Quickly becoming known as the home of the “Silicon Savannah,” Kenya hopes to make the world a bit greener with its new Climate Innovation Center
. The center will assist entrepreneurs in securing financing and other services for their companies while helping the country and region address the effects of climate change.
Kenya’s recently-launched Climate Innovation Center, or CIC, is positioned to become the business hub for African climate technology entrepreneurs. The center is the first of its kind in the world and will allow small and medium enterprises in Kenya and the region address climate change by accelerating business in sectors such as energy, agriculture and water supply.
Entrepreneurs submit proposals to the CIC. If accepted, they have access to financing that often is difficult or impossible to secure in the developing world. The CIC provides them office facilities, technical support, assistance with company and tax registration, and even how to write an effective business plan. In return, the entrepreneur either becomes successful or will be replaced by someone else.
Izael Da Silva, deputy vice-chancellor of academic affairs at Strathmore University in Nairobi, where the center is housed, said in Kenya there are many innovative ideas. It is just a matter of helping them come to fruition.
“Small and medium enterprise, they are many," said Da Silva. "And, people have innovative ideas, but very few manage to come to a level of sustainability and then become economically viable… some good ideas need an enabling environment around it, nurture it and make it mature.”
It's all about location
Jonathan Coony is the coordinator of the Climate Technology Program at the World Bank, which is spearheading this effort. He said Kenya was the ideal location for the first center.
“If you spend some time in Kenya, you really come to realize what a tremendous entrepreneurial culture there is there. Many people have ambition to try new things," said Coony. "And, we believe there’s thus far latent potential for East Africa to be a driver of innovation in a number of sectors. And, from the point of view of our program, the Climate Technology Program, we think that doing that for climate technologies is a tremendous opportunity and will bring a lot of benefits to the country and the region.”
Peter Waweru is the founder of the start-up company Biossal, a company that manufactures bio-fuel from oil seeds. As one of the first entrepreneurs invited to work with the CIC, Waweru said he started his company in South Africa in 2008, but moved it to Kenya a year later.
“Kenya allows you breaks that you really don’t get in most other places. If this were South Africa, the kind of legislative impediments that I would have gotten into as an entrepreneur to go to market…The road to market is unclear in those other places because of regulations, policy formulations, etc. Kenya, on the other hand, is get up and go, sort-of,” Waweru said.
Harnessing entrepreneurial energy
Coony said that harnessing this entrepreneurial energy in Kenya will be crucial in dealing with the climate change manifestations that affect so many Africans, like inconsistent rainfall.
“If you’re in Nairobi and it’s a question of whether to bring an umbrella or not, you may be able to handle that," Coony said. "If it’s a situation where the survival of yourself and your family and your community is dependant upon well-established and well-known meteorological patterns, it creates a much more profound impact.”
According to Da Silva, the CIC is uniquely positioned to nurture and develop more creative solutions to climate change issues facing Africa. "We do not have a lot of infrastructure. We do not have a lot of maturity in business, so in these circumstances, this part of the planet becomes very vulnerable to climate change," he said.
“We do not know how to handle for instance droughts or floods or these types of things that are likely to come with the climate change, so with the CIC, we’d like to say to people, ‘Come, and you’ll get prepared,’" he said. "So if we are going to have one degree higher than average temperature for Africa, what type of crop would you need to grow in order to make money. Or what kind of procedure you’ll have to have in order to handle, say, rain water harvesting.”
Kenya’s CIC is expected to support more than 70 sustainable climate technology ventures in five years and to generate 4,600 direct, and more than 24,000 indirect, jobs in the next decade, while leveraging $10 million in private sector investment. It will be seeded by a contribution of $15 million for five years.
The CIC is supported by the World Bank, in partnership with the government of Denmark and Britain’s UKAid. The initiative involves several Kenyan partners as well.