Maureen Macharia's passion in helping firms tap tech to grow


Maureen Macharia, a digital business strategist. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NMG

Maureen Macharia developed a passion for technology while undertaking her university studies.

This interest led her into coming up with an education app known as Ed-tech Application. This was a platform which she designed to help primary students learn and revise through their mobile devices.

“I would gather education content and upload onto the application for the students and tests for their revision,” she says.

“I wasn’t getting paid to code when in campus as it was more of a pursuit of learning, working to hone my craft and a passion to bring ideas I loved to life using digital technology.”

After she completed her Business and Information Technology degree at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Technology (Jkuat) in 2014, she decided to set up a company that would see her fulfil her dream of self-employment.

This however was not easy as it came with its fair share of challenges, and the company folded. However, the process of unsuccessfully building the company was not in vain.

“It’s on the journey to building the company that I met a diverse, passionate and talented community of techies and tech supporters. I realised I could combine my abilities in solving complex problems, love for creative solution thinking with technology, and bring ideas to life,” she says.

She went through an advanced developers training at the then m:lab East Africa, based in Nairobi, where she says she acquired useful skills.

Among the lessons she learnt was that instead of just coming up with apps, there's a need to find out if they solve a real need. Against this background, in 2016 she started her company Spindle Design, that deals with design, data, business and technology.

“It is a design and innovation firm that exists to help catalyse innovation in Africa through an interdisciplinary team that combines competencies in research, human-centered design, data and digital development to create relevant products and businesses that address the challenges we have in Africa,” she adds.

In a month, the company works with between 10 and 15 clients. The clients range from startups and SMEs to corporate, not-for-profit organisations and technology companies.

“Our team helps businesses turn ideas into products/services and products that solve a real problem,” says Ms Macharia.

For startup programmes, the charges start from Sh30,000, which include coaching fee.

According to Ms Macharia, each engagement with her clients usually has a specific context, objective, approach, skill requirements and duration.

“We might be helping to design a digital health product for low-income communities in Kenya one day- which takes several weeks - and researching consumer online streaming behaviour another, which takes a shorter duration,” she adds.

Covid-19 saw the company make significant shifts in how they execute projects. This is considering that most of their work involves conducting qualitative and quantitative research, which before Covid-19, would be done in person and sometimes outside the country.

“One initial challenge was figuring out how to do research and prototyping new ideas remotely and sometimes with participants who do not have the infrastructure to support digital research,” she says.

Her advice to upcoming businesses is to look critically at the ideas presented to them and define value in them.

“Ideas are cheap and everyone has one and often not unique ones. It’s turning an idea into a value proposition with a defensible business,” she says.

“I look forward to collaborating with various organizations and sharing knowledge on future opportunities to shape digital Africa.”