and Medium Businesses in East Africa are resourceful and
creative, yet many entrepreneurs lack the time and support they
need to innovate in their businesses.
Technology, government support and
mentoring programmes all offer potential ways to address this
That’s according to Billy Owino,
Regional Director East Africa, who says that many Kenyan
entrepreneurs have great ideas but struggle to develop them into
new business offerings and ventures.
This parallels the challenge
entrepreneurs face worldwide – Sage research shows that
businesses worldwide rank development of new ideas as the most
common area of neglect in their organisations.
The problem stems from a lack of time,
despite small business owners working over 40 hours a week,
according to the Sage research.
“We see the same challenge throughout
East Africa,” Owino says, commenting on issues raised by the
Innovation Africa Summit 2016 in Kenya.
Owino says that there are many
promising shoots of innovative growth in East Africa – the
challenge for government and the business community is to
nurture them and ensure that innovative thinking spreads across
One focus should be on simplifying
red-tape so that smaller businesses can focus their energies on
customer service and new ideas rather than on admin and
“It is pleasing to see that most East
African governments are committed to simplifying the day to
day basics of business red tape – like paying taxes,
securing licences, processing imports and exports, or
registering a business,” he adds.
“But we should be looking at ways to
make it even simpler to do business.”
For their part, large companies can
help by making their paperwork easy for smaller suppliers and
Since broadband is an important
enabler of innovation, governments and the telecoms industry
should work together to build the necessary infrastructure.
Rwanda offers a great example in this regard, with a
government-led project to lay down a 4,500km fibre optic
Likewise, the cooperation between
Kenyan government (which is luring tech investors to Nairobi),
the private sector and development-focused NGOs has helped to
create Nairobi’s Silicon Savannah as hub of innovation and
“Efficient and affordable internet
access allows small businesses to innovate by creating new
products, services and channels,” says Owino. “It also
enables them to become more efficient.”
Training and mentoring small business
owners in leadership should be another priority, says Owino.
“Many entrepreneurs have innovative
ideas, but need help bringing them to life,” he adds.
“They need strategic and operational
support – help in the practicalities of commercialising a
product, marketing it and supporting it.”
Technology hubs and accelerators like
iHub are doing a commendable job in supporting entrepreneurs in
this regard, Owino says. NGOs like Educate! in Uganda are also
helping by providing secondary school students with practical
and entrepreneurial education.
But much more could be done – for
example, larger businesses and multinationals could mentor
Innovation should also be nurtured
from a young age by encouraging school children to think in
creative and entrepreneurial ways and by exposing them to the
latest technologies. Governments should work closely with
educational experts and other stakeholders to put innovation in
In Kenya, for example, the Digital
Literacy Programme will distribute more than 12,000 digital
devices to 150 primary schools in the pilot phase.
Owino notes that entrepreneurs in East
Africa can also clear time in their schedules for innovation by
putting the right systems and processes in place. Mobile
technology, cloud business applications and other tools can help
small business owners to boost their productivity so that they
have more time to focus on developing ideas, he adds.
For example, payroll and accounting
software streamline much of the financial administration
business owners need to do.
“As we have seen from successes like
Ushahidi, M-Farm and M-Pesa, East Africa is taking its place
on the world stage as place of innovation and opportunity.
“For our region, it comes naturally to
leapfrog legacy technologies, find ways to work around
infrastructure limitations, and reuse and combine old ideas
into something new,” Owino says.
“This is the work that East African
entrepreneurs do every day as they power the economy. It is
their entrepreneurial spirit that makes the difference and
they deserve our support.”
Distributed by APO on behalf of Sage.