Thursday, February 29, 2024

Kenya Taps Innovators to Ride Out the Covid-19 Storm


Shortly after Covid-19 pandemic arrived in Kenya, the government launched an innovation contest aimed at birthing solutions that would help the population weather the storm and ensure sustainable practices in the post-coronavirus society.

Some 300 startups across the country responded, throwing their hats into the ring. The number would later be whittled down to only three, based on the strength of the proposition and practicality.

Government-owned Konza Technopolis Development Authority (KoTDA), which is overseeing the creation of the proposed Konza smart city a few miles outside Nairobi, took charge of the implementation of the ‘hackathon’ dubbed the Great Covid-19 Innovation Challenge.

Pitching, business plan reviews and several rounds of vetting would all be conducted virtually amid social distancing rules and travel curbs.

“It’s in times of adversity such as the Covid-19 that innovators are called upon to step up to the challenge and offer solutions. Previous crises have birthed great innovations and this one should too,” said John Tanui, the Konza authority CEO.

Finally, after the ideas slugfest, three startups recently made it to the coveted top-three list, receiving financial and technical support to scale up.

In the first place was Startup Suite, a software and web-based service provider whose products are geared towards enabling small businesses to seamlessly operate remotely from home by digitising and automating functions.

“Our company has 15 people working from different parts of the country. We have been working remotely for the past four years and so we’ve over time developed experience. However, managing projects was often a challenge and so we had to find an internal solution for ourselves first. With the coronavirus, we figured many businesses could be experiencing the problems we initially encountered associated with virtual working and hence the birth of Startup Suite,” said Brian Nyagol, the co-founder and CEO of Brainverse Technologies – the parent company.

As a spinoff, Startup Suite functions as an all- in-one platform for small firms to remotely manage employees and assess their performance, run customer relations and monitor ongoing projects, able to tell who is doing what. There’s also an added a feature of mobile money, M-Pesa.

In the second position in the contest was Zinake, a web-based platform that connects skilled casual workers with employers who need temporary workers at the click of a button. The platform has a database of certified workers including technicians, repairmen, plumbers, welders, gardeners and those who can work in factories and construction sites.

Finally, the third spot went to Ukulima Tech, which is in the business of installing vertical gardens in the balconies and backyards of urban residents. The aim is to fan an urban farming revolution right from people’s apartments and homes, ensuring a steady supply stream of quality organic food crops at the household level. Besides, this could open a revenue stream for urban dwellers through sales of surplus produce.

The hackathon focused on three thematic challenge areas – health systems innovation, food systems innovation and dignified work.

The Minister of ICT, Joe Mucheru, said that the national data centre located at Konza Technopolis and managed by KoTDA will offer a platform for hosting the applications emerging from the competition. Upon completion, Konza is expected to ignite a full-blown innovation revolution in Kenya, often billed to be Africa’s Silicon Savannah.

To better implement the nationwide Covid-19 innovation project, KoTDA joined hands with the Association of Countrywide Innovation Hubs, and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

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