The weekend provides a platform where passionate, driven, and like-minded people can come together to create creative inclusive innovative solutions
NAIROBI, Kenya: Nine teams. Nine technology ideas.
54 hours later, three final winners: Inclusive utilities for all; financial literacy through gaming and a village that uses organic and bio waste to generate energy.
These were the three winning ideas selected at the Techstars Startup Weekend in Nairobi, held from July 23-25, 2021 at the iHiT Kenya Innovation Hub in Nairobi. The ideas were judged on how well they were designed to solve some of their community’s pressing social and economic problems.
Startup Weekend is a flagship program by Techstars, an American-founded global network that supports entrepreneurs. The weekend provides a platform where passionate, driven, and like-minded people can come together to create creative inclusive innovative solutions.
“Startup Weekend is a global event that will afford Kenyans a chance to build on for one to put their ideas, get useful feedback and mentorship, thrashing through the idea and to implement a minimum viable product,” said Favour Ruhui, from Startinev, a Startup enabler and Techstars local partner.
On the final day of the weekend, nine teams pitched their ideas to a five-judge panel. The judges awarded two groups position one, that is, AkiliKash and K-Macho. At number three was Circular Village.
The winning teams spoke to the Safaricom Newsroom about the inspiration behind their projects, their journey from ideation to realisation and the plans to make them a reality.
Brian Ndiritu, a student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), has witnessed one of the most profound effects of financial illiteracy. Once, his close friend lost his upkeep money to gambling and what Brian could only describe as poor financial decisions.
“I thought to myself, financial literacy was just as critical as any other life skills,” he recalls. “I wondered if there was any way to provide financial information in an easy way for any young person like me would make better financial decisions.”
He is a gamer, and he had experienced the highs and lows that come with losing and winning and the lessons and character-building that comes with participating in a game.
“As an avid gamer, I saw an opportunity to come up with an idea for an online mobile-based and board game with different levels that teaches business and financial concepts,” he said.
He would later team up with Alice Barugira, Zacharia Moseti, and Collins Kyengo to come up with the idea they eventually named AkiliKash.
How it works
Players on either the online mobile-based or board game will learn business and financial concepts such as investments, importance of saving and financial risks through games with different levels. There will be a reward for all the right financial choices made and losses for when a player makes a wrong financial decision. Additionally, the game will also have additional information for the player to follow up long after the game is played.
Brian’s team brainstormed the idea further in an intense process that saw the team, with the guidance of mentors and other industry players define their problem statement, value proposition, the target customers, the business model and how to make the idea inclusive to people with various disabilities.
“Gaming is a great way to learn new concepts, improve engagement and enable behaviour change. We envision the board game to have wider texts for people with low vision and Braille for the visually impaired people as well as voice outputs for visually impaired if they opt to play the online version,” Brian said.
He added: “We have the idea and the dream of how this will work. The next step is to work with a team of design thinkers, game developers, communications experts, and financial advisors to bring our idea to life.”
Brian, who hopes to graduate in December with a degree in Corporate Communication and Management, intends to bring communications skills to the team crucial to develop the game as well as to seek out partners and key stakeholders.
Collins, a finalist at JKUAT pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce with a focus on accounting, plans to bring on board his financial and accounting expertise to AkiliKash.
Zacharia is a certified data analyst with over 10 years’ experience working with data and knowledge management systems.
“AkiliKash is a service that is data driven and will rely heavy on my data mining and analysis skills to deliver the best customer experience,” Zacharia said.
Alice is a tech enthusiast, has an education background in commerce and currently works in marketing.
“I believe that AkiliKash needs to be heard and known by youth and across our borders. With my marketing skills we can tell a story of AkiliKash that will educate and most importantly have an impact in improving financial literacy,” Alice said.
Paul Mugambi, a public policy scholar, accessibility evangelist and expert, once spent two days in a blackout as being blind, he had not realised that the tokens for his pre-paid electricity connection had run out.
He did not know how to buy and punch the tokens into the device provided by the power company, and that’s how his winning idea came about.
“I wanted to come up with a solution for people like me but an inclusive solution for everyone, ensuring you leave no one behind. Not just to make such payments but also to get alerts when these utilities are about to go off. That is how the idea for K-Macho came to be,” Paul said.
Driven by the desire to make payment for utility services such as electricity or water more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities, he worked in a team with Sairin Lupia, and Waciuma Billy Kimara.
Waciuma Billy Kimara, currently enrolled in Kenyatta University’s Community Resource Management course is passionate about reducing inequalities due to disabilities.
“My background in community facilitation coupled with the experience of living with visible and invisible disabilities bolsters my strong passion for social innovation with an emphasis on inclusivity,” he said.
