A World class University is all Konza Technocity Needs: The rest will follow

What is the present day silicon valley might not have become what it is without the existence of Stanford University. In 1876 when former California Governor Leland Stanford bought their first 650 acres of land for a country home in San Francisco, he certainly didn’t have silicon valley in mind. Even as the Stanford couple were deciding to setup an institution in memory of their gone-too-soon son in 1884, the option of setting up a private university appeared not to be a first choice.  As the Stanfords made exploratory visits to the then established MIT, Harvad and John Hopkins universities, they probably didn\’t imagine the scale of impact that would arise from setting up “yet another university” – in memory of Leland Junior. Here is an account of Stanford University\’s history and the rise of silicon valley.

Google Map Screen Damp of Silicon Valley in 2015
A Google Maps Screen Dump of Silicon Valley
That happenings in Silicon valley over the years have shaped the global economy is not in doubt. That many cities and regions in the world are trying hard to replicate the silicon valley effect is also a major discourse often contentious. Robert Metcalfe, co-inventor of ethernet and founder of 3COM once said, “Silicon Valley is the only place on earth not trying to figure out how to become Silicon Valley.” Many people, industry pundits and scholars alike argue that pursuit of such isomorphism is not the way for nations to build globally competitive innovation ecosystems. This school of thought is agreeable partly as far as the ingredients that nurtured Silicon valley over a century could by now be assembled over a shorter period elsewhere. Even so, looking up to Silicon valley will remain unavoidable for as long as we still have a growing list of world changing enterprises springing out of the Bay Area across the decades.
Back home in Africa and Kenya, Konza Technocity is an idea that may have become tired in the minds of industry pundits. I am convinced that establishing a university within the designated space or within 10km radius of the planned city is all that is required for the city to take off. In fact so far I have seen many industry commentators change from antagonism to surprising support of Konza Technocity when the idea of prioritizing a university kicks in to the debate. By establishing a university at Konza Technocity, I don\’t mean just any university: I mean a university designed and led with obsession for innovation and entrepreneurship. I also mean a university designed with sensitivity to local education dynamics, while at the same time uncompromisingly achieving world class standards of management and research excellence from the onset.
Construction of road infrastructure at Konza Technocity in April 2015

Many opponents of Konza Technocity fault its current focus on real estate and infrastructure development as efforts away from the so called \”industry priority\” for human capacity development. Few weeks back in my article on why Konza Technocity will not be a white elephant, I argued that execution towards long term and mid-term objectives must not be mutually exclusive. In fact the case of fast tracking establishment of a world class university is a near perfect match of seeking medium term objectives concurrently with the long term ones. It may not take over a year for fast tracked infrastructural components of a university to come up in Konza. It could take about three years to start graduating world class talent at the university if its structured as a final two year phase of a four year degree program whose first phase is undertaken in existing universities.

Google Maps Screen Dump of The Egerton University Town

Perhaps the story of Stanford and the Bay Area is too abstract for someone considering the reality of government projects and global industry dynamics affecting Kenya. The storyline can be approached from first principles. For instance we have seen thriving new University towns in Kenya. From Egerton, to Maseno, to Daystar and other universities, we see independently thriving ecosystems. These ecosystems include players in transport, agricultural supply chain, hostels and real estate providers, entertainment and others meeting the needs of students, faculty and support staff. This is because human capital development does not thrive in a vacuum. The universities even need primary and secondary schools for children of faculty and support staff, as well as health care services. Emergent aspects of such an ecosystem would be the interest of large multinationals such as Google, Microsoft and IBM setting up affiliations with the university and ostensibly building their on-the-ground mechanisms for harnessing the university\’s talent. Interest in talent and research outputs from the university will also interest local enterprises keen about global scale and competitiveness. More important though is the prospect of university grown startups incubated or accelerated by the university\’s obsession with innovation and entrepreneurship.

Although Stanford University kick started Silicon Valley, it is is not the only significant academic institution shaping the history of technological innovation. Many other top universities have continued to fuel the valley\’s momentum including other notable names in the Bay Area such as University of California Berkelay. There would be space for other universities in Kenya and the world over to contribute to Konza Technocity\’s talent pool. Indeed there\’s space for multiple universities to be physically within the Konza area. The case for Konza attracting global talent in tandem with churning out its own local talent is a matter for another article so I hold my thoughts.
One useful improvement from the first Konza masterplan in the second one delivered by the Masterplan Delivery Partners is bringing forward establishment of a university campus from the second of four year phases to the first phase. Granted the Konza Technocity Authority (KOTDA) already has the elaborate master plan, I think it is not too late to tweak parts of the masterplan so as to further further fast track establishment of its first university. I am of the opinion that merely having a university in the first phase of the masterplan is not enough. In fact the university establishment may need to be hived off and expedited ahead of any bureaucracy or slow process for implementing the masterplan.
I see several big unanswered questions about actualizing this route for KOTDA and other stakeholders of Konza Technocity.
  1. Who would own that urgently needed first university in Konza and how will KOTDA\’s procurement dynamics play out?
  2. How do we ensure that the university is run with the desired obsessive focus on innovation and entrepreneurship?
  3. How do we ensure that the university is as a world class institution from the onset – especially considering that University of Nairobi, Kenya\’s best ranked university at number 855 globally in 2014 may not be considered world class as yet.
There are potential answers to these questions. For instance there could be an efficiently administered tender for the world\’s Ivy league schools to establish a campus at Konza, potentially partnering with local public universities who understand the local terrain. An ivy league university with innovation and entrepreneurship focus such as Stanford could also partner with government institutions such as counties surrounding Konza to co-own and run such a university. I would play down the prospect of a purely private sector driven initiative such as a green field new university regardless of their level of capitalisation. This is because procurement dynamics of KOTDA are such that an intra-governmental procurement conversations could advance faster than arms length transactions.

