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Strathmore dropout wins entrepreneurship award

By Agnes Aineah | November 22nd 2018

Benito Mckenzie was barely 18 when he accepted his first job at a local magazine. Before he left high school, he was already on a Sh10,000 salary to contribute stories for a domestically circulated magazine targeting content for high school students.

In high school where he juggled writing and acting, he received Sh200,000 for a role he played in a play titled Heart and Soul. He says this amount was enough to see him through the rest of his high school and open a salon for his aunt at their residence in Bahati, Nairobi.

At 21, Mckenzie was the head of marketing for Wireless Trade Group, an international telecommunications equipment provider based in Canada. At this time, he was also a first year student at Strathmore University.

He says his deprived background made him a budding entrepreneur from a young age.

“I grew up hating the poverty that surrounded me. My mother didn’t have a steady job to sustain my young brother and I. To make ends meet, I always found myself doing one thing or other to provide for our family,” he says.

During his second year of study, Mckenzie dropped out from an Information Technology programme at Strathmore University to concentrate on his job in the IT Company. Close to ten years later, the 30-year-old co-founded Mantle Africa, a micro asset investment firm that leases motorbikes to riders. Mantle Africa allows riders full ownership of the motorcycle after a period of time. The firm also gives its clients benefits such as medical insurance and loans.

The company was last week awarded a Sh500,000 seed fund after emerging winner in Action Aid’s SDG Ambassadors case competition programme that was announced in July. According to Action Aid Kenya Project Manager Mathias Kure, the competition, that sought to support six social entrepreneurs, attracted more than 150 applicants.

Speaking about the pitches last Friday, Mathias said he was especially touched by Mckenzie’s venture.

“Mckenzie is a young man who has seen the tribulations of hundreds of thousands of riders who spend a lifetime on the road, but can’t make substantive savings. A rider will now not only be able to increase their savings but enjoy near similar benefits to that of any other employee in Kenya,” said Kure.

Mckenzie says a personal encounter with a cyclist in town inspired him to start the company.

“I was once carried by a bodaboda cyclist who explained how his life would change for the better if he had his own motorcycle due to the increased income he would get and the efficiency it has over a bicycle. I was touched and after researching found out that cyclists were unable to receive bank loans to purchase motorbikes. I saw a vision of starting my own bank to enable this financial inclusion,” says Mckenzie.

Mckenzie says the training he is getting at Mantle Africa, where he heads staff of about 20 youth is more than any degree could afford him.

“The experience we are getting is equivalent to a masters progressing to a PhD. We are getting first-hand direct experience in financial inclusion disruption.

“We are developing tools and innovating ways to wholly finance the unbanked while reducing repayment delinquency and defaults. I can bet we are one among a very minute cluster of institutions that ran a zero portfolio and risk model. These analytics are enabling us to one day create asset-backed securities which we can sell to acquire very cheap debt,” he says.

Does that mean that academic qualifications don’t matter anymore to the university dropout?

“I think everyone has their own path to take. Papers are good, but they are not the only way to be successful. I read a lot. Currently I am reading GURU, the biography of the founder of Devki steel. My brain is fed daily by information. Information is power,” says Mckenzie. 

“To people who have been told they cannot make it because they didn’t go to university, I can tell them that is a lie. What your mind can perceive it can achieve.

“I was undertaking a bachelor of business in information technology degree. To be honest I don’t see myself doing that degree again. If I am ever going to pursue an academic degree, which is very unlikely, it has to be in finance,” Mckenzie says.

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