The Covid-19 period has been one of the most challenging for businesses. But perhaps, those who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic are startups. For businesses established just before the pandemic struck, it has been baptism of fire as many have closed shop citing unnavigable stormy waters.
The big boys haven’t been spared too. Many corporates in Kenya went on a retrenchment spree in the past five months, and that, according to experts, has changed the mindsets of many employees who previously depended on salaried employment and ended up saving very little for their families.
Boniface Mutunga who undertakes a Masters in International Trade and Finance at Kenyatta University reveals that even those who are still employed have devised new methods of earning an extra coin because of the uncertainty that lies ahead.
“This virus has opened the eyes of many employees. They are now moonlighting while still attending to their jobs, by investing in their skills. Most of them are training others on skills they lack for a fee. Others are selling products online while most have ventured into consultancy,” he notes.
Wendy Omanga, founder of Moonlight Initiative, a local sustainability and circular economy consultancy told Enterprise that the pandemic is already encouraging entrepreneurship among the employed who have been laid off.
“You can see some indicators by the increased number of former employed middle class, selling food stuffs from boots of their cars to make an extra coin. The chefs who were in the hospitality industry have found innovative ways to sell food at affordable prices,” states the Kisumu-based environmentalist.
According to Idah Knowles, a gender officer at the Youth Agenda Kenya, the pandemic has reversed much of the progress made towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and further exacerbated youth unemployment, poverty and social inequality.
However, she believes that digital marketing, entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship have a promising future to address issues related to socio-economic development and to build resilience against the vagaries of coronavirus.
“By providing the youth and women with knowledge and skills in online entrepreneurship, they can have an opportunity to participate and engage more meaningfully in society through developing their own initiatives and businesses that are self-designed and self-led, and contribute positively to their own financial growth,” she expounds.
Sila Obegi, chief executive of Meta Capital, says for most Kenyans, the entrepreneurship journey may have started knowingly or unknowingly.
Most people that have lost their jobs due to this pandemic, Mr Obegi believes, already have skills that can be monetised and evolve into a business, and that could lead to a rise in new entrepreneurs in post-Covid-19 period.
“I believe that the entrepreneurship journey especially in the service industry starts at mastering a skill by learning and practicing. Next is to find ways to monetise the skill as a business. Next is to find a team to help grow the business, then build systems to enable the business sustain itself,” he says.
The pandemic seems to have spurred growth in agricultural entrepreneurship, as more youths turn to the sector to cast their net wider in making extra cash.
But according to Victor Mugo, the country coordinator of Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network, most youths have ventured into agribusiness because of the hype, and may end up in losses since they shy away from investing their time in skills and knowledge.
“This hope of the youth transitioning to agribusiness might just be very challenging as most of them have ventured into farming without the right support and capacity. More support is required to harness this surge of interest in agriculture by the youth,” he says.
During the crisis, the health sector has attracted many small business owners as many itinerant traders have resorted to selling masks, face shields, sanitisers and hand washing cans.
“There has been a rise of digital marketing even for small businesses and more people are embracing the use of gadgets and e-commerce platforms for business purposes, since physical business have many operational costs that cannot be met. Even creative arts are getting more attention online as performances turn to Zoom to reach viewers,” says Kilifi-based innovator Nassim Jahangir.
Investors in the tourism and education sectors have had a rough time, with many hotels and tour companies closing business as schools remain closed till next year.
This has forced some private schools to convert their classrooms into farming units, generating income in the process.
Peter Frederick Moll, chief executive and founder of youth advocacy organisation Stand Up Shout Out, says only those who are few brave and wise enough to take the chances the pandemic has offered will survive in the new normal.
“The pandemic has created many new entrepreneurs but it has also closed many businesses, startups and stopped many who were just getting started. In this crisis there is great opportunity for one to innovate and create the future they want but sadly, only few have been able to grab these opportunities,” he points out.
But just like a wild fire consumes a forest, Mr Moll explains, and it rains on the land to allow new vegetation to grow, the virus presents a chance to businesses to emerge stronger.
“During a forest fire, many key ecosystem recyclers such as insects, small animals, and crawlers die away. This is exactly what the pandemic is doing to our entrepreneurs. We need to ensure that we create conducive environments and stimulus packages for both those who have been lucky as well as for those businesses crumpled.”
According to Benazir Mohamed, a creative artist, the pandemic has become a double-edged sword, where some businesses have thrived while others have had to go back to the drawing board to restructure.
“The businesses that have picked up are those that have been using technology where no contact is needed. Those that need direct contact with customers have suffered. But the pandemic will spur entrepreneurship because we are now thinking of ‘what if?’ It is the period of rethinking, restructuring and restarting,” he says.