End of an epoch: Reflections on four years at the m:lab

The last days of February are my final moments at the helm of m:lab East Africa – the m:lab. Its now 4 years since I took up a challenge from the m:lab consortium comprising iHub, eMobilis, University of Nairobi and the World Wide Web foundation to setup and run programs at the m:lab. Back in February 2011, the consortium had just won a much coveted opportunity to host the East Africa instance of infoDev’s mLab concept. Other World Bank supported mLabs would be in Southern Africa (South Africa), Eastern Europe and Central Asia (Armenia), East Asia (Vietnam). The South Asia mLab in Pakistan would not quite take off.

the m:lab as a construction project early 2011
Looking back four years, its been a great experience, sometimes a roller coaster ride – a great thrill, but very importantly; a learning experience for me. With time I was surrounded by a great team; incredibly dedicated with fabulous execution abilities. Representatives of the consortium organizations served as an awesome oversight board that became our biggest fans. With such a team and board level fan base, and a clear opportunity to impact the East African start-up ecosystem, I have my considered successes and failures. My picks for top 7 apparent successes would be:
  1. Hype and Substance: Helping to sustain interest and to create hype about applications, entrepreneurship and start-ups in mobile technology was fulfilling. Apparently this may have been at the expense of other IT sub sectors – an outcome that we did not quite anticipate. The ICT Authority and iHub were co-protagonists in this. The substance would always come behind the hype, and that may continue to be the case – see the authoritative video opinions of hype and substance in the East African Context as discussed during PIVOT East 2014.
  2. Brand Building: Building and curating the m:lab East Africa and PIVOT East names into strong formidable brands as regards mobile innovations and start-ups was quite an achievement. Apparently these two brands are strong offline among software developers, corporates in the mobile space and international development agencies. The brands are quite strong in the social media space but their following on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn would be a more objective metric to look at for those with interest. For PIVOT East, a home grown brand to compare favourably against the entry of fairly established brands such as DEMO, Seed Stars, Sankalp, Startup Sauna and others, our team must have done very well.
  3. Interventions for startups: Discovering, and supporting some top next generation high growth start-ups has been fulfilling. To name a few, without any order of remembrance or preference, we have supported Kopokopo (9 months), Totohealth (10 months – ongoing), Eneza Education (24 months), Mfarm (24 months), Uhasibu (24 months), Ma3route (18 months ongoing), MPayer (24 months), MTL / Mshop (24 months – spun off Sendy) and MedAfrica (9 months).
  4. iSarura – Rwandan Startup at PIVOT East
    Image Credits: mlab East Africa

    PIVOT East program: I have seen many alumnus of our four year old PIVOT East program go on to succeed or learn lessons to build great new startups. Somehow I had a soft spot for Tanzanian start-ups such as Go Finance, TiME Tickets and Ubongo Kids and they have not let us down. Overall the PIVOT East program has grown beyond being a potentially \”hit and run\” conference to a substantive start-up acceleration program and support network. Seeing finalist start-ups from Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and most recently Online Hisab from Ethiopia has been quite satisfying. Seeing some start-ups prudently utilise the little PIVOT East linked funding coming from our modest surpluses was always gratifying.

  5. Worthwhile Experiments: With the immense latitude allowed by the board, we experimented with virtual incubation, a secondary incubation site at the GreenHouse (supported by Nokia) and the mobile impact ventures program focusing on Agriculture, Education and Health startups supported by both Tony Elumelu and Rockefeller Foundations.

    Wireless Wednesday Session in Progres
    Image Credits: m:lab East Africa

    Through these experiments, we are proud to have supported startups such as Ma3Racer, Fomobi, Lipisha, Elimu, Totohealth, Tuma Karo, Smart Farmer, Sokonect, and tens of others I forget. The experiments in startup incubation got us lots of lessons to reflect on and apply in future programs as the significance of the in-residence type of start-up interventions diminishes. Another experiment that would become quite a success and a regular fixture for us would be the \”Wireless Wednesday\” program. The regional ICT4ag competition we organised for CTA was quite fulfilling seeing that startups involved such as Ensibuuko and FarmDrive are going strong.

  6. Ecosystem Partnerships: Unknown to many observers, running the m:lab and any other start-up friendly initiative is a very entrepreneurial role. Keeping the m:lab doors open during and after the modest but critical grant from infoDev (the World Bank) was always a challenge. This meant dreaming up and pursuing intricate value conversations with industry players. Over the four years we have had a wide range of fruitful partnerships and collaborations with infoDev (World Bank), Chase Bank, Samsung, Nokia, Microsoft, Intel, Qualcomm, Facebook, Motorola Solutions (Now Zebra Technologies), Motorola Solutions Foundation, Safaricom, Seacom, USAID, Mercy Corps, CTA, The Global Impact Investing Network, Omidydar Network, CGAP, Crowd Valley, Savannah Fund, Viktoria Solutions and ACCION. There\’s other partners I will beg forgiveness for forgetting to mention. Having numerous high value individual volunteers may easily be the single biggest reason we achieved our apparent successes. These included business coaches and mentors from across East Africa and across the globe. Experiencing such generosity with people\’s valuable time always reminded me that the world has good people.
  7. Training 400+ Mobile App. Developers: From the infoDev sponsored 4-6 month programs to 6-12 week programs in partnership with Microsoft, Intel and others, we have had fairly successful rounds of honing skills of mobile

    Trainees at 4th wave of infoDev sponsored training
    Image Credits: m:lab East Africa

    applications developers. As opposed to our other programs, these trainings admitted individuals and not start-up teams. The trainings have mostly covered technical skills coupled with entrepreneurship, a bit of user experience design skills. The success of this program may be symbolized by the number of start-ups that were formed as an inspiration if the program such as mTracker and mVerified. Many got scholarships to Strathmore University\’s Msc program and many improved their employment chances. Surprisingly many created almost passive revenues ranging from $200 – $2,000 per month from apps used internationally from app stores – especially the Nokia store. More evidently however, the program\’s success is symbolized by MobiDev Solutions, a consulting outfit that sprung out of the fourth wave of the infoDev sponsored training late 2012. About ten of them dared me to support them as they created a mobile software consulting outfit. That would be a difficult gamble on my part as they would not meet my purist definition of a start-up. I can now bet on them being one of the biggest software consulting outfits in the region – in the next couple of years.

The Fail Fair!! One of my greatest lessons at the m:lab was to celebrate failure and to learn from it. My top 5 most memorable failures have been:
  1. Third party investments: Although PIVOT is an investor pitching program, among the 100 start-ups we have supported, conversion from investor linkages to actual investments has remained low (with a couple of surprises). Although startups supported by the m:lab had many potential linkages to source of venture capital, not many of them with founders from within the region closed funding deals. I spare my hypothesis about the apparently low deal closure rate for another long blog article. For now it may be worthwhile for interested readers to watch to related views of Mbwana (Savannah Fund), Johnni(Growth Hub), and Andreata (TLCom Capital) in the PIVOT East video