Sairin a third-year mechanical engineering student at the University of Nairobi will support the team in coding and the technical aspects of the idea. Additionally, he will also bring on board some financial and accounting skills as he is a Certified Public Accountant.
How it works
K-Macho seeks to integrate voice command option into paying for utilities such as electricity in such a way that once the user buys tokens, they are automatically loaded on the utility device and the user will only need to confirm and verify some voice prompts.
“We intend to empower our disabled and elderly by instilling a sense of independence and self-reliance as envisioned in the Sustainable Development Goals. Users will be able to purchase and install electricity tokens or pay their utility bills with ease,” said Waciuma.
Paul also hopes the skills gained from his master’s degree in public policy from the Australian National University and the undergraduate degree in Special Education will be instrumental in their idea.
“I hope to inspire other people in the disability space to come out and share their ideas and innovative solutions,” he said.
Paul, Brian and Waciuma were part of 15 participants sponsored to attend the event by Light for the World, an organisation that supports sustainable work opportunities for people with disabilities. Light for the World also trained the event organisers, mentors, and the judges how to best support participants with various disabilities.
Daniel Lind, who is Swedish, came up with the idea for the Circular Village, after visiting Kenya. His team members John Ndwiga, Innocent Baluge, Joshua Kanyi and Emmanuel Ochieng helped to refine, localise and contextualise the idea for the Kenyan market.
How it works
CircularVillages is premised on the idea of energy self-sufficient villages with a key focus on waste management to create a circular system to provide the basic energy needs. The end goal is to create circular self-sufficient micro-economies which continuously empower the inhabitants of the village.
“Our idea seeks to turn the agricultural and bio waste into gas and energy for use in rural households. The circular energy production and consumption will not only take care of the community but also the planet,” Daniel shared.
Innocent, a Strathmore University student pursuing a Bachelor of Business Information Technology, plans to bring on board his entrepreneurial and social innovation skills.
“In the past two years I have worked on different social entrepreneurial projects under Enactus, an experiential learning platform that builds the capacity of entrepreneurial leaders to use innovation and business principles. I was involved in a data-driven agricultural project dedicated to small holder farmers.”
Joshua, a fourth year Bachelor of Education Science student at Kenyatta University hopes to bring to the project his mathematics and physics know-how.
Emmanuel is passionate about clean energy, environmental sustainability and Artificial Intelligence. The mechanical engineering student at JKUAT brings to his team industrial, socioeconomic and innovation skills to make the CircularVillage idea a reality.
John’s interest in sustainable development, youth empowerment, entrepreneurship and technology put him in good stead to help CircularVillage into a commercial product. He also runs an eco-tourism company and a start-up that provides digital solutions.
Daniel brings on board multicultural experience and insights having lived in 7 countries and travelled to over 20 working as a Social Impact consultant in the past decade. He is passionate about building human-centric social system designs based on empowering communities and marginalised groups.
Start-up ecosystem in Kenya
Kenya is making strides in setting up the ecosystem for start-ups to thrive in the country.
For instance, through the World Bank Group funding, Startup Savanna, launched in May 2021, seeks to connect the Kenyan ecosystem to international experts, investment, and support infrastructure, contributing to job creation, business growth, and sustainability. Startup Savanna is nestled in the Kenya Industry and Entrepreneurship Project (KIEP) that is implemented by the Ministry of Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development.
Bitange Ndemo, a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business, writing in a recent commentary notes Kenya leads on the continent in start-ups. Superseding Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt to become the top destination of total combined raised capital in 2020.
Jesse Muraya, an organiser at the event said: “Techstars is driven by three simple ideas—entrepreneurs create a better future for everyone, collaboration drives innovation, and great ideas can come from anywhere. The weekend connects start-ups, investors, corporations, and cities to help build thriving Startup communities. I am proud to be the lead facilitator, for the second time, Techstars Startup Weekend in Nairobi to solve some of their community’s pressing social and economic problems through creative inclusive innovative solutions.”
While there was no cash prize for the Techstars winners, the top one teams will be awarded with free enrolment at the Acceleration program by Startup Savanna, free membership at the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI), free training by Ubunifu College (an Emerging technology training institute), mentorship and coaching sessions by Startinev and three months access to the co-working space at iHiT Kenya Innovation Hub. Circular Village will get free membership at KNCCI, free training by Ubunifu College and mentorship and coaching sessions by Startinev.
Other gifts for all participants included access to Google Cloud Platform to help the start-ups to build web/mobile apps. The participants also received $300 in credit to build their apps. The teams can also use Google Trends + Market Finder to test if there is a growing demand for their product and in which markets. Additionally, each participant got a free domain name with GoDaddy Registry.