The SME Competitiveness Survey (2019) conducted by International Trade Centre showed Small and medium-sized enterprises in Kenya are an underexploited resource with significant potential to boost inclusive growth. Drawing on data from the Survey, the report indicated that Kenyan companies not only need to organize their production processes professionally and have a supportive business ecosystem, they also need targeted solutions that could help address shortcomings in specific areas of competitiveness.
Through the support of Agenzia Italiana per la Cooperazione allo Sviluppo – AICS, the E4Impact Accelerator has risen to become one of the major enablers in the entrepreneurial eco-system, building and enhancing the capacity of MSMEs to grow and become more competitive in the market. Working with 20 entrepreneurs annually drawn from various sectors, the entrepreneurs, through a practical acceleration methodology, gain insights on strategies that can help them respond to existing challenges and or grow their businesses based on solid entrepreneurial practices. One such entrepreneur is Caroline Ngugi, the Operations Lead of Nature’s Touch, a women-led enterprise that formulates and manufactures natural shea-based skincare products joined the accelerator program amid struggles to generate sales despite having a good product. “We have been able to gain practical knowledge on how to market our products, brand and position ourselves in the market which has in turn lead to a 70% increment in our revenues over 9 months!” Carol happily shares.
The Accelerator program has leveraged on the links it has with Europe and the robust networks established in Italy to create value for its entrepreneurs. The Accelerator partnered with Openet Technologies to offer satellite technology to the accelerated companies. The space technology has quickly proven as a market enhancer for enterprises like Geneplus Breeders, a company that avails high quality semen to small holder farmers. Geneplus’ co-founder, Dr. Chris Silali points out “we have had an activation of big thinking in our business, to envision the potential the business has and the link with Openet has been instrumental in addressing out technological needs that then open us up for more strategic partnerships. We have also received links to investors where we successfully raised Euro 100,000 which will go to paying our suppliers easing up some strain on our cash flows” he adds.
“E4Impact Accelerator has risen to become one of the major enablers in the entrepreneurial eco-system, building and enhancing the capacity of MSMEs to grow.”
A partnership with Confindustria is an additional platform that the entrepreneurs in Kenya are exposed to. The accelerated companies have their business profiles created and hosted on an online platform accessible to hundreds of Italian MSMEs. The aim of this partnership is to create an avenue where the Italian MSMEs identify entrepreneurs that they would be interested to engage with be it for mentorship, partnership or transactional engagement. It also adds to creating visibility for the Kenyan MSMES and even possible markets.
Market Linkages and Technology Transfer
Cognizant of the challenges many entrepreneurs face in access to markets, the Accelerator has consistently made efforts to support entrepreneurs penetrate new markets. The linkages look to explore both local, regional and international markets. Burton and Bamber, an enterprise doing value addition to mangoes and other tropical fruits, is one such example who were linked to SweetAfrica, an Italian company interested in sourcing dried exotic fruits from Kenya. The collaboration with SweetAfrica has evolved creating markets for other enterprises in the food processing such as Mula Exports, SweetnDried and Kenya Papaya Products.
Similarly, Lulea By Chesneau manufacturers of high quality leather bags in Kenya have managed to access international opportunity through a linkage with Redemption, a popular fashion brand in Italy. This link allows Lulea explore innovative ways of coming up with products made from sustainable materials that is not leather. Working with Redemption has also benefited other enterprises like Soko who are now supplying Redemption with customized accessories. This in turn has guarantee the local Kenyan artisans steady markets for their items.
Technology transfer is another focus area for the program towards helping the enterprises differentiate themselves further in the market while becoming more competitive. Corepla, an Italian association of waste recyclers who are currently exploring possibility of working with the Kenyan Association of Waste Recyclers through Pure Planet Recyclers, one of the accelerated companies championing the circular economy. They collect waste plastic do value addition and sell it to plastic-ware manufacturers. The objective is to identify and share technology that can be utilized locally to deal with the PET menace the country is grappling with.
The E4Impact Accelerator has opened other possibilities in which it continues to build the capacity of other entrepreneurs. It has offered 2 series of mini acceleration programs to Kenya Biogas Program entrepreneurs. This program was designed to help the masons that had been trained by KBP on technical skills but they were still having difficulty transitioning to entrepreneurship. The program up to date had trained 40 of these entrepreneurs and Kenya Biogas Program reported that in the course of the program, the saw a significant jump in the number of biogas digesters that the entrepreneurs were able to construct.
An enterprise that has gone through an acceleration program stands a better chance of raising investment unlike one that has not. The Accelerator therefore has become a tool not only for investors who are seeking deal pipeline, but, organizations keen to support the local entrepreneurs like ENI. Through the program, ENI invested seed funding of Euro 150,000 to the accelerated companies that have to be competitively applied for. The funds then become key for the entrepreneurs to address some structural issues and it also goes towards de-risking the enterprises.
“An enterprise that has gone through an acceleration program stands a better chance of raising investment unlike one that has not.”
In the two years the E4Impact Accelerator has been in operation, it has managed to distinguish itself as an innovation hub, as evidenced by the numerous partnerships established and MoUs signed with diverse local actors, who believe that E4Impact could offer to them valuable support in supporting their various programs and strengthening local communities. Some of these include AMREF, who engaged the accelerator for capacity building and development of Amref Kenya spin-off health innovations as well as support in fundraising; National Environmental Trust Fund (NETFUND) for acceleration of green enterprises that will be identified through their annual Green Innovations Award that seeks to recognise private and public sector players contributing towards environmental conservation. Micro Enterprise Support Program Trust (MESPT) partnership was to support fresh vegetables and fruits producers and link them to the European Market.
Kenya National Chamber of Commerce (KNCCI) collaboration geared towards the capacity building of the chamber of commerce members in entrepreneurship, as well as creating links to opportunities North-South Collaborations. The Accelerator also have an active engagement with the Kenya Industrial Estates (KIE) that aims at providing incubation and acceleration services to the members of KIE that can add value to the entrepreneurs they engage with. The Commodities Fund (Former Coffee Board) has an agreement with E4Impact that is meant to strengthening the Coffee Value Chain. This is meant to build up on the work that E4Impact implemented and continue to do so under the Switch Africa Green framework funded by the EU. In the project, E4Impact conducted entrepreneurial and managerial workshops for mango, coffee and dairy value chains to help them establish green business model to enable them become resource efficient and competitive in the markets.
The established engagements have been drawn from the international arena such as with Esade University from Spain to providing internship opportunities for their masters’ students, where they address a challenge faced by the entrepreneurs, which is structured as a consultancy for the accelerated companies. This is a model that was successfully piloted with Cass Business School in London, where the Accelerator hosted 10 students from Cass. ALMA CIS have also partnered with the Accelerator with the goal of building the capacity of young graduates in off-grid technologies and equip them with entrepreneurial skill, to help them launch businesses that can create employment opportunities for other youths in the country. In order to lay more emphasis on the importance of impact measurement in the various programs, the Accelerator entered into a partnership with The Benefit Corporation (Blab) for utilizing the benefit corporation tools in capacity building of entrepreneurs.
Technology allows businesses to operate more efficiently and effectively with lean man-power hence reducing the costs of doing business. It has also proven to be a strong advocate supporting the scaling and replication of successful business models. To encourage technology uptake by the businesses, the Accelerator is working with Liquid Telecom towards training of accelerated companies on skill-based training on emerging technologies- Artificial Intelligence, Machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data; and with IBM who offer training to the accelerated companies on Internet of Things and leveraging data to reach their customers at their pain points.