  2. The seed fund that would become: Soon after concluding the first edition of PIVOT East in 2011 – then named PIVOT 25, I was convinced that a long term and more sustainable revenue model for m:lab would include success sharing with supported startups. This to me would ultimately be strengthened by coupling our intervention with seed capital for startups through our own investment vehicle. That continues to be our much envisaged but not exactly executed sustainability strategy. To be fair, we have ended up making some micro-investments thus far. However, many might argue that an embedded fund has never been necessary for m:lab. Perhaps in future I shall get a chance to blog more about the many lessons learned while trying unsuccessfully to set up this fund.
  3. Financial Sustainability: I like to laugh away at how in our first set of strategic objectives, we envisaged for m:lab to be financially sustainable within the first one year. In hindsight, I would consider the thought that I treated financial sustainability for the m:lab as a sprint rather than a marathon. There are some value propositions, materializing or otherwise that I would have been better off monetizing gradually and incrementally. Inasmuch as we have made progress and de-risked much of our business model, the m:lab remains a startup in that we may not have arrived at a repeatable and scalable business model.
  4. Applications testing and the famous sandbox: Whenever developers complain to Safaricom and others about the absence of a sandbox for testing USSD and SMS apps, I always looked down thinking how much we at the m:lab were best placed to make the sandbox a reality. I could try and explain this failure away but the fact is mobile developers in the region (at least Kenya) do not have an affordable, reliable way of testing low tech mobile applications for which the market is very ready.

    The m:lab\’s Applications Testing Facility
    Image Credits: m:lab East Africa

    Our famous testing room is a great and useful resource although I would have loved to see more developers scheduling time to test phones. The m:lab team continues to learn about these things.

  5. Rusty Blogging – Considering I am the long-post type of blogger, the hustle and bustle of running m:lab took its toll on my ability to churn out as many blog posts and reflections on the startup ecosystem as I wished to. Working with numerous startups and industry players has a way of highlighting key patterns and trends about teams, product development, and the market structure. The article I wrote early 2014 on startup team composition is perhaps the best I did to share my synthesis of these patterns and trends. I regret that I didn\’t write more to capture the wealth of such insights through blog articles. Apparently, the article on estimating startup market size through Facebook audience insights didn\’t generate as much interest as I thought so it may be yet another challenge to bring the right startup topics to the fore.
  6. Weak government linkages – Perhaps having been part of the Kenya government system has a way of keeping one away from government relationships. I did some time as part of a government system before getting the the m:lab. For the most part while at the m:lab, I failed to adequately pursue collaboration opportunities with Kenya government institutions such as the ICT Authority, NACOSTI, CAK and the ministry of industrialization and enterprise development. In general I was not a government connections guy and that may have cost the m:lab much.
  7. There\’s many successes and failures on my part that I don’t remember. I shall let readers here guess and comment on these that I forget or conveniently fail to share.

So what\’s next?
The m:lab has great prospects! The board and team I leave behind are great! Building on our successes and failures will open a new chapter for the m:lab and its affiliates for its prosperity in the next couple of years.

As for me, I enrolled for doctoral studies at the University of Nairobi back in 2013. Currently my research area traverses information systems, entrepreneurship and agriculture in somewhat unrealistic ways. Its been quite an evolution and a while now since enrollment and its told anecdotally that over 60% of people who start such studies the world over don\’t complete to graduate. 2015 is the year I have set aside to improve my chances of falling on the 40% side. I shall remain a strong exponent for tech startups in the region. Perhaps I shall also drink more water than wine in an economic space where entrepreneurial ventures are our best chance for emancipating our masses from poverty and injustice.

My reflections would be incomplete if I did not mention that working with Erik Hersman, Ken Mwenda and more recently, Josiah Mugambi who represented co-leads of the m:lab consortium was the most supportive and reassuring aspect of running the m:lab. Toni Eliasz and Dr. Tim Kelly from infoDev (World Bank) were another great source of encouragement.

Using Facebook’s Audience Insights to Estimate East Africa’s Digital Market Size

Global social media giant Facebook has over 1Billion monthly active users. The immense popularity of Facebook reflects easily in internet usage patterns among people in East Africa. Back in 2010, a research by Synovate indicated that 79% of internet users in Kenya had Facebook accounts. The Communications Authority of Kenya( CA) – formerly CCK places the number of internet users in Kenya at 21 million as at December 2013.

I am skeptical about the CA\’s estimation formula for estimating number of internet users in Kenya. However if the trend highlighted by Synovate in 2010 remained, and CA\’s number was close to accurate, there would be about 16 million Facebook accounts belonging to Kenyans. That said many people having a Facebook account reflects how many people became aware of it and signed up, not necessarily those who use it actively (eg. at least once a month). The 16million estimate on Facebook users would therefore not be a reliable benchmark for market estimation among start ups or corporate marketers.

Of Facebook\’s Audience Insights

Shortly after the PIVOT East conference in June, I had a chat with Matthew Papakipos – Facebook\’s Engineering Director that was an eye opener. Matthew took me through Facebook\’s new audience insights tool that helps to reveal not only Facebook user demographics (anonymised) but also inferences about the general internet market place. The tool which was launched for US markets early May, and is now available in other markets will change how regional digital entrepreneurs estimate their market sizes.

To feed my never ending curiosity about mobile devices used in the East African market place, I used the tool to quickly generate a table comparing some key numbers. The tabulation below begins to tell how East Africa, though with much potential falls behind Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa on active internet use.

<!–td {border: 1px solid #ccc;}br {mso-data-placement:same-cell;}
Population (million)²
Facebook Monthly Active People¹
Total Own Mobile Devices Own Android Devices
1 Kenya 43.18 4m-4.5m 3m-3.5m 1m-1.5m
2 Uganda 36.35 1m-1.5m 1m-1.5m 250K-300K
3 Tanzania 47.78 1.5m-2m 1.5m-2m 600K-700K
4 Rwanda 11.46 350K-400K 300K-350K 100K-150K
5 Burundi 9.85 100K-150K 70K-80K 20K-25K
East Africa³ 148.62 7m-8m 6m-7m 2m-2.5m
Ethiopia 91.73 1.5m-2m 1.5m-2m 500K-600K
South Africa 51.19 10m-15m 9m-10m 2.5m-3m
Nigeria 168.8 10m-15m 10m-15m 3m-3.5m
Egypt 80.72 15m-20m 10m-15m 7m-8m
¹ Facebook Audience Insights as at 4th July 2014
² World Bank 2012 Country Statistics
³ Aggregate numbers for 5 East African countries
A further glance at the audience insights roughly hints at the popularity of feature phones across East Africa at about 50%. From the insights, about a third of mobile devices owned by Facebook\’s monthly active users run on android – by far leading other smart phone operating systems such as Windows and Apple IoS. Popularity of android in Egypt stands out, estimated at about 70% of mobile devices (using the lower limit data points).

