Leading private university launches an innovative entrepreneurship training programme which has been a huge success from the word go
By George Gichuki
Formal education was introduced in Kenya (and most countries in Africa for that matter) by the colonialists. One thing that stood out among those who were pioneers in receiving formal education was their ability to get white collar jobs which earned them handsome remuneration. This motivated parents to enroll their children in school en-masse – especially after our country gained independence. Granted, there are many benefits of formal education. For instance, it arms learners with knowledge which makes them agents of socio-economic change in the society. This rightly informed the decision by the founding father of our country – the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta – to make the clarion call by his young government to fight three vices: poverty, ignorance and disease. Indeed, history has proved that formal education is a panacea of these vices. In the developed countries where the literacy levels are high, poverty, ignorance and disease are not major threats to socio-economic development. Over the years though, with the high number of students graduating from tertiary institutions and universities, getting jobs in the formal labour market has become an uphill task. Many young graduates have had to wait for a long period of time before getting formally employed – a painful period that is hilariously known locally as ‘tarmacking.’
It is against this background that many colleges and universities in the country have introduced entrepreneurship as a core unit in the various disciplines that they offer. Often, in many forums aimed at addressing the high unemployment menace in Kenya and seek the possible solutions, speakers have coined this phrase: ‘the youth should be job creators and not job seekers by embracing entrepreneurship.’ Nevertheless, that is easier said than done. Frankly speaking, entrepreneurship is not for faint hearted – it is a journey that is full of ups and downs which requires a lot of patience and resilience. In addition, this journey is practical. Ironically though, the entrepreneurship course being offered in most of our learning institutions is theoretical.
Ray of hope
Nevertheless, there is a ray of hope. A programme, offering practical training on entrepreneurship has been introduced in three Kenyan universities – Kenyatta University ( KU), Mount Kenya University ( MKU) and Strathmore University. It is known as STEP- an acronym for Student Training for Entrepreneurial Promotion. Offering a practical and enjoyable approach on entrepreneurship training, STEP’s brainchild was Professor Michael Frese with the support of a team from Leuphana University of Luneburg. Founded in 2006, the group joined hands with Makerere University business school and Uganda Christian University. The first training took place in 2009. An online brief about the programme indicates that: ‘it develops young people’s skills, knowledge and confidence to pursue an entrepreneurial career.’ In Africa, STEP is currently being offered in Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, Tanzania and Rwanda. It has also been rolled out in Asia and Latin America.
The programme has twelve modules which are offered within a period of twelve months. It is conducted by a group of trainers who make a call for students to participate, before selecting and dividing them into two groups with equal numbers – control and experimental. Given the scientific nature of the programme, only members of the experimental group receive the training and the seed capital to establish a business of their choice. The selection of the control group is random.
STEP was introduced in Kenya in 2012. The initiative to do so was taken by Professor Peter Wanderi ( MKU’s director of quality assurance, linkages and partnerships ) who was at that time the director of university partnerships at KU. Under his docket was the Chandaria Business Innovation Centre – a facility at KU whose role is to nurture young entrepreneurs. He founded the centre together with Professor Olive Mugenda ( the then Vice Chancellor of KU) and he served as its first director. “At the initial stages, most of the entrepreneurship training that was being offered at the centre was theoretical and that was a very serious gap,” says Professor Wanderi. “I therefore approached the Kenya National Commission for UNESCO for a solution and they introduced me to STEP,” he adds. Courtesy of that initiative, STEP was launched at KU in September 2012. It was the first university in Kenya to roll out the programme.
STEP AT MKU
One of Professor Wanderi’s goals when he joined MKU was to introduce STEP so as to equip students with practical skills on entrepreneurship. That goal has come to pass. The university launched the programme in January, this year. To start with, a team of ten staff members from MKU and two staff members of the Kenya National Commission for UNESCO were trained on the programme for one week. After that, they were certified to start offering the programme which ran for twelve weeks. In total, four hundred students were picked for the programme – two hundred were randomly placed in the experimental group and the other two hundred in the control group. “ Members of the experimental group were divided into eight groups and we guided them in identifying the businesses that they would establish and operate in the course of the programme, depending mainly on their passion,” says one of the trainers, Dr. Phelista Wangui Njeru , a lecturer at MKU’s school of business and economics. “Each group was given a seed capital of Kshs. 10,000 which was to be returned to the funders ( Leuphana University) at the end of the programme,” she adds.
According to another trainer, Mr. Benjamin Afumba, the programme was highly interactive and it went a long way in imparting entrepreneurial skills on the participants. “During the training, we realized that the students were able to grasp important aspects on how to run a business practically like handling cash, mitigating risks and interacting with customers,” he says.
