Launched in 2010, little was known about Nailab, a tech incubation hub founded by Sam Gichuru, a former Sales Technician at the heart of Nairobi’s suburbs. But today, it boasts of not only mentoring entrepreneurs that attract investor funds worth over $300,000USD but of creating more than 100 tech- related jobs for Kenyan youth in a few months.
In the past 46 months, Nailab has thus far managed to incubate over 30 ideas turning a significant number of them into SME’s. Ideas like Ghafla, WezaTele have attracted millions in funding, with WezaTele exiting for 147 million shillings. Other startups such as Plain, Rabbit IQ, Service Line, Ujirani are set to launch to market and are revolutionary.
This comes at a time when records in the Ministry of Youth and Sports indicate that in a population of 40 million citizens; at least 125,000 youth are registered with formal jobs as graduates merely occupy 2 per cent of the workforce. Nevertheless, ever since current CEO and founder Sam Gichuru and co-founders Bart Lacoix and Anna Chojnacka teamed up, they have never looked back despite the country’s challenges after becoming operational in 2011.
And over the years, Nailab has become a popular hub for offering entrepreneurship program focusing on growing innovative technology driven ideas through the provision of business advice, technician, training and support, professional mentoring and coaching, giving access to market and fostering strategic partnerships as well as linking entrepreneurs to investors.
For the CEO, Sam Gichuru, there’s not a typical day for him as he often meets various entrepreneurs to discuss progress on their startups and new challenges faced. Most of his days are constantly on research, reading on developing solutions while tracking progress of startups; a major change in his career compared to five years ago.
After Kenya’s President Uhuru’s surprise visit in March 2015 to the Nailab headquarters along Ngong Rd, Nairobi, TechMoran briefly caught up with the tech savvy CEO, now 37 years of age, to learn more about his secrets to success in his business initiative.
TechMoran: Where were you before you launched Nailab?
Sam Gichuru: I started out as a Sales technician at Insight Technologies progress to the Sales Manager/Customer Service Executive; Worked for Wananchi Online as a Corporate Account Manager for 2 years; Finally worked as an Operations /General Manager at Sahannet, then started my first company Sifa Systems, which went, burst in two years and then founded Ideas Africa. It is at this point that I met my co-founder Tonee Ndungu, Bart Lacroix and Anna Chojnacka and Nailab was born. We have since then worked with different startups and other organizations.
TechMoran: What inspired you to start Nailab?
Sam Gichuru: The fall of my then business SIFA SYSTEMS after being in the market for two years is partly what inspired me to think of business incubation. Working with my then co-founders Bart Lacroix, Anna Chojnacka and Tonee Ndungu gave me several pointers in entrepreneurship and I learnt that in entrepreneurship, just like in life, if you want to walk far, walk with others.
TechMoran: Has Nailab’s original vision and mission have been met?
Sam Gichuru: Both are work in progress. Our mission is to create an enabling environment that inspires and stimulates innovation and entrepreneurship. The vision is to deliver world-class startups that can compete at a global scale.
TechMoran: What impact has Nailab had on the growth of local (and international) startups incubated?
Sam Gichuru: Over the 4 years we have been operational, we have assisted over 35 businesses grow with 16 of those still operational and 5 of them operating on profit margins with one having been accepted in a silicon valley based startup accelerator.
TechMoran: How many startups are currently in the incubation process?
Sam Gichuru: We currently have 5 startups incubated in the program and are in summary:
- Plain: Plain is a social mobile app that lets you make anonymous posts and view, reply, comment on and favorite other people’s posts. You can also have anonymous topical discussions about pretty much anything.
- Rabbit IQ: RabbitIQ is a web and mobile-based herd management platform for commercial rabbit farmers. It intuitively knows when to breed your rabbits, when they need a nest box, when they should deliver, when to wean litters, when to sex litters and when they are ready for sale providing the commercial breeder with an optimized daily farm schedule showing what task is due for any specific day. Feed ratios are also evaluated based on the rabbits age and training offered to farmers on the platform. This removes the need for extensive paperwork and date calculation for breeders as it completely manages the entire process through a mobile phone.
- Service line: Is creating a system that generates one toll free service line that helps consumers access emergency services and different businesses hotline services therefore eradicating the need for one to absorb a million numbers. In partnership with Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) and Small and Home Office businesses (SOHO’s) the system will offer more than just customer relations, it will help build customer experiences.
- Ujirani: Is a mobile app that is set to digitize the nyumba kumi initiative. The app will help connect neighbours within set neighborhoods using a safe and controlled system. The app using geo-mapping will help identify the users neighborhood and location. It will also give access to emergency services through their distress option.
- Lipaplus: A startup developing a mobile POS system that is attached to an android phone and is designed for small-scale businesses to enable them access credit and debit card payments.
TechMoran: What advice would you give to an individual or group of entrepreneurs aspiring to open an SME?
Sam Gichuru: Start now, don’t wait until the stars align, there is no perfect timing. You are the master of the time.
In all, to become part of the growing trend of successful entrepreneurs through Nailab, applicants are advised to apply for incubation on the Nailab application portal. If successful, a shortlisted applicant would make a presentation to a panel of judges and invited to join the program. For details Sam Gichuru can be contacted on [email protected]