A promising market place for digital entrepreneurs 

A closer look at the figures above indicates much potential for East Africa as a common market place among digital entrepreneurs. The region\’s close to 150 million residents compares only with Nigeria\’s population of 170 million. East Africa\’s 150 million people coupled with the prospects of integrating the traditional East African economy with Ethiopia (92million people) portends even much more for regional digital entrepreneurs.

Assuming that  East Africa\’s people will rapidly embrace internet and mobile technologies, the next few 3-5 years may deliver a digital revolution to the economies involved. This is especially if the regional economies persist at increasing coverage of 3G and 4G across the countries. The promise of this increased mobile network coverage is quite evident in Ethiopia and Rwanda.

Why Team Composition in Tech Startups Matters Much

Since 2011, the m:lab has organised PIVOT East – an annual competition for mobile startups in East Africa. Much has evolved about the competition since the inaugural edition was held as PIVOT 25. Some of the evolutions were aptly captured by Nicholas Friederici, a World Bank consultant then documenting the Tech ecosystem in East Africa in this article.

MedAfrica (MedKenya) winning team of PIVOT 25 in 2011

Incremental Improvements

One incremental improvement that PIVOT East continues to emphasize on is for participants to regard the competition as a platform for organizational development and business model refinement. Inasmuch as few participants may still see it as one of the many competitions where they could “earn” prize money, there’s many that are getting the geist of the matter and are taking their businesses more seriously with competitions.

In the 2013 edition of PIVOT East, market traction was emphasized in the criteria for all selection stages. This helped to minimize the so called “compe-preneur” effect. Market traction included earning or growing revenue, increased active user base, and other growth metrics. Selection criteria in the competition will continue to emphasize market traction. Team composition has been another criteria item emphasized in the 2012 and 2013 competitions. In 2014, strength of individual skills among team members, the complementarity of team skills sets, and members\’ long term commitment to the teams will matter even more.

The Team vs the Idea

Many investors will tell you that a bad idea can be improved or killed altogether to take up another better idea. Ideas are cheap and generally worth nothing, unless they are executed into revenue-earning and growing businesses. Often times, especially among “Compe-preneurs”, the execution teams\’ skills are shallow as focus is more on the idea and the all well elaborated planned business plan. For a startup, the “coolness” of the idea and sticking to the initial elaborate plan A will not necessarily bring revenue and growth.The team has to speedily iterate from the plan A to a plan that works. As Ash Maurya would advise, 66% of successful companies reported drastic changes in their original plans along the way.

To execute a great idea into a viable high growth business, calibre of the team is important. If an investor invests in a bad team, they are trapped in a suboptimal investment, difficult to get out of without upsetting the founding team set up. A badly set up team is a hindrance to the kind of efficient, focused execution that a startup requires in the search for a repeatable and scalable business model.

Skills Depth and Experience – for execution

Skills sets and experience of designated team members for key roles in a startup matter much. Many a times startups designate key roles to team members that are not fit for the tasks. Founders should strive to co-found with the best talent in the market that brings on board certain key skills to the startup. These could be technical developer skills, design or UI/UX skills or business development. This is because good talent can be rare and expensive to hire later on in the startup. Founders should avoid co-opting each other into a startup without vetting each others’ skills and the experience each brings on board. More importantly though, founders should be honest enough with themselves to recognize a skills gap arising as a going concern to fill it with the right talent while offering strong incentives such as stocks, an interesting culture and or a noble mission. The later it is in the life of startup this gap is recognized the less likely it would be for stocks, culture and mission to beat instant cash remuneration as the motivation for new talent.

Complementarity of Skills

The product of a Tech startup is not merely the technical solution. Its the overall business model which in the lean canvas representation includes 8 other components. To build a product that customers pay for, a startup requires collective team ability to understand and deal with customer segments and their pains, acquisition channels, revenue and cost structures among other key business model components besides “coding” the solution.

Dream Team of The Hacker, Hustler and the  Hipster?

Many Tech startup teams over-emphasise the role of the Tech co-founder, so much so that they simply constitute as, say three developers (hackers) assigning each other roles such as CMO, COO, CFO and CTO. The same happens where business founder (hustler) underestimates the need for a Tech co-founder. In such cases the “hustler” ends up with arrangements where the hacker is a consultant or a temporary employee – often engaged only to build the first prototype. In PIVOT East we have seen comic cases such as the loosely engaged developer disappearing with the code for a prototype that calls urgently for iteration.

Besides having a hacker and a hustler in the mix of skills sets, importance of the user experience (UX) designer (the hipster) is often underestimated by startups. This currently occurs among startups in East Africa and is partially attributed to the general scarcity of such skills in the Tech community. For many consumer driven internet solutions, user experience is a big differentiator. Attracting the best talent among user experience designers (often converts from graphics design) to be a co-founder may be the clever-most decision in a startup.

illustration of popular Hacker, Hustler, Hipster dream formation

Domain expertise in specialised fields

For startups seeking to disrupt or impact specialised domains such as health, education, agriculture and engineering, the importance of a domain expert in the founding team is very important. Recently I asked Jamila Abass – CEO of Mfarm what was one thing she would do differently if we rewound the clock by two-three years. Quite profoundly, her answer was something like “I would co-opt people with agriculture domain expertise in the team the earliest possible”.

The importance of domain expertise in the founding team is demonstrated by some domain specific startups in East Africa such as Eneza Education. The startup has a founder, Toni Maraviglia who is a career teacher by profession. Having deep understanding of market setups, domain technical skills and other domain specific intricacies helps startups to speedily navigate around challenges and opportunities in the domain. The emerging success story of Eneza education is partly if not significantly attributed to the domain knowledge infused by Toni in the startup.

As an experiment, we have set Inclusion of a domain expert in startups in specialised domains of the new mobile impact ventures program at m:lab East Africa a requirement. We anticipate good results especially with respect to appreciation of customer insights.

Passion, commitment and motivation

Apart from having super skills deployed for required areas of expertise and having complementary teams, inherent interests among team members matters. Commitment level for a super talented team member engaged as a temporary consultant is not as inspiring as a super talented team member who is a co-founder with significant stock allocation in the startup. To investors, business partners and even customers, there’s more confidence in the future of the product when key team members have demonstrable long term commitment.

It may be that consultants and employees on contract may be the most practical way to deploy certain high caliber skills required. In fact its the default scenario for most mature corporate organizations. For a startup which mostly has constrained resources, it appears wise to sell the vision to key talented members that remain in the team with stock incentives rather than paying fat consultancy-like paychecks on a on occasional basis.

A challenge may arise for founders in convincing the right talented people with the right attitude to join the startup – besides having to convince them to take small paychecks in the “short term”. In this case its worth considering founder / employee recruitment as an investor pitching exercise. Besides investing time and skills to the startup among other opportunity costs, the new team member has to invest psychological commitment to the startup’s vision. That way the team collectively builds the right culture, attitude and agility towards achieving the startup’s mission.

