New incubation centre to focus on social media apps

Thursday March 24 2011

Sam Gichuru, the co-founder of NaiLab. The incubation centre will open in May. Photo/FREDRICK ONYANGO

Sam Gichuru, the co-founder of NaiLab. The incubation centre will open in May. Photo/FREDRICK ONYANGO 

By PAUL WAFULA

Another technology incubation centre will open its doors to software developers in May, signalling desire to tap latent potential in Kenya.

The Nairobi incubation Lab (NaiLab) becomes the fourth centre to be set up in Kenya in less than two years after iHub, University of Nairobi’s FabLab and Strathmore’s – iLab as technology firms seek talent to launch new softwares for use in smartphones and computers.

Technology incubators are facilities which offer a nurturing environment for individuals and businesses to develop commercially viable products.

The centres provide support services and resources to young companies or entrepreneurs with the goal of developing them into financially viable businesses equipped with the tools for long-term survival and growth.

100 groups

“Too often, young software web developers, designers, researchers and innovative thinkers labour in isolation and lack business skills, the infrastructure and the resources to upscale their innovative ideas,” said Sam Gichuru, the co-founder of Nailab.

NaiLab will be opened on a 1,972 square feet modern office space on the fourth floor of Bishop Mugua Centre in Nairobi, the same floor where iHub is located.

NaiLab will provide fast Internet connections with focus on Web, mobile and social media softwares development.

“NaiLab offers an incubation platform that will help young entrepreneurs to concentrate on building a business structure around their innovations without the burden of high initial capital for office space and service provision,” said Mr Gichuru.

The new centre is targeting 100 groups of incubates, where 10 most promising will be on site with the 90 working from their homes.

It will offer the incubates laptops connected to high-speed Internet, a desk to work from and a mentoring coach.

The facility partnered with a financing body—One per cent club— to provide capital for start-ups to upto Sh500,000.

“We shall not be taking individual developers, but a team of atleast three people that can easily be transformed into a business unit with complete marketing and developing departments,” said Mr Mwangi.

Trainees will also get basic skills in project management, business strategy, marketing, legal advice, administration, monitoring and evaluation.

The iHub plays host to over 100 developers, who meet regularly to share ideas at specialised mobile workshops often hosted by international giants such as Google and Nokia.

“Most of the young graduates have sufficient coding skills. However, they come with very little problem solving skills that are necessary in developing software applications that can beyond the tech-community to solving Kenyan problems,” said Jessica Colaco, iHub manager.

Ms Colaco said the centre has witnessed a lot of interest since its inception.

She says unless young developers can be nurtured and helped to grow their ideas into realities, then Kenya may take longer to realise the true value of the industry.

“Unless the application can be taken up by those who need it most, then such developers will fizzle out since it becomes impossible to make money,” said Ms Colaco.

The increased interest in the Kenyan market also promises to seal the yawning gap between training institutions and industry requirements, blamed for slowing the takeoff of software development.

“Our model is not offering space for rental purposes, but we partner with developers and share the revenues after it becomes successful. We will sit on the management teams of the start-ups and literally hold their hands every step of the way,” said Mr Mwangi.

Income generation opportunities within an incubation centre are through the services rendered, which is primarily incubation, rent and all the business development services that go along with it.

The University of Nairobi’s Fab Lab has set up a revenue-sharing arrangement with developers in a bid to be self-reliant, and in the longer term enable it create funds for research and development.

“We will earn the university money either through revenue sharing arrangements, equity stakes or even preferential shares,” said Kamau Gachigi, FabLab co-ordinator.

The Fab Lab has already supported about 15 tech-based SMEs that have come up with innovations around the use of biogas, set top box for digital to analogue conversion, smart card, wireless and feet monitoring software among others.

The park helps students in identifying invention disclosures through intellectual property (IP) audits, IP protection, and managing the process of reaching the market.

Strathmore University’s iLab Africa, has a capacity of 150 students and room for 30 budding businesses.

Strathmore is banking on the support of corporate bodies such as Google, Ericson, and Safaricom for technical support to develop local capacity to meet the industry’s needs.

Demand for tailor-made local software has also sent technology firms like Samsung, Nokia, and Microsoft hunting for local talent in institutions of higher learning with competitions and platforms for entrepreneurs to develop attractive applications.