I watched NTV Business Agenda with buzzed pleasure as heated debate arose as to whether an enabling environment for technology business for locals exists in East Africa.
This inclusion in the Business Agenda was an extrapolation of the #140Friday twitter discussion around the winning of government contracts by local companies, that was sparked by an article in The Daily Nation.
Kenya is clearly in the infrastructure layer of her growth.The framework for both large and small businesses are being defined. These are great times, defining moments for our nations.
The lines were, as I saw it, distinctly drawn into two, the Corporations ( Seven Seas, Virtual City, Craft Silicon amongst others) and The Startups (Symbiotic,PesaPal,Shimba technologies, amongst others). It is along these lines that I wish to add my voice.
Growth for Technology Corporations.
In my view,there are two lines, developing and partnering with existing multinationals and becoming a multinational yourself.
The first refers to partnerships with the Intels, General Electrics, Microsofts, IBM’s, Oracles of this world. The latter refers to going it alone, and definitely requires a long term view to come to fruition.
As to the first. There is a reason why the Partners of these multinationals are very silent in this discussion, they are happy and don’t see what the fuss is about.
They have invested in the core competencies that enable them to deploy best of breed global solutions, and they are earning tons of regional income from it.
They have partnered with South African, European and American outfits to establish themselves as a part of a global brand and walk into any presentation with 50 years plus technology experience backing them.
After success comes the search for significance.
For them the next logical step after building such a profitable practice, due to specialized knowledge of regional dynamics, is providing a unique geospecific world class solution that services the African populace, riding on the platforms with whom ones long serving relationship garners regional influence.
For example N-Computing’s Director was at Microsoft for a Long long time, before he leveraged the unique product to ride on the existing infrastructure that Microsoft offers to fill a specific market niche that was not part of the core business of Microsoft.
Oracle was a small company given to two IBMers as part of an exit agreement as they left the corporation. Look where it is now.
The corporations have the options in their hands. If Kenya is not open enough they have the whole of Africa.
However my sincere concern is for the Kenyan technology entrepreneur who wants to get government contracts.
Growth For Startups
First: Dear entrepreneur, government of Kenya contracts are the drop in the ocean. Nairobi is East Africa’s silicon Valley, and this valley needs to supply the rest of the world. If your concept is unique and sound enough, you may be the next Thawte.
Second: It is a fact that 95% of our entrepreneurs do not build from scratch: They pick a platform (Microsoft OSes, Google, Web platforms, Open Source Platforms) and build upon these. Hence patent issues, as the originality aspect in the work they have done is absent. Ownership of the software under kenyan patent law is dodgy at best.There is nothing wrong with this. At this juncture it doesn’t even make sense to build from scratch, we need a critical mass of technologists sustaining an existing internal and global economy. However originality is in itself an issue and works against the little guy, whose innovations may be quickly copy pasted by the larger corporations.
Third: Grow your startup along your line of expertise.
GOSPA. Goals Objectives Strategies Priorities Action Items.
Plan into 20 years down the road. You will quickly see the path you need to take. And if the government is not doing enough for you, go regional, nay, go global.
Fourth: As has been said by many others, STYLE UP.
This one goes for both startups and corporations. Government deals with bodies and corporations, not amorphous named individuals.Any policy documents, strikes, applications,research papers,statistics must be tendered by a legal entity that the government recognizes and acknowledges as a representative of the professionals for whom it speaks. Too much bickering and personal interests exist in the existing societies like Computer Society of Kenya among others.
Other professions have been guilded for centuries.
EDUCATION: For there to be a technology uprising, the import and export, sufficient government pressure, associations and the necessary “Enabling Environment” for a bustling tech community, we need numbers.
To get numbers we need more education, from the very young in primary schools to those in university and in post graduate professional courseware.
Education will spur innovations, more startups, the need to grow, incorporate and shape the business.
As I said in an earlier blog post, the numbers must make sense.
In this case they must make cents.
If truly we are looking at a population of 120 plus Million East Africans, we then need sufficient base level digital literacy in the general populace, and specialized technology knowledge to spur the growth of services around the knowledge that emanates in the people.
We need to saturate our economy with technology education. We will then export people and people will begin taking different paths.
Necessity will drive policy and innovation.