Entrenching vested interest

Vesting agreements help founders and investors to secure commitment from key personnel (especially founders) to the mission and course of the startup for the long term – usually four years. A typical founder vesting schedule is incorporated in a founders agreement or the shareholders agreement. If you search hard for lawyers around tech hubs in East Africa you will find lawyers that could help structure one. This is not to say that startup lawyers are easy to find in the region.

The vesting agreement is very much like founders giving back their shares so that they can earn them over the time the company stabilises towards its vision actualisation. For instance, a typical challenge appears when 9 months down the line after the startup is founded, one co-founder wants to leave. It could be for “good” reasons such as “business co-founder gets a green card to canada or another country”. The prospect of moving to a land of “milk and honey” with a stable n-figure salaried job can be too compelling to ignore. The question then would be; Do they relinquish stock worth 9 months of extraordinarily hard work or do they move over to Canada with their entire stock allocated to them even though they haven’t quite worked for its entirety?

A typical founder vesting agreement reads as follows :-

  • Until and through [FIRST VESTING DATE], neither Founder’s shares will vest
  • On and not before [FIRST VESTING DATE]– [25% ] of each Founder’s shares will vest
  • On and not before the 1st of every month thereafter, [1/36TH] of the remaining [75%]will vest 
  • Thus, on [END DATE] (the \”Full Vesting Date\”), each Founder will be 100% vested.
Very often when investors suggest to introduce or re-set vesting schedules for key talent (especially founders) in a startup, its demonised as one of  “vulture capitalists” way of short changing founders. It may be different if understood from the perspective of a vision sold by the founders that only they can pursue to fruition. However, whether revising vesting schedules based on an investment deal is fair to startups or not is irrelevant in this post.

Vesting agreements seem to be an important instrument to demonstrate long term commitment among founders and even among employees that have stocks or options. Startups in East Africa should be encouraged to embrace vesting agreements among founders and employees. This is because securing talent in a region where entrepreneurship and startups are a second option is JUST HARD considering the prospect of better paying jobs coming up is always hanging over the heads of key personnel.

With good vesting agreements among startup teams, it should be easy for startups to demonstrate their mission commitment to investors. This is an aspect that PIVOT East organizers in 2014 will be watching out for.

Evolving thoughts on innovation, entrepreneurship and economic growth

Entrepreneurs create new businesses, and new businesses in turn create jobs. New businesses intensify competition for existing larger businesses. Increased competition forces small and large entreprises alike to innovate and be more efficient in creating value for customers. Efficient value creation results in a more productive economy hence economic growth. 

Arguably, many large entreprises in East Africa do not face much competition, enough to give research and development the priority place required for innovation to grow. Furthermore, many of the larger entreprises within East Africa are multinationals whose research and development initiatives are controlled by their parent entities abroad. Therefore innovation for such multinationals is more likely to target global markets and not local markets in developing countries where revenue streams are comparatively insignificant. The other significant proportion of large entreprises in East Africa is comprised of parastatals and government entities which are by their very design incapable of being innovative. Generally, government related corporations are so stuck in public sector dynamics that innovation and value optimization for customers is rarely a real intention among their top executives.

The role of value optimization and innovation in East Africa\’s economies is therefore by default delegated to smaller enterprises, start-up firms and entrepreneurs driven by the opportunities or necessities created in the market place. In a 2006 paper titled \”Is entrepreneurship good for economic growth?\” Zoltan Acs used Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring (GEM) data from over 20 countries to argue that not all such entrepreneurial activity contributes to economic growth. The case is more apparent in developing countries where individuals are forced into entrepreneurship by necessity (lack of jobs) rather than primarily to pursue perceived market opportunities.

Very often, independent startup ventures in developing economies are likely to fail at some point for the following reasons :-
  • Derailment by alternative opportunities – Founders can get derailed easily by employment opportunities emerging with larger companies, NGOs and government institutions promising to afford them financial comfort – albeit for the medium term. Besides formal employment opportunities for founders, start-up firms often find themselves derailed by opportunities to service contracts that are not related to their core mission. This way their \’flagship products\’ suffer stunted growth  as the firm evolves into a \”general consulting\” outfit.
  • Start-up firms easily get locked into a sub-optimal operating state where they lack finances to increase awareness of their new otherwise viable products. They lack marketing funds to acquire critical numbers of customers to break-even in their operatons. Such startups end up not growing or closing down as they find it very difficult to penetrate the market. 
  • Individuals forced into entrepreneurship by necessity are likely to lack technical or managerial skills to grow their business beyond certain levels unless they raise funds to employ the people with the right skill sets. Startups are often unable to acquire the right human resources for growing their businesses beyond the vulnerable start up phase. As a startup begins to move beyond their minimum viable product, they rapidly require to shift focus on marketing, working capital management and project management among other aspects of business management without which sustainability is not assured.
The common thread the above reasons for startup failure is \”access to capital\”. A strong case exists therefore for entrepreneurs in East Africa to prioritize their fund raising efforts for sustainable growth. Given that debt financing for young startups is rarely an option in East Africa, entrepreneurs need to focus on other forms of financing such as grants and equity investment. That is not to forget the option of participating in entrepreneurship competition with significant prize monies such as Pivot East.

That grant financing would be preferable to entrepreneurs is a no brainer. However, although grants are accessible if one is lucky, equity based investments present better opportunities for serious startups raising funds for growth. Equity based fund raising ensures that founders think through their business seriously as investors will only touch them if they can validate their business models for significant returns on investment. Equity based investment also ensures that the founders have a better sense of business accountability by virtue of other people having a stake in the business. Equity based financing often comes with opportunities for business mentorship and networking linkages from the financing parties. The temptation among entrepreneurs often is to resist dilution of their equity ownership by introduction of investors. That mentality begs the question \”would you rather own 100% of a $10k company destined for stagnation or  would you rather own 70% of a $10k company on a solid growth path to $10m?\”

In conclusion, there is need for the entrepreneurs to take equity investment options more seriously for growth and sustainability of their businesses. That way the economies in East Africa can benefit from innovations and value optimizations expected from entrepreneurs and smaller businesses while the bigger corporates evolve to create value to customers more efficiently at a much slower pace.

Growing list of entrepreneurship competitions as Startup Weekend comes to Nairobi

In the last year or so Nairobi has been treated to a multiplicity of competitions and contest organised to promote local technology entrepreneurship. Depending on whether the chicken or the egg came first, one would argue that this has contributed to significant buzz and interest around East Africa’s growing tech start-up culture.

