INNOVATION COMPETITIONS


I sense a waning interest from Kenyan startups in the innovation competitions.

The original belief is that ones idea is so cool, so nice, so good that it must be kept secret.

If at all it needs be submitted, some NDA’s should be signed.

Behind this is a further belief that once submitted to the competition, it will change everything and they will become Facebook, Apple, Microsoft. In a flash.

But the opposite happens. The winners win, but no support exists. Consultants hover and abound. They are suddenly expected to be a corporation, yet have never been one.

As for losers some lose hope.

There are many reasons for this, as I have heard, from both winners and losers of past programs.

The very first is accountability.

Few of past winners have built up the portals, programs or businesses for which they won their challenges. A winner told me he and his friends went straight to Nairobi West and literally closed down the bar.

The second is percieved corruption and favouritism.

I believe other bloggers have talked about this and hub cliques. Where a small group of people seem to be winning a series of competitions in circuit. As no proof exists this is neither here nor there.

But a strong critisism was from a winner in a recent competition.

Raffles, he calls them, as he says he won this year with exactly the same concept that was submitted and rejected last year, no updates or refining done.

He says the interviews did not consist of anything concerning the project itself.

In general, deeper mentoring a la Y combinator needs to be given to these winners. Financial guidance and restrictions and controls and punitive measures just as occur in bank loans and overdrafts should be in place so that long term businesses are built as opposed to it being in perpetual startup mode.

Further, mentoring from leaders like Mr. Waibochi of VirtualCity and Mr. Macharia of SevenSeas can give our tech startups mentorship and benchmarks upon which to aim for. Seeing people that have grown reduces any doubts, that it is indeed possible to become a global concern.

What our startups need to consider are financial exit strategies, of which competitions are but a means to an end, possible higher valuation at point of sale of their intellectual property to a corp, IPO or bigger fish.

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