At the end of the programme, all the participants were awarded certificates.
One of the goals of introducing the STEP programme at MKU was to assist students in setting up their own small businesses. Going by the testimonials of the participants after its completion, then it was a huge success. “Some of the groups did very well and they were able to realize profits which were four times more than the seed capital given,” says Dr. Peter Kirira, director, MKU Foundation who was also a trainer. “Most critical though is that even the ones who did not make a lot of profit learnt that there are challenges in business and surmounting them makes one a formidable entrepreneur,” he adds. Further, he observes that since the participants were divided into groups of five, it helped them to appreciate the value of team work in the world of business. Whereas many entrepreneurs may be the sole proprietors of their business, successfully growing them entirely on their own is a herculean task.
The other benefit of the programme according to Dr. Njeru is that it made the students appreciate that through entrepreneurship, they can earn a living. “For a long time, many people held the wrong view that entrepreneurship should only be embraced by those who fail academically,” she laments. “Ironically, the so called academic dwarfs would successfully establish businesses and they ended up employing the academic giants,” she adds. Dr. Njeru is supported by Lilian Makandi, STEP programme’s officer at MKU. “Most of the participants are eager to continue running and growing their businesses outside the university and we are therefore encouraging them to register them formally,” Makandi says. “ To that end, we are going to partner with various county governments and this shows the programme has transformed the students’ mindset – they have seen the need of creating employment opportunities after graduating as opposed to looking for the same which is often time consuming and frustrating,” she adds.
It is gratifying to learn that some of the beneficiaries of the programme are now training their peers – for instance youth groups in churches. “This will enhance the impact of the programme and equip more young people with entrepreneurial skills,” emphasizes Professor Wanderi.
To start with, there was an introduction session for all the four hundred students who were picked to undertake the programme. Nevertheless, by randomly picking numbers, two hundred of them were placed in the control group and they got disappointed. “Some members of the control group might have been more committed to the programme than the actual participants, but they were unfortunately locked out through the random selection process,” laments Professor Wanderi.
Secondly, according to him, the rolling out of the programme was delayed a bit by some logistical challenges. “Despite starting a bit late by two weeks, we had to cover all the twelve modules which meant the students had to attend extra sessions to make up for the time lost,” he says. In the same breath, Dr. Kirira observes that in the course of the training, the students were busy with their classes and continuous assessment tests. “To overcome this challenge, we allowed the students to choose some days in a week when as many of them as possible would be available for training,” he observes.
Thirdly, in line with the university’s policy, students are barred from conducting business within its precinct. In that regard, a waiver had to be provided by the university’s management for the participants to step up businesses within its compound. “Indeed, the university’s management was very supportive; not only did they allow the students to do business within the campus, but they also ensured that all the necessary facilities were provided including training rooms and projectors,” says Dr. Kirira.
The road ahead
Having successfully trained the first group of students and arming them with vital entrepreneurial skills, MKU is optimistic that the relationship it has already established with Leuphana University will continue. In that breath, since the first phase of the training was held at its main campus in Thika, going forward, the same will be rolled in other campuses.
The university has also approached the Kiambu County government’s department of enterprise development for a partnership that will facilitate the beneficiaries of the programme to register and establish businesses within the county. Moreover, the university is looking forward to developing a partnership with the Kenya National Commission for UNESCO in order to launch the programme in various counties so that it can benefit other young people who are not necessarily university students.
According to Professor Wanderi, when STEP was being introduced in Kenya, those charged with that responsibility ( himself included) had hoped that they would get a financier to train members of the control group in order to minimize their level of disillusionment. Nevertheless, that has not happened to date. “I therefore appeal to the STEP management team to restructure the programme and create a window for the members of the control group, so that they are not totally excluded from the programme,” Professor Wanderi suggests.
Professor Wanderi also points out that during the monitoring and evaluation exercise, most beneficiaries have lamented that the closing ceremony has erroneously marked an apparent end of the programme. “We should therefore adopt the term commissioning instead of closing and make it possible for the trainers to continue mentoring the programme’s beneficiaries by leveraging on various information communication technology platforms,” he advises. “Indeed, the ceremony should mark the beginning of a new life for the beneficiaries in the world of entrepreneurship,” he adds. No doubt then, the innovative programme is set to help in addressing the acute shortage of jobs in the country and give young people fulfilling livelihoods.
