Beate Schindler-Kovats at Safari Park Hotel, Nairobi, Thursday, September 23rd, 2021

The University-Industry Conference was part of the joint, DAAD-funded project “Applied Entrepreneurship Academy” (AEA) between Kenyatta University (KU) and Neu-Ulm University of Applied Sciences (HNU). It provided a stage for young innovators who have been trained at Chandaria Innovation & Incubation Centre (CBIIC) with training content jointly developed with HNU. Furthermore, it was a run-up to Kenya Innovation Week, which will be organized by Kenya National Innovation Agency (KeNIA) from 6th to 10th December, 2021.

After five very successful project years, in which entrepreneurs as well as lecturers and mentors throughout various KU Schools were trained, this conference is the last highlight and first physical event after 1.5 years of pandemic-induced online incubation and collaboration. Yet, it also benefitted from digital technologies for upscaling: In addition to the 70 physically present guests, more than 100 tuned in to follow the conference online. The online guests were mainly young innovators dispersed throughout the country who are currently participating in the National Young Innovators Program. It is an education program sponsored by the Kenyan government which builds on the contents developed in the AEA project to train youths in the whole nation in entrepreneurship and enable them to build their own businesses. Watching their more advanced fellow founders’ pitches

The conference was opened by introductory remarks by Dr. George Kosimbei, Director, Innovation Incubation & University-Industry Linkages, as well as Prof. Dr. Thomas Bayer, project leader at Neu-Ulm University of Applied Sciences, Mrs. Beate Schindler-Kovats, Director of DAAD Regional Office for Africa, Prof. Frederick Q. Gravenir, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research, Innovation and Outreach, Prof. Paul Kuria Wainaina, Vice Chancellor of Kenyatta University, and Chief Guest Dr. Tonny Omwansa, CEO of Kenya National Innovation Agency (KeNIA).

Having been founded in 2011, CBIIC has generated more than 100 different startup teams and created many success stories: sustainable businesses which create employment and provide innovative solutions to societal challenges. Embedding practice-oriented entrepreneurial teaching methods into the curriculum across various KU Schools has increased the number of startups ready for incubation. The remaining key challenge was addressed by VC Wainaina: KU students have excellent ideas and are supported to create prototypes and minimum viable products, such as the mechanical ventilator which was created by CBIIC innovators last year when international supply chains collapsed at the peak of the pandemic. Even though this product is badly needed by the market, the process of taking it to the market including all the necessary approval steps takes too long. Innovators need more support to move from a prototype to an actual product.

CBIIC’s slogan „from job seekers to job creators“ and the conference’s theme „Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic through University-Industry Linkages“ came to life in the following innovators‘ pitches. Panelists from the Kenyan innovation ecosystem were prepared to ask detailed questions about the proposed business models and give feedback based on their expertise. Innovators were at different stages, some at the end of the ideation stage, others already on market with a minimum viable product.

Closing remarks were given by Dr. Martin Irungu from EmpServe Kenya, an independent non-profit making organization promoting interests of young and vulnerable communities in both rural and urban Kenya for grassroots entrepreneurship initiatives. He appreciated the innovators‘ pitches and the valuable feedback provided by the panelists and emphasized the importance of collaboration.