Most startup hubs and investors try to headhunt for the great teams of highly skilled individuals with a proven track record and possession of some “secret sauce”. Our approach is quite different– we strive for a more inclusive and patient philosophy that can be defined as “anti-moonshots and anti-quick wins”. We want to build successful startups from the seeds of knowledge and motivation planted at rural and small town schools. In Sote ICT clubs at twelve secondary schools we nurture business and IT skills of 460 students in their training companies with the ambition to start real businesses at Sote Hub once they graduate. We strongly focus on digital fabrication and synergies between student companies and startups of graduates. Our investment into technical capabilities and trust that builds social capital through cooperation are equally important.
The combination of Sote ICT Clubs, training companies and Sote Hub can serve as a blueprint for other counties in Kenya and beyond. Through Sote ICT we have introduced a methodology of training companies where students simulate working in teams and specialize as if they managed a real company. Training companies trade and communicate regularly with their peers in Kenya and abroad and also compete during annual trade fairs. Since this year students have also been visiting Sote Hub. They get mentored Sote Hub members, who are former graduates and regularly visit the schools and check on their progress. In this continuous positive loop former students launch their startups at Sote Hub and also help to train and motivate their younger peers who are still studying.
We Support Slovak-Kenyan Experience Exchange
In December 2015 we opened Sote Hub in Voi town, and thus reached the next level in our effort to build an innovation ecosystem from high schools to startups in Taita Taveta County. We started to build our coding and digital marketing skills and with two 3D printers we launched our journey into digital fabrication. Sote Hub members launched two coding groups – Coding Club and Sote Tech Queens. Sote Hub members so far came with dozen startup ideas that they plan to test using lean startup approach. After various local meetups and workshops in Kenya, four Sote Hub members and former graduates visited Slovakia in May 2016 to gain international experience and present their startup ideas. The creative agency Rogim Designs, started two graduates Gift Mtambo and Robert Mburu, spent five days with Slovak startup Azylo. Together they devised brand communication strategy and gained bigger ambitions – to help Kenyan startups succeed in digital marketing. Two female members, Lucy Muthoni and Elizabeth Njoki, discussed their clean tech and digital fabrication ideas – Recycle Africa and Redecor. We want to organize also a second trip for teachers and other graduates to visit trade fair of training companies in Slovakia towards the end of this year.
The Next Phase Challenge
In July we had two important events – the second trade fair of training companies in Voi and the launch of our incubation program where we evaluated 18 startups and supported 4 best business ideas. This is a new and very exciting phase for us, and the result of a long-term effort made possible strong leadership of Sote Hub team and profound cooperation between Kasigau Wildlife Trust and Pontis Foundation with the continuous support of SlovakAid and individual donors.
The next big challenge is to make Sote ICT and Sote Hub more sustainable and search for social business model that could generate income and scale at quicker pace to other Kenyan counties and eventually abroad. The key to achieving this vision is continuous quality improvement of Sote ICT Clubs and their products, strong motivation of students and graduates, regular coding boot camps and meetups at Sote Hub and investment in digital fabrication capabilities. We are also open to wider public and students from local universities. We held a workshop on sound financial management with over 100 participants. We also have regular members who study at the local campus. Our next goal is to introduce digital fabrication tools to local artisans in cultural production and manufacturers.