Testimonials From the Beneficiaries
John Kamau: Real Suppliers
John Kamau is a student at MKU pursuing a bachelor of education (arts) degree in Kiswahili and Christian Religious Education (CRE). One of the beneficiaries of the STEP programme, he was the team leader of a business enterprise christened Real Suppliers. The team comprised five members. “The training sessions were very beneficial to all of us and we gained a lot of skills and knowledge on how to run successful businesses,” says Kamau.
Armed with the Kshs. 10,000 seed capital that was part of the programme’s package, his group purchased various fast moving products from Bidco Africa (which is located near MKU’s main campus in Thika) like noodles, soaps and detergents. They sold the products to fellow students at MKU. Ultimately, the group managed to realize a profit of Kshs. 18,405 from the fruitful exercise.
Beyond the STEP programme, Kamau is looking forward to starting a business after graduating. Having already established useful contacts at Bidco Africa, his goal is to become the company’s supplier at Nyandarua – his home county. “Although I will graduate as a teacher, I will focus more on being an entrepreneur after my university studies because of the exposure given to me by the STEP programme,” he avers.
Ruth Wambui: Summit Enterprises
Ruth Wambui is a second year student at MKU, taking a bachelor of commerce degree. Another beneficiary of the STEP programme, she joined hands with her team of six members in setting up Summit Enterprises. “Our group specialized in selling sweets to students because they are fast moving and popular with our target market,” she observes adding that sweets are not bulky and their profit margin is attractive.
After operating the business for three months (the duration of the training programme), the group raked in a handsome profit of Kshs. 25,000. “The STEP programme has transformed my mindset and I now see the benefits of starting my own business after graduating as opposed to looking for a formal job,” Wambui happily says. In addition, the entrepreneurial programme opened a window for Wambui and her team to network with experienced and successful entrepreneurs. For instance, during a networking forum at the UNESCO regional office for Eastern Africa (Gigiri), she met an entrepreneur who is involved in making construction bricks from waste material. “I was really impressed by that innovative business because of its contribution towards the conservation of the environment and I would wish to engage in the same once I graduate,” she confidently says.
The budding young entrepreneur says the STEP programme armed her with the following skills: the importance of team work while doing business, how to conduct market research, the steps to follow while advancing credit to customers and how to service them. “The experience was worthwhile and very fulfilling,” she avers.
The team shared the profit generated equally. “The money came in handy in assisting us to meet our needs as students like paying for our accommodation and buying learning materials,” Wambui ends.
Martin Otato: Chakula Poa
It is easy to gauge how serious an entrepreneur is from the passion and zeal he or she displays while making a business presentation. After all, body language communicates more effectively than verbal one. Martin Otato, a second year student at MKU pursuing a bachelor of business management degree exemplifies those traits. To say the least, he makes an eloquent presentation about his business which was the most profitable during the STEP training programme at MKU.
Otato was the team leader of Chakula Poa – a business specializing in the sale of big sized buns ( popularly known as KDF) as well as coffee. The group comprised five members. Before they are arrived at the decision of setting up that particular business, the team undertook a market survey among MKU students and they found out that KDFs were more popular with the male students than the female ones. They therefore decided to focus more on the male customers since that would guarantee them higher sales. Their decision paid off handsomely because the business realized a handsome profit of Kshs. 44,000 which was the highest amongst all the participants.
“We would purchase a packet of buns at Kshs. 45 and sell it at Kshs. 60, making a profit of Kshs. 15 in the process,” says Otato. “ On the other hand, the cost of making coffee that would fill an urn was Kshs. 200; we sold the same at Kshs. 900 hence realizing a profit of Kshs. 900,” he adds. Though the members had a small disagreement which resulted in nil sales in the seventh week of the training programme, they sorted it out amicably and soldiered on to emerge winners. “From one of our training sessions, we leant that there was need for a member to receive a certain percentage of the sales made in form of commission,” Otato observes. “Once we adopted that, all the members became motivated and from that point henceforth, none of them would complain of being overworked,” he adds.
During the programme, Otato learnt the importance of book keeping, how to delegate as a leader, making effective sales pitch, servicing customers effectively, preparing business plans and the importance of market research. “Based on our market research for instance, we bought and prepared our products in bulk in order to meet the demand of the same from our customers,” he says. Each member got Kshs. 8,800 after the group divided its profit.
During their second week in business, the supplier of buns agreed to extend credit to them. They could therefore buy the product in bulk and settle the payment after making sales. Consequently, they learnt that if an entrepreneur cultivates the trust of his or her business partners, then he or she is able to grow at a fast rate.
