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Yes, this is rocket science but one day I will go into space

Monday April 25 2016

By JOAN THATIAH
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At just 26, Mercy Ngoiri is making an indelible mark in the technology world.

Her dream is to see Kenya be a maker and not just user of tech products: “I see a future where Kenya is a producer of computing rather than a consumer. Where students are creating software instead of learning about software that has already been created,” she asserts.
However her even bigger desire is to go into space with a rocket she will make herself.

She was a 22-year-old university student when she put together her first product, a Nano programmer, which aids the computer in interpreting instructions fed to it.

It wasn’t something that she stumbled upon. Engineering has always fascinated her. She was that teenager who dismantled her parents’ radios and television boxes and reassembled them. A career in engineering thus came as a natural choice for her.

So when she joined the university to pursue her dream career, she imagined that she would be spending her days practically tinkering with electronic gadgets. Her first day in the mechatronics engineering class at Dedan Kimathi University was however a big disappointment.
“Engineering was all about books. We weren’t interacting with electronics,” she recalls.

Her desire was however satisfied when she joined the university’s robotics society. Here, she happily got to create robots. But there was just one little problem; the tools and materials that she needed to create the robots were expensive and he couldn’t afford to put together the gadgets at home.

This frustration gave birth to a business idea: What if she could create the components herself with cheaper materials?
“This was how I got the idea of creating a Nano programmer. While such a component would cost Sh10,000 in the market, I made one that would cost Sh3,500,” she recalls.

Her cheaper product attracted the attention of her fellow students who began buying it from her. She however observed a very interesting trend; the students who were most interested in her invention weren’t the tech enthusiasts but those with little knowledge in electronics.

“I saw a gap in the market. All the tech products out there are built for IT professionals, there is nothing for the average person interested in electronics and coding,” she recalls her light-bulb moment.

Scratch-n -Sketch nd software that would be fun for both tech enthusiasts and would make it easier for children to learn about and interact with electronics.

She left university with one goal in mind; to create easy to use hardware and software that would be fun for both tech enthusiasts and would make it easier for children to learn about and interact with electronics.

Just a year and a half since her graduation in 2014, Ms Ngoiri is running a successful tech company, Warefab International Ltd which she co-founded with her friend John Muchiri.

Warefab has created Scratch-n-Sketch, a plug-and-play kit with which youth as young as eight can learn electronics and coding. “Scratch is a visual and graphical programming language through which kids can learn programming while sketch is for advanced technology users. The learning board goes for Sh3,500,” she explains.

The past year has seen the Warefab team of five staff members interact with both university students and primary school children in a bid to test how they work with the learning board. The response has been overwhelming.

“In the First World, children interact with technology at a very young age. That is what I want to see here; children who can do simple programming. The Scratch-n-Sketch learning board is one way that we will get there,” she says.

When she isn’t figuring how to encourage both children and adults to get interested in programming, the innovator together with her team designs tech products for clients. They currently make about Sh150,000 profit monthly from these designs.

They, however, project this amount would go up three to four times in one year charging by the enthusiastic reception of their products in the market.

Warefab just designs the products for clients who take them to China for mass production.

“I can manufacture the components but we do not have the money to buy the costly machines needed to do the assembling. There is the lack of awareness about the tech sector amongst Kenyans, thus very few are interested in investing in it,” she says.

She dreams of having a plant manufacturing a respected brand of electronics.

To achieve this, she is ploughing back the profits she makes today to grow the company.
“My ultimate dream to be at the forefront of the force that finally changes Kenya from being a consumer of computing into becoming a big producer of computing.”

When she is done changing the face of tech in Kenya, Mercy wants to go to space on a rocket that she will design and manufacture.
If her enthusiasm and energy are anything to go by, she just might make this trip to space.