How a popular continental reality TV Show spawned an idea to tackle unemployment in Kenya
Watching television one cold Saturday evening last year, MKU founder Simon Gicharu stumbled upon an idea. The show on air was Big Brother Africa, a continental reality offering which inducts 12 people of different nationalities into one house for a period of three months.
They drink, mingle, make merry, enemies and friends - all in quest of the $300,000 (Ksh26million) prize money awarded to the “last man standing.”
The sage he is, Mr Gicharu could see through the grainy TV footage of Big Brother Africa to deduce Mahatma Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins:
Wealth without work/ Pleasure without conscience/ Knowledge without character/ Commerce without morality/ Science without humanity/ Worship without sacrifice/ Politics without principle.
Mr Gicharu reckoned that a better, more resourceful idea for the youth could be gleamed from the Big Brother Show. Similar idea, different results.
The outcome was the MKU Enterprise Academy, whose first nine “housemates” pocketed a total of Ksh7.2 million shillings on Wednesday 07/05/2014.
“Watching Big Brother, I asked myself, what does the future hold for the housemates once they are evicted? We could use the same concept but instead of the housemates just lounging, they would be taught on all aspects of entrepreneurship.”
Vetting for inductees into the founding class of the Enterprise Academy began last July. The University called on its alumni to send in applications, the only criteria being generic business ideas and an unwavering commitment to see them into fruition.
The Directorate of Research and Development, led by dexterous scientist Dr Francis Muregi conducted the interviews. Out of the 300-plus applications, the team narrowed down on the best nine. “We were looking for ideas that were practical, implementable,” he says. “Of course, the caliber of applications we got was high, and this was a reflection of the high quality of education and training we offer at MKU.”
The “choosen ones” finally joined the Enterprise Academy baby class in February, 2014. Stephen Opanda, Peter Buluma, Lilian Kawira, Faith Ngutiku, Godfrey Ngotho, Stallamaris Miriti, Paul Mwangi and Bernard Wanjau. Their business ideas were a blend of the novel and creative. “Joining the Enterprise Academy is the spark I needed in life,” said Stephen Opanda, whose business is Sauti Kweli, a Media Production company.
This spark has become an inferno, lighting up the path of future success. Along this path has been Vimal Shah, the CEO of Bidco Oil Refineries, now more popular as the “richest man in East Africa,” Ms Tabitha Keroche, the inveterate entrepreneur behind Keroche Breweries Ltd, Peter Munyiri, the man at the helm of Family Bank and Prof Peter Wanderi, a passionate entrepreneur-scout whose day job is the Directorate of University-Industry Partnerships at Kenyatta University.
“Today, we have nine graduands,” said Mr Shah, whose company neighbours MKU Thika Main Campus. “But we would like to see 900 next year. We have one million youth joining the job market every year. The Enterprise Academy is a fantastic opportunity for students to come forward and try out entrepreneurship instead of waiting for formal employment.” Mr Shah, by the way, has always been Mr Gicharu’s role model.
Mr Gicharu started MKU with a seed capital of only Ksh20,000. “With Ksh800,000 as start up capital for each of you, there is absolutely no reason why you should not succeed and become multi millionaires. I believe you are the future captains of commerce and industry,” he said during the event.
The Enterprise Academy is funded by the office of the Board of Trustees to a tune of KSh40 million, spread over five years.
The Chair of the MKU Council Prof Grace Njoroge said that in true Biblical wisdom of “to whom much is given, much is expected,” the nine apprentices have a responsibility to work hard and ensure their startups flourish and ultimately create opportunities for other young people.
Family Bank CEO Peter Munyiri praised the competitive business spirit among some young people in Kenya, noting that the business plans by the MKU alumni were “top notch, practical and easy to implement.” They were also “well thought out and well articulated.” He said as a financial institution, the bank was always willing to fund youth enterprises to complement initiatives such as the MKU Enterprise Academy.
Dr Muregi said the Enterprise Academy has a goal to “effect a paradigm shift in the current education system whose tenet is ‘education for a good job’ to training that spurs our youth entrepreneurial seeds to germinate.”
He said that MKU is committed to ensuring the youth in Kenya unleash their entrepreneurial potential. “Although initially we are piloting with MKU alumni, the ultimate aim is to evolve the initial fund from the University Management into an Enterprise Academy Foundation that will sponsor viable business ideas of all Kenyan youth from all walks of life that lack start-up capital.”