It’s Kenya’s Moment to Shine, Private Sector Leaders Speak – GES2015KENYA
Global Entrepreneurship Summit
By Muchiri Muchoki
The Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES2015) Nairobi has knocked at the Kenyan door, and there is a huge amount of excitement in the air.
The East African economic powerhouse can never have a better opportunity to showcase to the World what mettle it is made of.
According to a recent World Bank evaluation, Kenya’s economy, estimated to have grown by 5.4% in 2014 and now projected to grow by 6% in 2015, is emerging as one of the fastest growing economies on this side of Africa, supported by lower energy costs, investment in infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing and other industries.
Given, there couldn’t be a better place to hold GES2015. There are many more reasons why this was the most ideal stop after Washington DC, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and Morocco.
According to Bob Collymore, the CEO of Safaricom, Kenya’s leading mobile network operator, there is a growing realization that Africa represents more than a market opportunity. “Africa, significantly, represents an investment opportunity to tap into a young and vibrant entrepreneurial community,” notes Collymore.
“Pointedly, this is the first time that the summit is hosted in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is a reflection of growing confidence in the Continent,” Collymore says.
Collymore isn’t alone in this class of thought. George Wachiuri, CEO of Optiven Limited Investments – a Kenyan-based real estate company that scooped the number one position at the Top 100 mid-sized companies 2014/2015 edition – thinks that this summit is a great blessing to Kenya and that it will go down in history as the first of its kind in the sub-Saharan Africa.
“Kenya is solidifying its position as the East Africa (EA) Regional hub and as the EA biggest economy. The 6th GES is also a sign that our political, economic environment is on the positive rise. This will boost investment on trade; we expect more exports to America and this has been the trend,” notes Wachiuri.
But then again, every coin has more than one side. And as much as the GES2015 will hugely benefit local entrepreneurs, the international investors also have a great chance to explore some virgin opportunities in a Continent that has so much to offer.
Solomon Mahinda, the Managing Director at Hill+Knowlton Strategies East Africa points out that this Summit is a good platform not just for Kenya and East Africa business to showcase their potential, but equally important for international investors to get a feel of opportunities they can invest in or get a foot in the region.
Mahinda notes that Kenya will send the right messages globally. “That we are not just ready for business but we also have the required capacity and knowhow to play a productive role in the global economy. Kenya has so much more to offer in the international economic landscape apart from tourism, athletics, coffee and tea. Kenya is open for business,” says Mahinda.
Back to the man in Charge of Mpesa (one of the most globally successful mobile-phone based money transfer and microfinancing service) it’s not without reason that Kenya is increasingly referred to as “Africa’s Silicon Savannah.”
“Those of us who live and work here have been aware of the opportunities that Kenyan entrepreneurs present and this summit gives broader visibility to these opportunities.
“Additionally, if you consider that the informal sector generates around 20% of GDP and creates 80% of jobs, it would be easy to understand why exposing young entrepreneurs to global investors could make a big difference to our economy,” says Collymore.
At the same time, according to Collymore, the Summit gives Kenya a chance to showcase the Country as a tourism destination.
On the other hand, Wachiuri is thrilled by the many gains that Kenya stands to reap from this GES2015.
“This will put our Country on the global map, global media coverage – Visibility brings credibility, and credibility brings profitability. This will channel many investors towards Kenya; some will come over knocking at doors of companies like Optiven Limited, seeking for partnership. Honestly, we have already received several requests to partner with American firms through Equity funding and Joint Ventures,” he quips.
“Kenyans expect a big boost on the entrepreneurship culture; we expect better Kenya-America relationship, which will boost trade investments for our Country. The media awareness will awake millions of Kenyans in Diaspora to invest back home. Currently am in Boston Massachusetts, I also did investments talks in Dallas, Texas and we saw a high level appetite on Kenyans wanting to invest back home and many did through purchase of Optiven Ltd Properties. This means that the awareness created is driving the desire within Kenyans in America to invest back home. As I did talk to them, they mentioned that “East of West Home is Best” We expect a lot more inflows back home,” says the Globetrotting Wachiuri.
