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Young Kenyans win big at IPO48 tech event

By | Updated Tue, August 16th 2011 at 00:00 GMT +3

Audrey Wabwire

Groups of young Kenyan entrepreneurs have scooped various cash awards at a tech bootcamp competition held in Nairobi.

At the IPO48, a 48-hour tech bootcamp, selected business ideas were given a chance to prove themselves. The competition required that each team build a solid business idea in web or mobile innovations in 48 hours!

The winner would receive 25,000 Euros or over Kshs 3 million in investment towards the realization of the business idea.

When the call for entries was opened, over 100 businesses applied, but only 12 were selected. These 12 received online mentorship from top professionals. The teams camped at the iHUB in Nairobi, drew their final plans, and pitched their ideas to the investors on August 14. This is the 2nd edition of IPO48.

Participants were young and energetic, mostly men though. Possibly owing to the fact that technology is still viewed as a man’s department. However, Hilda Moraa, Team Lead of My Order business idea faults women for doubting themselves, "It is up to us to empower ourselves!"

The iHUB oozed with creativity in those few hours as the IT crowd racked its brains to find the best business models for their respective ideas.

One outstanding idea was the 6ix Degrees which is a plan to back up all mobile phone contacts. This proposal suggests that so many people lose their phones, and having a system through which one can subscribe to this service, and restore all contacts on a new phone. This was one of the winners of the competition, scooping, 15,000 Euros in investment.

Some ideas were executed even before the IPO48 event. Darasa Apps is an online school management system which is currently testing at Starehe Boys Centre and is in use in Nguviu Boys’ Secondary School and at introduction stage in Nguviu Girls. This is an online timetable and accounting system aiming to ease the workload of teachers and parents.

The IPO48 event is a rigorous affair which provides mentors for participants. Thorough consultation, 360 degree overhauls, deep research, objective debate and critical thinking go into the making of a final product. Tom Macakiage who is the Country Director of Serve Tech Systems, was a mentor at the event.

"The teams are tested on how fast they can think, endurance – since they have to work long hours at a time," said Macakiage. This learning experience is two-way; as a mentor, Macakiage believes he appreciates how quickly new ideas can be incorporated into existing ones in the start-up stages of business.

All the groups were optimistic, passionate about their ideas, and hopeful to make them work even if they did not win. Raphael a fresh graduate from JKUAT and a member of the Logistis team says, "Even if we do not win tonight, the need for online accounting for Small and Medium Enterprises [SMEs] remains. We shall still push on with our plan, we shall still solve this problem."

The participants echoed each other, blaming the Kenyan education system for crushing innovation and promoting conformism, which does not help anyone earn money.

In the final hours of the workshop, exhausted participants summoned their strength to give a selling presentation. Each group was allowed three minutes to defend a full sustainable business model. The best presentation award went to My Order.

The Best Prototype Award was scooped by Fooder, an idea which allows users to views various menus and make orders online. This will work from already existing networks with local restaurants.

My Order was a big winner as they also scooped the Best Hustling Award. Through the span of 48 hours, they had already recruited a few customers and were in negotiations with more!

Tusqee systems were presented the Crowd Magnet award due to the amount of traffic they generated in the online virtual bidding.

The IPO48 selects one winner to receive investment, however, the judges were overwhelmed by the ingenuity of the ideas presented and happily included two more winners to the Overall winner category.

The winner of 25K Euros was Tusqee Systems, a bulk SMS initiative aiming to assist schools in monitoring fee balances, release of exam results and easing other parent-school communications. The group of seven young men also received up to $5,000 in kind from Nailab.

Due to the stiff competition and top quality business ideas, the sponsors of the event – Human IPO- decided to award two more winners: Ghafla! an online entertainment website and 6ix Degrees, both of whom received investment in their start-ups.

At the end of the award ceremony, a tearful Samwel Njuguna, part of the winning team of Tusqee Systems, said, "We can do it now. It has been made possible."

The next IPO48 event will be in September in Copenhagen, Denmark.