Sinapis, a social enterprise that empowers entrepreneurs in the developing world by providing them with a rigorous Christ-centered business education, mentoring services, and access to seed capital is set to launch in Kampala, Uganda.
The launch in Uganda is part of its plans to help entrepreneurs practically integrate their faith while building strong businesses all over the world. So far, Sinapis has active programs in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Ghana, Brazil.
We caught up with Asha Mweru, Regional Expansion Manager, Sinapis and this is what we learned about the firm.
Briefly take us through the roots of Sinapis
The roots of Sinapis date back to December of 2008 when our co-founders Courtney Rountree Mills and Karibu Nyaggah, both Harvard graduate students met during a student trip to east Africa. Courtney was a graduate student at Harvard Kennedy School and Karibu was a graduate student at Harvard Business School. Karibu was leading the student trip to his home country of Kenya. They became fast friends during the trip, and soon revealed my vision of setting up an accelerator program for start-up stage entrepreneurs in Kenya.
Later that year, Courtner embarked on her thesis where she received the opportunity to work with the Ministry of Finance in Kenya to help them look at bottlenecks in the private sector, particularly with regards to entrepreneurship. She received funds from Harvard to do research on the subject the summer of 2009 and travelled to Kenya with fellow Harvard graduate, Matt Stolhandske, to diligence the viability of an early stage accelerator program in Nairobi.
Interviewing over 100 professionals from the for-profit, non-profit and government sectors on the entrepreneurship space laid the groundwork for the first version of the business plan for the accelerator program. Increasingly, there was a call to think about how this accelerator program could directly glorify God’s kingdom and increase His presence in Kenya in a practical way. Thus, we decided to make the Sinapis program centered on Kingdom business principles that help entrepreneurs integrate their faith with their business. We named the organization Sinapis, the latin name for the mustard seed found in the mustard seed parable of the New Testament, to reflect this vision. So far the company has scaled its program to entrepreneurs in Mombasa, Kisumu, Ghana and Brazil.
What was the inspiration behind starting Sinapis than any other thing?
For the longest time, a lot of people and Christians per se have separated their day to day lives at work and while running a business from their faith. This dichotomy has caused numerous problems especially around upholding ethical grounds across the board. Instead of business being regarded as an extension of our faith, it has been segregated and has had its own rules governing it. Sinapis’ inspiration is to create a practical bridge of how to build and scale businesses successfully while still integrating your faith thus allowing you to live a seamless integrated life as a Christian business owner.
Take us through a journey of what aspects of training does Sinapis offer entrepreneurs?
The Sinapis Entrepreneurship Academy is an intensive 4-month business training program similar to a mini-MBA but customized for earlier stage ventures. Participants in this program spend approximately 20 hours per week completing prework material, attending in-person class sessions, and doing practical “field work” assignments that allow immediate implementation of lessons learned. Each week entrepreneurs go through class sessions that enable them to answer some of the most pressing business problems they and also gives them the skill to act on it. These include: Who is my customer? How do I price my product? How do I make a sale? How do I ensure I have all the right financial records in place? how do I manage my cash flows not to go bankrupt? How can I compete effectively in the market? etc. As an entrepreneur, you are then given assignments that allow you to practically implement everything you are learning each week so you can see some immediate improvements and feel more grounded in understanding and running your businesses. The entrepreneurs also have each other in class who end up providing a huge network of support and resources.
What has been the impact since you started Sinapis? How many entrepreneurs have been trained since the organization was established in Kenya?
To date, we’ve worked with over 700 entrepreneurs in Kenya and have seen great results thus far. On average the entrepreneurs grow revenues by 166% annually, create 3 new jobs/year and raise 15x more in investment capital after our program as compared to before. They’re also 46% more likely to still be in business after 3 years as compared to the national average. This is an affirmation that we are doing things right. Some of the feedback we’ve received from entrepreneurs is that they would have failed if they hadn’t gone through the Sinapis program.
After the training there is a competition where the finalists pitch the idea, tell us more about that?
Upon completion of the training program, the entrepreneurs are eligible to compete in the Sinapis Business Plan Competition, in which the top finalists compete for $10,000 in seed capital at a live pitch event. The finalists in the business plan competition are then invited to join our Fast Track Fellows Program, which is a 6-month accelerator program that provides the entrepreneurs access to high quality generalist consultants, professional advisors, successful entrepreneur mentors, advanced training, and investor matchmaking.
Who are the other previous entrepreneurs who were finalists in the competition? Highlight for us some of their winning business.
Sinapis is sector agnostic and hence has had a variety of entrepreneurs in different sectors go through the program; from agribusiness to tech to even traditional ones like construction. Some of our well known finalists and winners include Grace Murugi from Cakes.co.ke, Amanda Gicharu from Amanda’s Kitchen, Wanjiku Kandie from Waridi Events, Waweru Kuria, pivoted his business and now runs Inuka Pap which recently joined TechStars. These are but a few of some incredibly talented entrepreneurs who go through the Sinapis Academy, you can read more on them on our website.
So where do you start when you have a business idea and want to join Sinapis?
Simple, apply! We would then call you to take you through an application process and once you go through, you would be getting ready for an unforgettable 16 weeks!
What’s next for Sinapis for the next 5 years? Are you planning to expand the program locally? In East Africa?
As we grow we will continually improve our program to ensure that entrepreneurs can practically integrate their faith while building strong businesses all over the world. So far, we have started programs in Kisumu, Mombasa, Ghana, Brazil and are in the processes launching a program in Uganda.