He observes that Kenya also expect the inflow of foreigners to stream into Kenya. This, according to him, has already started with billions being invested in real estate, great malls coming up such as Two Rivers, Karen Mall & Garden Estate. He notes; “We are yet to see more in the near future.”
According to Wachiuri, Kenya has a chance to plug in on the big investments that will come on board. “Some of these big boys want to put money in mass transport, oil and gas. We as Kenyan entrepreneurs fit in very well on value addition within the supply chain. It’s also a call for Kenyan entrepreneurs to come together to plug in to supply the big projects such as Lapset, Standard Railway Gauge etc,” says Wachiuri.
”The Summit will provide an opportunity for businesses across our world to network, share best practices and hopefully forge business partnership, it is certainly exciting that this forum is hosted in Kenya”,a country that has experienced tremendous challenges particularly in Security,but continues to trend on” . Agnes Gitau an International Trade & Investment consultant says.
‘It is Kenya’s moment to shine!
Of course there are a lot of many young Kenyans who are really keen to not only to conquer the local market, but also to blast into the international fronts.
And in a Country whose unemployed rate increased to 40 percent in 2011 from 12.7 percent in 2006, focusing on white-colour job isn’t the wisest thing that a youth can pull on this side of the Globe.
Wilson Masaka, a Social Entrepreneur and a Web Developer based in Nairobi know this reality far too well.
“In my mind I would say, any country that consumes more than they can produce will remain poor or a 3rd world country forever, we should think quality production that is enough for local consumers and can also compete at international markets,” says Masaka.
He notes that entrepreneurship isn’t an elite club that restricts some people from joining. “Anyone can be one,” he says; “You can be either in goods or service industry whereby your product meets some needs. As a country we should.”
Of course the Government has to play a major role in creating the best enabling environment for both existing and upcoming entrepreneurs, and if Njeri Wangari’s opinion is anything to go by, so far so good on this front.
Wangari is an IT specialist and a prolific arts blogger. “The Government (of Kenya),” she notes, “has made commendable strides in supporting incubation hubs such as the Nailab where young people can access seed capital, mentorship, working space etc but there is still a lot more that needs to be done to support the whole ecosystem. Local manufacturing needs to be possible, the cost of importing computer parts, equipment and software needs to reduce by removing duty like it did with the film industry.”
She also points out that the Government should put structures in place where it is able to absorb or be consumers of some of these inventions even if it is in a small scale.
Mahinda, on his part, thinks that the Government’s role in improving the Ease of Doing Business in the Country isn’t a solo effort.
“I’m of the view that “the ease of doing business” is not a destination, it’s not an event. It is a journey, it a process with many moving parts and numerous stakeholders in concert. So, from that perspective, I think the government is making progress in trying to make all the elements come together, taxation, security, funding, empowerment, infrastructure, financial inclusion, robust money markets. All these have to be in harmony,” says Mahinda.
That private sector involvement is also alive in Wachiuri’s argument. “Kenyan entrepreneurs must be ready to open up discussions on possible partnership, joint ventures and possible value addition on global companies streaming to Kenya. Some of the American businessmen have expressed interest in LAPSET project that runs in trillions of shillings. This will open job opportunities to many students that are finishing their universities. Kenyan investors will be ready to take advantage of 40% local content as per government and Kenya Private Sector agreement.
There is even greater hope for upcoming entrepreneurs who can’t make head or tail on where to get their start-up capital.
Indeed, Venture Capital is one of the key issues up for discussion at the GES2015, and it is interesting that locally based companies are coming up with out-side-the-box solutions to this problem. A good example; Safaricom is already helping young Kenyans to step into the entrepreneurial fields, with its Spark Venture Fund.
The Fund is a US$1 million venture capital fund that aims to support the successful development and growth of high potential mobile tech start-ups in Kenya through a combination of investment, business development support and technical assistance leveraging on Safaricom’s unique capabilities, assets and market positioning.
According to Bob Collymore, this year’s beneficiaries are likely to be known over the next week or so.
(Muchiri Muchoki is the Editor of Commerce & Industry Magazine: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @muchirimuchoki)