That the region is experiencing growth in the tech start-up scene is difficult to dispute. Doubting people only need to consider the tech scene’s coverage from global media houses such as The Next Web ( Mnachi Mdema’s article and Francis Pisani’s artice), the ReadWriteWeb (Curt Hopkins article), BBC (Egon Cossou’s article), Forbes.com and CNN (Dayo Olopade’s article) – to name a few.

Some of the entrepreneur competitions in the last one year that I can barely recall are IPO48, Garage48, App Circus, Huawei developer challenge. Some of the contests take a more global scope such as Nokia’s Create for millions Contest, infoDev’s Top 50 competition,Google Android Sub Sahara contest,  and Apps4Africa. Other global challenges that are still ongoing include Samsung’s Bada Developer Challenge,the Ericsson Applications Award and infoDev’s m2work Micro-work Challenge.

The list of competitions for 2011 above is almost endless. It is however incomplete without mentioning Pivot 25, the predecessor of Pivot East. Being East Africa’s premier mobile apps competition culminating in a pitching conference in June, Pivot East is to many perceived the grand showcase of mobile entrepreneurship in East Africa.

I have come across arguments in the local tech scene that developers and aspiring entrepreneurs have began to suffer from “competition fatigue” so we should “slow down” on them. I argue that we are not yet having too many competitions and that in fact we cannot possibly have enough contests of this kind in East Africa. This in my view will continue to be for as long as we have not as a society fully embraced the start-up culture. More so we should hold as many such competitions as possible for as long as our upcoming tech entrepreneurs have gaps in access to capital, markets, coaching, mentorship and other related entrepreneurship facilitation.

This weekend of 24th-26th February 2012 comes along with at least one more competition in Nairobi – Startup Weekend. The event will be hosted by Nailab at Bishop Magua Center which is gradually becoming Nairobi’s tech startup building. The competition organization in different locations globally borrows from a common format overseen and supported by Startup Weekend, a 501c(3) Non-Profit organization in the San Francisco – United States. It  is designed to be a “54-hour event where developers, designers , marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products and launch startups”. The format is very much like Garage48 and IPO48 and goes as follows :-

  • On Friday Evening attendees present their best ideas in open mic pitching sessions.  
  • Over Saturday and Sunday teams focus on customer development, validating their ideas, practicing LEAN Startup Methodologies and building a minimal viable product.
  • On Sunday evening teams demo their prototypes and receive valuable feedback from a panel of experts.

In this weekend’s edition of the event in Nairobi, attendants buy tickets at a fee of Kshs 2,050 payable through M-PESA business number 111666 (received by Growth Africa Limited). Delegates attending the event finale on 26th February only, will pay an entrance fee of KES 500. More information on tickets can be found on the event website http://nairobi.startupweekend.org/tickets/

The organizers have stated in their website engagement of re-known personalites in the industry for speakers, judges and mentors.  These according to the organizers include Virtual City’s John Waibochi, ICT board’s Paul Kukubo, Paul Mwachi of Isys Software, Capital FM’s Chris Kirubi, inMobi’s Moses Kemibaro, and Craft Silicon’s Kamal Buthabati. Judging from the results of other weekend long contests held in Nairobi where teams of entrepreneurs accessed prize money, entrepreneurship capacity building, early stage investment and access to valuable networks, I would encourage many upcoming entrepreneurs to take part in this event.

Many more start-ups participating in contests such as Startup Weekend can only make East Africa grow its knowledge economy through entrepreneurship.  When more of the upcoming entrepreneurs are empowered with skills, exposure and funding, one can only bet on East Africa being able to showcase great progress in the region’s mobile entrepreneurship. The region’s Pivot East Pitching Conference and other entrepreneur showcase avenues may therefore brace themselves for bigger challenges in selecting the best of the best. 

Gearing up for Mobile Web East Africa 2012

East Africa region continues to strengthen its profile as a mobile innovation hub. As mobile developers, entrepreneurs and stakeholders prepare for Pivot East, the regions mobile apps pitching conference in June, a couple of industry related events are happening as well. These events are helping to showcase East Africa as a mobile innovation destination.
This week on 22nd and 23rd February, Nairobi gets to host one of East Africa’s conferences on the mobile web ecosystem. The conference was first held in Nairobi on 3rd and 4th February 2010 and comes back to the City two years later. Much has changed in the last two years and the conference is an opportunity for many to catch up with the state of affairs since mobile phone penetration and  mobile data connectivity began to increase exponentially in the region.  The conference will be at the Southern Sun Mayfair and Kenya ICT board are its official hosts.

*iHub_ and m:lab East Africa are officially supporting the event. A 30% discount is granted for iHub members attending the conference for which registration can be made online here. The event organizers also are offering 50% subsidies on delegate fees to developers and start up companies under 2 years old and less than 10 employees. The event promises to be interactive and full of insights for developers, entrepreneurs and professionals playing in the mobile web sector. With a compelling agenda, the list of speakers and the discussion panelists, delegates are likely to appreciate better the state of affairs in the region’s mobile web ecosystem.

The conference starts with Kenya’s ICT Board CEO Paul Kukubo Reviewing the evolution of the Kenyan sector from 2010 to 2012. The CEO is expected to highlight successess and challenges around, Local content, app monetisation, startup/SME financing,  and innovation hubs. Kenya’s Permanent Sectretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication is expected on the same day to speak about the government dedication and support to the ICT sector. The conference is also expected to here from Research In Motion’s Technical Partnership Manager for Sub Saharan Africa – Michael Weitzel.

Mark Kaigwa, a partner at Afr-innovator, an African technology news portal will also be there to examine the “Silicon Savanah” tag and whether it carries much substance beyond the increased marketing efforts by the Government. Other presentation and discussion themes for the first day include mobile marketing and the opportunity for app monetization and growth of brands. Frank Maina of Sponge East Africa and inMobi’s Moses Kemibaro will be speakers in this session. Entertainment and media consumption on mobile devices will be another area of discussion with Johan Nel, Chief Executive Officer & Founder, Umuntu Media speaking. Emma Kaye, Chief Executive Officer of Bozza will talk about the prospects of growth in mobile film making.

The second day commences with Strathmore University’s Joseph Sevilla exploring the trend of tech focused youth that might drive the next generation of mobile content, services and companies. Judith Owigar of AkiraChix will also speak on efforts to enhance uptake of tech-entrepreneurship by women. John Carroll, Director of Technology at ForgetMeNot Software will speak on what it takes to to cultivate a startup culture. Other presentation and discussion themes lined up for the second day include using mobile as a tool for empowerment and social good.

