Varsities' incubation hubs key to Kenya growth

The front view of the Management Science building at Strathmore University. The institution is among Kenyan universities hosting an incubation centre where entrepreneurs with green projects will be nurtured to scale up their ideas into viable businesses.

The tertiary education landscape in Kenya is taking a new shape with most universities shifting focus to a concept that, a few years back, was seen as a preserve of the West.

It is no business as usual as most Kenyan universities choose to actively indulge in developing entrepreneurial skills among students in what has come to be known as incubation centres.

The move is aimed at empowering students to be self-employed upon graduation, thereby reducing pressure on the ever thinning employment space.

Africa Policy Institute CEO Peter Kagwanja says cultivating business ideas among youths early holds the key to lifting the country’s economy to a higher pedestal, and could provide a solution to the ever rising cases of unemployment currently standing at 70 per cent among the youth.

“Centres for nurturing entrepreneurial ideas among learning institutions could help the country break the unemployment stalemate,” Prof Kagwanja told the Business Daily, adding that the government should institute sound policies geared towards encouraging more of these centres.

And it seems universities have no qualms sinking massive figures into these projects albeit with support from a number of organisations.

It is estimated that upon completion in few months, the innovation centre at Strathmore University will have cost the institution Sh10 million. Here, budding entrepreneurs will be given seed capital to kick-start their projects. The state-of-the-art facility will accommodate up to 50 entrepreneurs and comes with a tech hub. Additionally, there are offices for Business Process Outsourcing (BPOs), business mentorship and consultation.

The manager in charge John Matogo disclosed that the unit is earmarked to boost ICT innovation, entrepreneurship and incubation of business ideas.

The university said the new facility is part of their strategy to expand the existing IlabAfrica centre and increase business opportunities.

Mr Matogo said the Idea Foundation from Norway had committed about Sh13 million ($160, 000) to support four viable projects in four rounds this year. This means at least 16 budding entrepreneurs will get an average Sh800, 000 for their enterprises.

On the other hand, Kenyatta University, with the support from the Chandaria Foundation has invested more than Sh50 million towards the Chandaria Business Innovation and Incubation Centre. It is expected to be launched early next month and will admit 18 to 25 students for entrepreneurship training for between six months and a year.

The ultra-modern facility is meant to ignite the entrepreneurial spirit of students and make them to rely less on formal employment through provision of seed capital and networking.

The University of Nairobi boasts of the AfriLab centre which was set up in 2011 and brings together student innovators with the objective of designing new products.

In the past, universities have been blamed for focusing on teaching theoretical courses which have driven students to rely heavily on the limited formal jobs market as the skills do not prepare them for enterprise.

Others that have in the past shown interest in incubation concept are Egerton University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

According to a report by the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA), incubation programmes can play an integral role in bridging the gap between knowledge acquired in school and entrepreneurial skills. The report said most start-ups face difficulties in patenting their products besides finding market for new products.

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