BY VICTOR ADAR
It seems like Kenya’s aspiring entrepreneurs are affected by lack of innovative business ideas, mentoring services as well as access to seed capital. Of course, there has been a wave of early stage entrepreneurs not being able to overcome such barriers and grow. It is in that predicament that Sinapis, an organization that empowers aspiring entrepreneurs, saw a gap and started providing a rigorous business education, world class consulting and mentoring services to the tiny lot.
Sinapis is looking to the practical side of business and teaches integration of faith and business. And with the backing of the Acton School of Business – an MBA program in the US –, the not for profit organization bets on young entrepreneurs, playing a fundamental role in poverty alleviation and economic development.
According to Silvya Kananu, Sinapis’ country manager, on average, the entrepreneurs who join their program usually create three to five jobs per year in business. Further, over 78% of entrepreneurs they have mentored have seen their businesses survive longer than three years while creating on average from nine to 15 jobs at a time when in Kenya today, an employed average guy takes home about Sh300, 000 in annual income.
Having interacted with several aspiring entrepreneurs on the subject of nurturing and growing businesses for the past seven years has helped the lively manager establish certain trends. She is taking lead in bold attempt to expand vision for start-ups in order to turn them into scalable and sustainable models. With areas of focus for their four month entrepreneurship training program being sales and marketing, finance operations, human resources management and leadership, which are the main pinpoints of entrepreneurs, things are clicking.
“We are for impact,” says Kananu. “I think 80% of the economy is based on SMEs, jobs (80%) is also based on SMEs. So there’s a real need to put in a lot of proper resources to make sure that entrepreneurs are really growing.”
Similar to a mini-MBA in content and precision but designed specifically for the early stage entrepreneurs, Ms Kananu says that the four month Sinapis training program is very practical and focused, offering everything an entrepreneur needs to know.
“The curriculum is for business people who need to know how to make it. People in business don’t want to know principles and theories, but very practical things. They want to know ‘this is what I want to do, and should I do it in my business, I’ll see change. People just want to learn and just know how they can make it,” she says.
Citing gains, Ms Kananu explains that at the end of their program, young entrepreneurs are expected to build a strong financial management system, make projections, have financial goals, professionalise their businesses, manage their team effectively, and be able to scale. A born-again Christian, she encourages people behind start-ups to integrate their faith within their business and use their businesses to “glorify God” in the market place. That’s how the organization’s biblical ethical framework begun.
“We teach people how to do business (but in a Godly way) so that they are not involved in businesses like smuggling, selling illegal fire arms, drugs… Just do clean business, and in an ethical framework. We provide them with skills to help them to be so good that they don’t have to cut corners. You develop a reputation. The taxman can come to your workstation and you have nothing to hide. So it gives you that peace of mind. And it is not about taking short cuts.”
The year 2017 has been really important for an organization that was started in 2010. As at the beginning of the year, they have grown their entrepreneurial base by 51% and have trained 750 entrepreneurs so far, and by the end of this fiscal year the organization is expected to train 1000 people. Further more, this is also the year that it expanded to Ghana and Brazil with the plans to tap the Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda markets all still in the pipeline. Going by the look of things, Sinapis may become pan-African if not a global movement.
Boasting of a strong set of skills that include strategy, communication, entrepreneurial thinking and brand management, Ms Kananu’s love for entrepreneurship has seen her start off a boutique business consultancy aimed at providing business advisory services to start-ups and Micro, Small to Medium Enterprises. Her passion in this segment grew thanks to her work experience in Equity Group Foundation as an entrepreneurship program coordinator where she successfully developed an entrepreneurship program for youth in Kenya.
The Manchester Business School graduate with a Master of Science in Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship has also worked for companies such as WPP-Scangroup and Unilever Kenya Ltd in a brand management capacity, an indication that it takes hard work to make things happen. Now holding the position of country manager at Sinapis at the moment, her eyes are truly set on unique things.
“This is not a typical program,” she says. “This is about change, it is a program for someone who wants to learn something so that they can change their business. Very practical things! You won’t go out there and learn this theory, and that theory, then do an exam to pas or fail. It is about ‘take this, apply it in your business, the next day when you come to class, you are asked whether you applied the skills. You talk about what you see. So the changes are almost immediate, and that’s what entrepreneurs love.”
She says that the biggest challenge that young entrepreneurs face is lack of understanding of the market need. Most of them are providing a service that the market does not need simply because of failure to understand their customers. The service that an entrepreneur offers should solve problems.
If it were for an entrepreneur to shoulder the cost of this advanced training program, it would cost Sh250, 000. Sinapis offers it at 39,000 thanks to subsidy – at least donations flow from the United States; and also from Christian donors. Locally, the organization has partnered with churches like Nairobi Baptist, Karura Community Chapel, Saint Andrews including associations with iHub.
As always the case, top ten entrepreneurs who graduate from the program are chosen to compete in an annual competition dubbed “Business Plan Competition” where they get to pitch for a grant of Sh1 million. For the last four years, Ms Kananu explains, all the businesses that have received the grant are still succeeding and growing
“It takes a lot of work to put these programs together. We can say that it is making an impact on people’s lives. Every class is four weeks. When you go to a class in week one and go to a class in week three, you see a difference. The entrepreneur is not the same person who you saw on the first day. They really grow. That’s a crowning glory,” she says.