The second and final day will culminate in an app developer competition where 5 entrants will battle it out for $1500 worth of InMobi ad network spend and blackberry handsets among other prizes and benefits. The competitors will have five minutes to pitch.

The conference will end with an open mic session where any member of the delegation can take the podium present and discuss whatever they like in 5 minutes. Each open-mic presentation will be followed by 5 minutes of questions and answers with the audience.

A full programme for the two day conference can be viewed in the conference’s website (www.mobileeastafrica.com).

Local content grants: Government information portal awards to firms first

This week there was much buzz about the Kenya 2009 census results, the on-going contest among our mobile networks, and other developments in the Kenyan online content space. What may have passed some of us in the midst of the noise is the announcement of one category of winners for the first round of Local Content and Software Applications Grant. As earlier mentioned on this blog, the initial processes of the grant had a number of useful insights if the ICT Board\’s post-application survey was to go by.

Applicants for the grant in the government information portal / firms category were announced on 31st August 2010. In this category, seven proposals were chosen from a list of 166 proposals by firms according to the ICT Board\’s press statement. The seven proposals were

  1. Octopus Solutions Limited – HIV and AIDS in the workplace e-Learing Course – To assist implementation of the HIV and AIDS work place policy among civil servants
  2. Infotrack Strategic Solutions Ltd – Teacher\’s Portal – Linking Kenyan teachers with their employer (The Teachers Service Commission)
  3.  iBid Labs – Kenya Online Museum  – Multimedia documentation of Kenya\’s rich history
  4. Foundation Support Services (FSS) Ltd – IVR Tax Filing Solution – A multilingual platform for Kenyans to file tax returns based on Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology
  5. BTI Millman Company Ltd – eMazingira Software Application – Crowd sourcing application for documenting and collecting information on environmental degradation and abuse using the Ushahidi platform
  6. RiverCross Technologies Ltd – EDUWEB– To create a comprehensive list and interactive map of all education institutions in Kenya
  7. JBA Advertising Co Ltd  – Lost and Found Project  To assist Kenyans to find their lost official documents such as national ID cards 

Needless to say, successful implementation of the above proposals alone is bound to make a huge impact  to Kenyans, solving some of their most basic problems.  The proposed projects also have potential for fostering a productive online culture and the growth of our knowledge economy.

It is noteworthy that the ICT board did not announce winners for the other grant categories a per the schedule earlier promised. The missed target is definitely a disappointment for many stakeholders watching – in Kenya any unexpected / unexplained delays in such a process can result in all sorts of conspiracy theories. Nevertheless the board was kind enough to make public more finer details about the remaining categories and the number of applicants as follows :-

  • Category A: Individuals – Private Sector Digital Content and Software Applications Grants – 133 applicants
  • Category B: Firms – Private Sector Digital Content and Software Applications Grants – 256 applicants
  • Category C: Individuals – Government Information Portal – 112 applicants

The board went further to promise announcement of the successful grantees for remaining categories on 28th September 2010. With the earlier missed targets for announcement of  evaluation results, it remains doubtful that the new target can be achieved. The doubt remains considering that the first category results announced so far cover barely a quarter of the entire round\’s applications.

Videos related to the ICT board\’s announcement at the Serena Hotel can be found here

Insights from the Local Content (Tandaa) Grant Application Process

Today morning the Kenya ICT Board through its Tandaa Kenya newsletter shared the results of a survey it administered on its grants application process. The survey was administered to applicants of the Local digital Content Grant a day after the proposal application deadline expired. Some highlights of the results were shared through the newsletter and also mentioned in Moses Kemibaro\’s blog including the following :-

  • Barely 15% of lead contacts for applicants were female < Affirmative action needed? 
  • 77.9% of those who participated were satisfied with the grant application process (more than half of these were very satisfied) < Confirmation of sentiments in my earlier post
  • 20% of those who participated had attended a Tandaa Symposium  < More effort might be required to interest more professionals and entrepreneurs in the Kenya ICT Board activities
  • 369 (55%) of the 667 completed applications were made on the last day. < Explanation attempted in my earlier post

Since data analysis is a daily routine for me, I shall attempt a closer look at other statistics from the survey for some more insights. Hopefully this helps for those of us with some curious minds

1) The main channels through which applicants learnt about the grant were the newspaper advertisement (40.3%) and the ICT board website (24.7%).  

The mainstream print media seems to remain the most effective way to mobilize participation of the local Tech. fraternity. The apparent popularity of the ICT board\’s website is welcome as the board grows its reliability and relevance to the Kenyan knowledge economy. The rather dismal performance of the morning shows in this aspect (Nation TV – 4.3% and Citizen TV – 2.1%)  appears to indicate the low effectiveness of TV shows aired during \’odd\’ morning hours.

2) Only 677 (31%) of the attempted 2,154 applications were completed. Further 139 (a meager 9%) of the those  who did not complete the application process participated in the evaluation survey.  Most of the 139 survey participants stated that they were unable to complete their applications because they did not have supporting documents (43.2%) or they simply run out of time (42.0%) 

    It appears that time constraints were a significant factor contributing to the the low rate of completed applications. It might have been interesting to see if those who were unable to complete their applications for lack of supporting documents would have gone ahead to complete their applications – given more time to \’secure\’ the documents. This is also not to say that our last minute culture mentioned in my earlier post would not defeat the purpose us such a deadline extension.

      3) Of the 456 participating respondents, 413(90.5%) welcomed the offer by the ICT board to share their proposal information with venture capitalists and other funding agencies. However when further asked to state which specific aspects of their proposals they were free to share, a much lesser portion of  34.4% was willing to have their bugdets shared.  Further, slightly less than a third 33.2% of the respondents were free to have their proposed work plans shared. Participants were otherwise generally free to have their proposal title – 70.2%, contact information – 85.7% and overall goals and objectives  – 70.7% shared.

        This is indicative of changing attitudes among Kenyan \’TechPreneurs\’. There appears to be changing perceptions to on the idea of innovation and intellectual property rights. indeed it appears the Kenyan ICT fraternity is  moving away from a tendency to sit on their unshared, unimplemented ideas for lack of resources to implement them while fearing that \’someone will steal their idea\’. The results also appear to indicate that would be Kenyan innovators are generally trusting of the ICT board. 

        The fact that few respondents were willing to have their work plans shared is indicative of how confident the applicants were with the finer detail\’s on their proposals. The applicants might have thought they had more room for improvement to their budgets and work plans hence the hesitation to allow sharing with potential financiers before further tweaking and customization. It is also likely that the applicants simply wished to more easily retain their options for increasing their scope of activities and budgets beyond the Tandaa grant limitations.

