrepreneurial ideas, but without the money to get them started in the marketplace.

The Nation Media Group has teamed up with Kenyatta University — the knowledge partner and Enablis Africa — the logistics partner to execute the plan.

The contest is open to innovators from all parts of the country and will specifically target young entrepreneurs in high school, colleges and universities.
Innovators will submit entries to any of the 12 categories, including agribusiness, ICT, manufacturing, transport, tourism, green business and ecology, and energy.

Entries can also be made in sports, leisure and entertainment, health, transport as well as marketing.

Innovators can present only one idea for each category.

Submissions of entries opened last Friday and can be done on-line from the competition’s website

Entries can also be e-mailed to [email protected], or dropped off at any Nation Media Group’s bureaus countrywide.

At close of the submissions, a panel of specialists will pick the best 20 ideas and present them to Kenyatta University’s (KU) incubation centre for training on how to package and present the ideas to potential financiers or mentors.

The five-member selection panel of made up of a banker, investors and an entrepreneur will choose the winning applications based on originality of the idea, its potential to change lives, commercial viability as well as a clear explanation of the skills required to implement it.

“Besides training the winners on how to commercialise their ideas, Kenyatta University will also help the innovators find financiers who are on the lookout for big ideas with good prospects for high returns on investment,” said Prof Olive Mugenda, the university’s vice chancellor.

Apart from linking the innovators to financiers and mentors, The Next Big Thing is the Nation Media Group’s contribution to the ongoing search for solutions that can help resolve Kenya’s top most social challenge — mass unemployment among the youth.

“Unemployment among the youth is estimated to be around 30 per cent in Kenya and it has become necessary for us to be part of the solution,” said Mr Linus Gitahi, the Nation Media Group chief executive.

“This initiative reaches out to Kenyans with viable ideas that can be nurtured and developed into becoming Kenya’s biggest corporations and exports to the world,” he said.

Mr Gitahi said the competition is open to participants from all universities and institutions countrywide.

“Kenyatta University is only a knowledge partner that will help us sift the ideas and pick the best but the platform is open to anybody with an idea that can help transform our economy,” he said.

In launching The Next Big Thing, the Nation Media Group hopes to promote self-employment in Kenya’s social fabric as opposed to the ongoing struggle among the youth to find formal sector jobs.

Successful entrepreneurship is also expected to have a multiplier effect in the economy, including sustainable wealth creation.

Main challenge

Mr Gitahi said the main challenge facing young people with great ideas has been lack of capital yet there are also hundreds of companies and individuals with deep pockets who are on the lookout for good ideas that are commercially viable.

KU is building a Sh50 million incubation centre where students who have completed studies and have entrepreneurial ideas are taken through a course by experts for between six months and a year at no cost.

Prof Mugenda said the university launched the initiative in partnership with the Chandaria Foundation upon realisation that Kenya’s narrow job market was locking out millions of young people from exercising their skills in areas of specialisation and needed to be help to go into self-employment.

Enablis Africa CEO Moses Mwaura assured potential competitors of the security of their intellectual property rights, saying handlers of the submissions have signed non-disclosure agreements to prevent theft of ideas.

“Everyone who comes into contact with the business ideas has signed non-disclosure agreements that forbid them from revealing the nature of the applications,” Mr Mwaura said.

He, however, cautioned entrepreneurs against being too protective of their ideas that they fail to reveal them to potential investors since they will end up not benefiting.

Enablis is involved in setting up business plan competitions aimed at helping students from institutions of higher learning who are seeking entrepreneurship skills development to tap into growing business opportunities.

Its latest and third edition of the annual competition launched in July has attracted applications from various fields with the winners sharing a Sh3.5 million prize.

Expanding population

With the country’s population expanding by one million people per year it is expected that this will pile pressure on employment opportunities and that in the next decade, Kenya’s demographics will shift when the children reach the working age.

On its part, the government has rolled out several initiatives for the sector including the youth and women funds in an effort to accelerate job creation with the Youth Development Fund being its latest offering.

Over the past four years, the fund has advanced loans totalling Sh2.9 billion to over 90,000 entrepreneurs between the age of 18 and 35 with its instalment being Sh1.8 billion released in December last year.

The government has since failed to meet its target of creating half a million new jobs annually.