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Jesica: Innovations are her way of life

By | July 14th 2011

In 2007, she developed a mobile application to help first-time visitors to Nairobi find their way in the City, writes FREDRICK OBURA.

At 27, Jesica Colaco is riding high on the technology wave.

In 2007, Colaco mapped out the entire Nairobi Central Business District (CBD) on a software installed on mobile phones.

Colaco, manager of i-hub, has used her influence to spearhead several research projects and court global firms to adopt Kenyan-made mobile phone apps. [PHOTO: WILBERFORCE KIRWA]

The invention was to help first-time visitors to Nairobi locate buildings, streets and key establishments within the Central Business District.

When she pitched the application later for possible adoption by organisations and firms at a students’ exhibition forum in Nairobi, Google was on a similar mission, but with a wider approach of mapping the whole of Kenya for visibility on its Google Maps.

In mid-2008, she moved to Strathmore University as a lead researcher.

Students approached her for advice on getting their own applications off the ground.

From mentoring them and assessing the feasibility and commercial potential of their ideas, she realised there was a need not just for this sort of expert advice, but also for opening both the university and Nairobi as a whole to these opportunities — and so the Mobile Bootcamp was born.

"The first Mobile Bootcamp, launched in November 2008, was an eye opening experience for the m-generation," she says.

"Over 100 people came. It was a way to get entrepreneurs and students interested in the technology and its possibilities, to get them involved and know the industry.

Moreover, it is a way for students to grow a research culture of their own and do more than just read books to pass exams."

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The 2007 wireless map service innovation opened up several avenues. Her influence in the IT front would help her organise forums for the ICT community to learn about the mobile phone infrastructure, development platforms and technical support.

She has also used her influence to spearhead and manage several research projects, court international firms to adopt Kenyan-made mobile phone applications.

It is estimated that there are more than 400 million mobile users in Africa. Due to lack of infrastructure means that the mobile phone is the popular computing device people can use.

As a result, it is used for an astonishing range of custom-built applications, from accessing the Internet and making mobile payments to turning handsets into acoustic devices fishermen can use to find shoals of fish.

Colaco, a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) fellow and University of Nairobi graduate says her drive to push for more content generation in mobile phones is driven by the wider penetration of the device in the continent.

TED fellows are among the world’s experts at spreading great ideas.

Each year, the organisation picks 50 people doing groundbreaking work in a vast range of disciplines.

The fellows at this year’s TEDGlobal event in Oxford included a political scientist, a pastor, an Ethiopian singer, a high-tech magician and an astronomer.

"If you’ve spent time around the technology scene in East Africa over the last few years, chances you’ve recognised that there is something special happening," she says.

"Programmers, graphic designers and bloggers are developing new applications and content."

She notes obtaining seeding capital from lending institutions like banks and various venture capital firms is still a challenge to the developers.

"Many developers, especially those straight from colleges and universities do not have tangible assets to use as security for the funds."

Currently, the mobile phone televangelist (as she is widely referred among techies) is on a noble course, incubating IT entrepreneurs’, offering mentorship and linking them with venture capitalists through the Nairobi Innovation Hub.

The non-profit centre is located in Nairobi’s Ngong road is a networking place based on penta principles (innovation, community, entrepreneurship, business mentoring and research).

Individuals with various IT projects are brought together, share free office space, Internet and linked up to mentors and venture capitalists.

"In my many days in the Information and Communication Technology field, I have worked with great applications developed by young Kenyans," she told Business Unusual.

"But they lack capital to bring such innovations into the public domain," she says, adding that this has left few companies to dominate the sector, which has enormous potential.

In March 2008, ColaÁo helped organise the first-ever Nairobi Facebook Developer Garage, an event that served as a forum for students from different universities and professional developers in Kenya to learn about the Facebook programming platform.

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