        Adopting OpenMRS: A kick start to Kenya’s software industry?

        Let me first apologies to the faithful readers who have advised to limit the length of posts. I am still learning the art of summary, so please allow the bad old ways for now.

        Donor interest

        Kenya’s response to HIV and AIDS has over the last decade become a thriving industry in itself. The sustained donor interest and flow of funds to the sector has remained an area of curiosity to many onlookers. A growing school of thought exists; curious why the not-so-meagre funding should not go to fighting Malaria and other diseases with higher mortality rates than AIDS. The donor politics aside, there is a real interest among the so called development partners to finance implementation of Electronic Medical Records (EMR) Systems. Their intention, ostensibly so, is to assist in managing administration of Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) among people living with HIV in Kenyan health facilities. The more observant ICT strategist or development minded entrepreneur will hear of a distinct and rare opportunity amidst the noise – a launching pad for a vibrant software industry in Kenya.

        Competitive Advantage for ICT in Kenya

        ICT and software industry in particular is one of the remaining escape routes that Kenya has, to liberate its people from their economic and social quagmire. Perhaps one only needs to invoke the stereotypical example of the MPESA success to dare the common pessimistic to shrug off the defeatist ‘that is too ambitious‘ attitude. A strategic adoption of the OpenMRS health information system currently implemented by AMPATH at the Moi University Referral and Training Hospital and at the Millenium Villages Project seems a realistic launching pad for a vibrant software industry in Kenya.

        Kenya has in the recent past built vast human resource base around ICT ranging from the deeply engaged software developers, systems administrators, trainers and ICT managers. You only need to look around your immediate circle to find a relative or a friend who has undergone some IT related diploma or degree level training. We need not arrange an economic management seminar with Michael Porter to learn that a nation can develop competitive advantages around the skills of its people. Besides in our knowledge economy, traditional factors of production such as land and capital are belittled by the very knowledge-base of a people.

        An unencumbered software industry

        A vibrant software industry will exist only where there is a relevant skilled and motivated human resource base. The challenge however remains that the most highly talented and committed ICT practitioners become increasingly frustrated by an ever nagging glass ceiling – the licensing and intellectual property demands of the foreign software giants. Any efforts to turn Kenya into a net producer of software will be frustrated as long as the software developer\’s successes must be attributed financially to some global software monopoly – call it Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, IBM or Google – whichever.

        Apart from a financial ’embargoes’ and ‘dependencies’ on Kenyans derived from ownership of proprietary software, the Software industry continues to suffer from a suppression of creativity. If globalization pays for creative economic value, then globalization tells you that you are too poor to be creative, then globalization has condemned you to poverty. A skilled and talented software developer in Kenya cannot be creative enough for really significant economic value if they cannot tinker with their software application\’s database back-end (eg. Microsoft SQL server, Microsoft Access and Oracle databases).

        Currently, in most cases the talented developer may not necessarily need to tinker with the database or operating system back-end. They may only need a reassurance that the software product they are banking their livelihood on will not break helplessly due to a bug or hidden deficiency in the back-end controlled by Microsoft or any other monopolistic manufacturer. The reassurance only, that in a bad case scenario they can tweak the underlying platform themselves is liberating to the would be Kenyan software millionaire. Indeed many back end environments in computers and servers are bulky with unnecessary features for a vast majority of consumers in the developing world. The software implementer will wish to have the ability to cut down on unnecessary functionalities offered in the standard back end or operating system environment. Such reassurance and empowerment in the IT world only comes in the from adherence to the OpenSource software philosophy.

        Why OpenSource and OpenMRS?

        OpenSource software philosophy encourages ICT specialists to acquire install and use software with licences that do not demand payment for normal use. The licensing structures are such that the software is essentially owned and supported by a global community of self driven ICT specialists and users. Indeed the manufacturer or licensing company may generate revenue from more specialised adaptation of the software where \’more insider\’ support, maintenance and tweaking are required. For software development entities who feel a need to access and tweak the software themselves, the source code for such software is publicly accessible through on-line download or other low cost distribution channels.

        Indeed the larger proportion of implementation cost for open source software is largely human capacity building. A structured and elaborate capacity building for software developers and implementers is about all that is required for a large scale adoption of EMR systems based on OpenMRS in Kenya. Of course that should go with a little investment in the not-yet-common foundations of good governance and management practices. Such support could be rendered through some form of facilitating agency; a public or private sector entity or even the donor agency themselves. A well managed facilitating agency should in the long run facilitate export of OpenMRS implementation and support services to the rest of the countries

        With development partners wishing to mitigate their risks of project failure, they will rarely go wrong with a larger portion of their investment going into human capacity building. Donor support for adoption of OpenMRS and other OpenSource software projects should offer them a significantly less risk of failure since it is rare to go wrong on human capacity building; the single largest cost component of implementing an OpenSource system. The apparent cost of such capacity building of ICT specialists and health facility staff may be rendered insignificant compared to the opportunity cost of developing or adopting systems based on proprietary technologies; perpetually paying licences and support fees to foreign companies and experts.

        Apart from the OpenSource nature of OpenMRS, it has other useful strengths, among them the following:-

        1. OpenMRS participated in Google Summer of Code of 2007 and 2008 hence benefits globally from inputs of highly talented and skilled programmers and their mentors
        2. OpenMRS has support from a global community with implementations cutting accross continents hence has easily addressing global standards such as HL7
        3. OpenMRS has been embraced by the software development community for extended functionalities eg. a)teaming up with Pentaho the data mining and busines intelligence specialist and b) the development of a Google Android application for medical diagnostices using phones based on OpenMRS – to name a few
        4. OpenMRS functionality is not limited to HIV related health conditions see abstract on OpenMRS as a key Malaria intervention
        5. In early 2009, OpenMRS was ranked by Kenya\’s NASCOP as one of the top three EMR systems being used in Kenya among IQCare and Fuchia which are locked in to Microsoft proprietary technologies and imply payment of expensive Microsoft Licence fees for every extra user or installation. (Note that the reliability of the ranking criteria aside, large scale adoption of such alternative systems as IQcare does not guarantee meaningful opportunities to Kenya job seekers as demonstrated where software development jobs are fashioned for Indian counterparts to \’develop solutions for the developing world\’).

        In conclusion, it seems impossible to over-do capacity building among software developers, implementers and entrepreneurs to adapt OpenMRS for public, private and mission hospitals in Kenya that do not have EMR systems. That may be the little investment that development partners in the HIV and AIDS sector need to make in Kenya to address their core interests and whose secondary effects to a fledgling software industry might just be phenomenal.