American tycoon Romesh Wadhwani who founded giant Symphony Technology Group has launched a search for a new crop of entrepreneurs who can create the much needed jobs in Kenya.
Through Wadhwani Foundation that he launched in 2003, his team has been running a pilot locally for 18 months to change the tack for creating jobs by tying up with major universities who identify top performing students with the goal of turning into renown entrepreneurs.
It spends an average $10 million (Sh1bn) yearly to run the project in more than 20 countries.
The foundation has set the bar high, saying it targets to mint between three and five per cent of graduates yearly.
In its search, Wadhwani is generating trainers from the faculty — it has recruited 173 — and mentors to introduce the fresh brains to entrepreneurship culture, says the foundation’s CEO Ajay Kela, who addss that the emerging economies lack an ecosystem of start-ups.
After graduation, the small number that choose entrepreneurship would be introduced to an equally small circle of high networth individuals (HNI) who are “at ease spending between 20,000 and 30,000 dollars, for example,” to rank the the budding investors. The HNIs will be trained in ways of ranking the new graduates in an incubation of three months and drop non-performers.
“We will train the high networth individuals to create an ecosystem of angel investors and start-ups,” Dr Ajay said.
Kenyatta University, University of Nairobi, Strathmore, and USIU are some of the instutions on the entrepreneurship pilot.
Right from First Year, the students are involved in class work and outside-classroom activities, including the “one-dollar challenge” that tests ability to generate an idea and run a business.
The programmes that runs for an equivalent two semesters should help interested candidates to “walk in with an idea and walk out with a company,” said Dr Ajay in Nairobi last week.
Wadhwani is looking at a failure rate of up to 98 per cent, he said.
According to the Economic Survey 2017, the bulk of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in Kenya are in the hands of people whose highest level of education is secondary school. Close to a third of the ownership of licensed MSMEs completed secondary school, but less than 10 per cent (9.8 per cent) belong to university graduates, the study says.
“There is a youth bomb” since the new graduates want to start earning immediately but were not willing to take risks to start a business, the CEO said.
Across the world, the Indian Institute of Technology-trained engineer said, the desire to become millionaires at a relatively young age was gaining currency while “becoming an entrepreneur is like reaching the Olympics.”
He said the rush to make the first million in business or employment was also helping trainers and business incubators to identify people with the right quality.
He quipped: “Millions of people aspire to go to the Olympics but only thousands make it and [eventually] make the millions or billions in earnings.”
According to Jim Clifton, the chairman of Gallup, while innovation was a good thing in the pipeline of job creation, it’s entrepreneuriship that creates new customers by energising the inventions. “It is wiser to study the person than the idea,,” Mr Clifton says in his book, The Coming Jobs War.
“Entrepreneurship is tough, requires tenacity, staying power and can-do attitude,” said Dr Ajay, who explained Wadhwani was keen “to create Silicon Valley kind of companies, [our programme] is not for people looking for livelihood.”
Wadhwani is also working with technical institutes to make their graduates more employable by giving them e-content on skills, said Benard Adudah, a programme manager at the organisation.