Timothy Mwirabua, a Nairobi-based web developer may not be a household name yet, but he’s surely on his way.
The 25 year old innovator has recently been selected as a finalist of the SME Empowerment Innovation Challenge, an initiative of Ford Foundation, the World Economic Forum and the Hague Institute for the Internationalization of Law.
The SME Empowerment Innovation Challenge offers a total of 70, 000 US Dollars to 3 entrepreneurs whose innovations help SMEs in East and West Africa address regulatory barriers.
Timothy, a soft-spoken young man with a big vision which stood out among hundreds of contestants, spoke to the TechSahara team of his ambitions and how he see entrepreneurship developing in Kenya.
Why did you decide to start ShopOfficer?
More than 70% of small businesses close down within their first year due to various problems related to their cashflow. A lot of this is due to poor accounting techniques and fraud at their shops. Many local business owners have low literacy levels and that means they cannot use the complex accounting systems in the market like Quickbooks and Zoho.
Secondly they cannot afford to have complex point of sale systems or computers to run the accounting systems available in the market. I saw the opportunity to provide a low cost and easily accessible accounting solution for the small businesses to address these issues.
How has the journey be so far?
Tiresome but interesting. As an entrepreneur there are so many things to worry about including your customer experience, your market, your team, your product and your capital. You can have a strong team around you but you still remain the center of all that pressure.
You have to learn how to balance all this within your time and also stay balanced personally. Sometimes you may also face setbacks but the key thing I have learnt is to stay focussed on my vision and stay positive. And you have to be constantly learning and adapting.
Why did you apply to the SME Empowerment Innovation Challenge?
I was informed about the challenge by a friend at the iHub. I saw it as an interesting opportunity to increase the visibility of my startup to my future customers and partners across the world. I also saw it as an opportunity to raise funding to run ShopOfficer.
What is the entrepreneurship climate like in Kenya?
Kenyans are very entrepreneurial which is a good thing for our country. There is a lot of media attention on the startup scene and especially technology startups in the “Silicon Savannah”.
I think there are many more enterprises coming up that do not deal with technology and there is not enough being done to support these brick and motor entrepreneurs. The big challenge we have is their inadequate knowledge.
We have low literacy levels considering that many people who opt to start their businesses do so as an alternative from being excellent in class. I think with the right training, mentorship and tools these entrepreneurs they can be able to run their businesses better.
Why did you choose the challenging life of an entrepreneur over employment?
Since I was a kid I have always been inventive and resourceful. In primary and high school, I used to sneak out to buy snacks and other items to sell to my school mates.
In college, I used to sell hip wall hangings for my campus mates to decorate their hostel rooms. At one point, I decided that I want to do something big and meaningful for my society. Entrepreneurship seemed to me like the more direct way of achieving that. I had some level of programming skills and I decided to perfect my skills and build a technology company.
How do you see the entrepreneurship climate in Kenya developing in the next 5-10 years?
The entrepreneurship climate is growing and I see it being responsible for a lot of solutions for the problems we have locally and abroad. There is some level of support from the government through the ICT Authority, Vision 2030 initiative and the Konza City project.
This is a good thing especially for technology startups locally. There is also a number of good innovation hubs that mentor and support the startups massively. I see us growing and leading across the continent in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship.