In the last year or so Nairobi has been treated to a multiplicity of competitions and contest organised to promote local technology entrepreneurship. Depending on whether the chicken or the egg came first, one would argue that this has contributed to significant buzz and interest around East Africa’s growing tech start-up culture.
That the region is experiencing growth in the tech start-up scene is difficult to dispute. Doubting people only need to consider the tech scene’s coverage from global media houses such as The Next Web ( Mnachi Mdema’s article and Francis Pisani’s artice), the ReadWriteWeb (Curt Hopkins article), BBC (Egon Cossou’s article), Forbes.com and CNN (Dayo Olopade’s article) - to name a few.
Some of the entrepreneur competitions in the last one year that I can barely recall are IPO48, Garage48, App Circus, Huawei developer challenge. Some of the contests take a more global scope such as Nokia’s Create for millions Contest, infoDev’s Top 50 competition,Google Android Sub Sahara contest, and Apps4Africa. Other global challenges that are still ongoing include Samsung’s Bada Developer Challenge,the Ericsson Applications Award and infoDev’s m2work Micro-work Challenge.
The list of competitions for 2011 above is almost endless. It is however incomplete without mentioning Pivot 25, the predecessor of Pivot East. Being East Africa’s premier mobile apps competition culminating in a pitching conference in June, Pivot East is to many perceived the grand showcase of mobile entrepreneurship in East Africa.
I have come across arguments in the local tech scene that developers and aspiring entrepreneurs have began to suffer from “competition fatigue” so we should “slow down” on them. I argue that we are not yet having too many competitions and that in fact we cannot possibly have enough contests of this kind in East Africa. This in my view will continue to be for as long as we have not as a society fully embraced the start-up culture. More so we should hold as many such competitions as possible for as long as our upcoming tech entrepreneurs have gaps in access to capital, markets, coaching, mentorship and other related entrepreneurship facilitation.
This weekend of 24th-26th February 2012 comes along with at least one more competition in Nairobi - Startup Weekend. The event will be hosted by Nailab at Bishop Magua Center which is gradually becoming Nairobi’s tech startup building. The competition organization in different locations globally borrows from a common format overseen and supported by Startup Weekend, a 501c(3) Non-Profit organization in the San Francisco - United States. It is designed to be a “54-hour event where developers, designers , marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products and launch startups”. The format is very much like Garage48 and IPO48 and goes as follows :-
- On Friday Evening attendees present their best ideas in open mic pitching sessions.
- Over Saturday and Sunday teams focus on customer development, validating their ideas, practicing LEAN Startup Methodologies and building a minimal viable product.
- On Sunday evening teams demo their prototypes and receive valuable feedback from a panel of experts.
The organizers have stated in their website engagement of re-known personalites in the industry for speakers, judges and mentors. These according to the organizers include Virtual City’s John Waibochi, ICT board’s Paul Kukubo, Paul Mwachi of Isys Software, Capital FM’s Chris Kirubi, inMobi’s Moses Kemibaro, and Craft Silicon’s Kamal Buthabati. Judging from the results of other weekend long contests held in Nairobi where teams of entrepreneurs accessed prize money, entrepreneurship capacity building, early stage investment and access to valuable networks, I would encourage many upcoming entrepreneurs to take part in this event.
Many more start-ups participating in contests such as Startup Weekend can only make East Africa grow its knowledge economy through entrepreneurship. When more of the upcoming entrepreneurs are empowered with skills, exposure and funding, one can only bet on East Africa being able to showcase great progress in the region’s mobile entrepreneurship. The region’s Pivot East Pitching Conference and other entrepreneur showcase avenues may therefore brace themselves for bigger challenges in selecting the best of the best.