Another thing that stands out about this group is that they opened a bank account to save their earnings. “Being their leader, the members entrusted me with the task of opening a bank account for them at KCB ( Thika branch) and this enabled us to manage our revenue prudently,” Otato avers. The account is still operational and since the group is planning on setting up a small business near MKU soon, it will come in handy. “Once we set up the business, we shall advertise its locality and product offering among our fellow students through appropriate social media platforms, besides strategically pinning posters on the notice boards,” the budding entrepreneur ends.
Danson Muiva : Ona Mbele Enterprises
Danson Muiva is a second year student at MKU. He is an undergraduate student in business management. Another beneficiary of the STEP programme, he was the team leader of Ona Mbele Enterprises; a business that was involved in selling sweets and ice creams. “Our target market was students and we made big sales during sports days and other occasions in our campus,” says Muiva. The business made a profit of Kshs. 35,000.
According to its leader, Ona Mbele Enterprises’ members (five in total) learnt key lessons during the training including: how to identify and seize business opportunities, market research, credit management, customer service and book keeping. In credit management, they learnt that they were to only advance credit facilities to the worthy customers. In the same vein, they were to ensure that the credit was settled on time through proper and up dated book keeping.
In order to reach more customers and boost their sales volumes, they were taught various marketing techniques. In that regard, they designed fliers indicating the products they were selling, which they distributed among various students. “Balancing between our studies and business was a delicate act, but since we were determined to succeed in the two areas, we overcame that hurdle,” he observes.
At the end of programme, each member of the group got Kshs. 7,000 after sharing the profit. “I used part of that money to purchase a smart phone which has added value to my studies, while the balance was taken up by shopping,” Muiva happily ends.
Morris Wambua and Eliud Njuguna: Photographers
Morris Wambua and Eliud Njuguna are undergraduate students in business management at MKU. Together with their three colleagues, they ventured into photography business during the STEP programme. “ In the course of the programme, we learnt various marketing skills, how to formulate business plans, qualities of outstanding entrepreneurs and risk taking skills ( especially being patient) because it is not always as an entrepreneur that your business will make profit,” says Njuguna. At the end of the programme, the business made a profit of Kshs. 6,000.
Wambua owns a camera and he is passionate about photography. He provided it to his colleagues to conduct the business. “Most students love photo sessions and that is why we settled for that business,” says Wambua. In order to reach many customers, the team of five marketed the business through word of mouth, social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp, besides pinning posters containing their contact details and product offering at various strategic places in the campus. After assembling a group of twenty to thirty people, the team would organize for photo shoots at picturesque locations in the campus and its environs which were very enjoyable. “Our customers had a lot of fun during those sessions and they would request for more shoots,” Wambua further says.
The group is planning to continue offering its services during MKU’s graduation ceremonies. “Demand for photography during graduation ceremonies is very high and we are confident of making a tidy sum of money by offering our quality and innovative services when they are being held,” avers Njuguna. Indeed, it is possible for a hobby to become a profitable business as demonstrated by this young team of budding entrepreneurs.
Robin Murimi: Popcorn Parlor
Robin Murimi is an undergraduate student at MKU in business information technology. But you know what? The young man is the chief executive officer (CEO) of Popcorn Parlor. Really? You may be wondering. So where is his c-suite? Well… Murimi was the team leader of Popcorn Parlor, a business that was involved in preparing, packaging and marketing flavored popcorns during the STEP programme. The team comprised three boys and two girls. “ The idea came from one of the girls who informed us that she had occasionally added flavour to popcorns and they became very delicious,” says Murimi. “We sold our product in the students’ hostels and the estates near our campus; the latter was a huge market for us since we also reached customers who were non-students,” he adds.
The team would buy popcorn seeds from the supermarket and wholesale shops which they would cook , flavour and package in one of the member’s rented bedsitter. “We would pop the seeds, mix the flavours and colours , while observing very high standards of hygiene ,” Murimi says. In order to focus on their studies, the team came up with a schedule which gave them a window of selling the popcorns thrice a week.
At the end of the exercise, the team made a profit of Kshs. 26,000. They used the money to purchase new stock since they are still servicing customers residing outside the campus in their free time. “Right now we are actually looking forward to registering our company and selling our products in various retail and wholesale shops as well as supermarkets,” the budding entrepreneur avers.
Murimi’s father is also his mentor since he is an experienced entrepreneur. “Occasionally, my father would meet the five of us during our training and he would enlighten us on how to market our products and realize more profit,” he recalls. Exuding a lot of confidence during the interview and deep product knowledge, there is no doubt that the STEP programme lit fire in Murimi’s belly to venture and excel in the fast paced world of entrepreneurship. Occupying the c-suite therefore does not appear like a pipedream for the self-acclaimed CEO.