Top innovators meet potential financiers at Nairobi forum

Kelvin Macharia makes a presentation during the Next Big Thing competition’s final session at Southern Sun Hotel in Nairobi on Wednesday evening. The 12 best ideas were presented to investors with some winning financial backing. STEPHEN MUDIARI
Kelvin Macharia makes a presentation during the Next Big Thing competition’s final session at Southern Sun Hotel in Nairobi on Wednesday evening. The 12 best ideas were presented to investors with some winning financial backing. STEPHEN MUDIARI 

Twelve entrepreneurs participating in “The Next Big Thing” competition organised by the Business Daily have received financing offers from potential investors and venture capitalists as the first leg of the competition came to a close this week.

The successful candidates were picked from a pool of over 3,000 applicants and were later given the task of convincing business executives, venture capitalists and others potential investors about the financial viability of their ideas.

One of the finalists, Peter Wanyonyi, a telecommunications project manager with Saudi Telecom, presented an idea of remote voting through SMS. His idea seeks to eliminate the need for voters to be physically present at polling stations to cast their ballots during elections.

“The response was really good and I have since received two offers from individuals who wanted to buy the idea,” Mr Wanyonyi said. “I, however, declined and we are now in talks with them on a possible partnership agreement.”

Mr Wanyonyi is convinced that with the widespread use of mobile phones throughout the country, various election bodies could adopt this method, promising dual advantages of reduced costs as well as introducing instant tallying.

Another finalist, Alex Mwangi, presented an explosives detector prototype to the group of investors saying his invention would not only be cheaper than existing models but also came with the added advantage of securing larger open grounds.

Raised security

Mr Mwangi’s invention comes at a time when many businesses have raised security levels in their premises in the wake of threats by Somalia’s militant group Al-Shabaab to target Kenya.

Other ideas came from Ken Muthui, Suhash Shah, Nyagaka Ouko, Kuria Macharia, Benzer Bett and Donald Ochieng’ among others. Not only did they get a chance to sell their ideas but also interact with potential partners and financiers.

Their ideas ranged from innovations in ICT, manufacturing, tourism, green businesses and energy sectors.

The 12 also secured free services from PKF Consulting Kenya — an international business advisory firm which specialises in training SMEs on how successfully run their businesses.

Property rights

“Startup businesses are usually wanting in skills such as intellectual property rights, negotiations as well as shareholding structures if they decide to enter into partnerships,” said Njoroge Mungai, a lawyer working with PKF. “Such are the skills we will offer these businessmen at no extra cost.”

Industrialist and philanthropist Manu Chandaria welcomed some of the ideas for their potential to solve problems affecting the public. He also critiqued those he thought could be improved.

Chandaria Foundation is the major investors in Kenyatta University’s incubation centre which was involved in selecting the finalists as well as equipping them with presentation skills.

The “Next Big Thing” has been running since September and aims to empower young innovators from high school, colleges and universities with viable ideas but who lack the financing required to get them off the ground. (READ:Search for Kenya’s top innovators begins)

The initiative was a collaboration between the Nation Media Group and Kenyatta University as the knowledge partner and Enablis Africa who were in charge of logistics.

NMG chief executive Linus Gitahi said the competition’s major aim was to fight unemployment, which is one of the country’s leading social problems.

About 30 per cent of Kenyans are unemployed. “Through this initiative, we are presenting a platform through which great ideas can finally meet financing,” Mr Gitahi said. “We are playing our role in meeting what is envisioned in Vision 2030.”

Venture capitalists are continuously being seen as one way to help reduce unemployment, especially among the youth. According to statistics released by Emerging Markets Private Equity Association (EMPEA), an independent global membership association whose mission is to catalyse Private Equity and Venture Capital investment in emerging markets, 2010 saw private equity activity in the emerging markets rebound from a sluggish 2009.

Total funds raised for investment grew by four per cent to Sh2.35 trillion from Sh2.26 trillion the previous year.