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University opens an innovation and incubation hub


A new innovation and research centre has been launched at Mount Kenya University (MKU), boosting chances of Kenyan youth looking for support to develop their technologies and ideas into world class innovations.

MKU Vice Chancellor Prof. Deogratius Jaganyi, says the university’s research and innovation grants provided earlier have already produced world-class ideas some of which have already been commercialised by the beneficiaries.  He said the rapid growth that some developed and developing economies have witnessed can be attributed to their build-up of innovation capacities.

“These countries recognized that innovation is not just about high technology products, but that innovation capacity has to be built early and be embedded in the development process. Research and development played a key role in the meteoric rise of Asian economies such as China, India and Korea. They invested heavily in research and development to support their innovations,” he said.

The Mount Kenya Innovation and Incubation Hub was officially opened last weekend in the college’s main campus in Thika town by Benson Muthendi, acting Chief Executive Officer of the Youth Enterprise Development Fund. “Kenya's economic growth is largely as a result of the translation of ideas, knowledge, and skills into products, services, and processes. The country's continued economic competitiveness and sustainable development have been achieved by intensifying technological innovations,” he said.

The centre, which was co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union through the African Higher Education Leadership for Advancing Inclusive Innovation for Development (AHEAD) project, is intended to support the life cycle of innovations, from inception to market diffusion and commercialisation. It will enable scientific findings, knowledge and intellectual property to flow from creators to the benefit of the community. Jessee Ndegwa Mwangi was the event's master of ceremony. 

The centre will admit its first cohort of 20 finalists out of a recently released call for innovation challenge 2022. The innovations will be incubated for six months at MKU’s Innovation and Incubation Centre and receive a support value of up-to Sh2 million for all innovations. The incubation package will include access to the facility, customized coaching by experts, access to state-of-the art equipment and assistance in intellectual property protection and commercialization

Muthendi called the centre a significant investment set to create a conducive environment for nurturing youth-developed innovative ideas to commercially viable businesses that will significantly impact solving societal problems, creating employment opportunities, and attaining the country's economic goal.

“We live in the Information-Knowledge age where new opportunities are emerging every day, and only those who can learn and adapt will gain a competitive advantage. This hub will provide an environment for collaborative learning among students, professors, and researchers from various disciplines.  Bringing them together in a conducive atmosphere to interact and share ideas will inspire innovations, new skills, and knowledge needed in the 21st century,” said the CEO

During the final of the 2022 Innovation Challenge, Githinji Gatambu won the top award out of the 20 shortlisted finalists who showcased their innovations during the event held at the Mwai Kibaki Convention Centre. Gatambu’s presentation was on waste plastic management in the real estate sector. Nthuku Mumo was the first runners-up position while Margret Wambui Wahome came third.

An investor, Dr Josephat Karanja, urged the young innovators to seek guidance and mentorship from their peers. He said if they wanted to succeed they should be patient.

MKU founder and board chairman, Prof. Simon Gicharu described innovation as a new or significantly improved product or services which may involve a new or improved technology with a potential to have a positive contribution to an organisation or to the lives of the society in general. 

“MKU is a research-based university; we have established this innovation and incubation center to offer an open space to nurture creativity and innovation. The center will support collaboration, idea generation and value creation,” he added.

The hub is expected to offer a creative environment to unlock infinite opportunities for innovations that may be disruptive or incremental in nature from ideation to commercialization.  “The innovation space encourages inclusion through collaboration. MKU innovation and incubation center will be a platform for connections and networks,” said the chairman.

Decrying rampant unemployment in Africa, Gicharu said job creation will benefit greatly from promotion of innovation centers. He therefore encouraged the youth to be driven by passion and inspiration in the world of creativity and take the full advantage of the new hub and similar facilities that have been established in Kenya and in the region. “Let us strive to come up with innovations that can be patented,” he said.

MKU Pro-Chancellor, Dr Vincent Gaitho said the launch marks a great milestone in the university’s commitment to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by providing a platform for innovation, especially SDG 9 on “Industries, Innovation & Infrastructure ''. The United Nations SDG 9 states that inclusive and sustainable industrialization, together with innovation and infrastructure, can unleash dynamic and competitive economic forces that generate employment and income.

Gaitho said the high unemployment rate among youths graduating from our higher institutions of learning calls for more innovative ways that enhance productivity and demand for an enlightened labour force. “Harnessing the innovation potential of the youth can drive the economy to double digit growth in a short time,” he said. 

The pro-chancellor said Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) is keen in supporting the government initiatives geared towards reducing unemployment. “The MKU council is therefore keen to support this facility that was envisioned in the 2020-2029 University Strategic Plan,” he added.

The university recently hosted The Second Peace Conference that brought together stakeholders from different sectors including academia, industry, government and non-governmental sectors. The conference provided a platform to discuss how various sectors contribute to the creation of a peaceful country. Indeed without peace, little, if any, innovations can take place.

According to Muthendi, the Kenya Vision 2030 seeks to transform Kenya into a middle-income economy, and the blueprint recognises research and innovation as critical drivers for economic growth and development. “The Kenya Youth Development Policy – 2019 identifies the youth as the strength, wealth, and driver of innovation in Kenya. The youth policy further calls for deliberate and systematic efforts to appropriately equip and empower them to attain and realize their full potential and attain Kenya's economic development plan,” he added.

Muthendi said the centre proves the University as an aspiring and forward-thinking learning institution. It is a testimony to its endeavour to be a global hub of excellence in education, research, and innovation. The Youth Enterprise Development Fund is honoured to witness this milestone and is more than proud to be associated with this University.

The Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF) is one of the strategies established by the government of Kenya in the year 2006 to promote entrepreneurship among young people. It provides affordable financial and business development services to youth interested in business as a career path and a means to earn a living.

The Fund provides loans for startups, business expansion, asset financing, agribusiness, talent development, and LPO/LSO financing. It also offers business support services that include market support and linkages, entrepreneurship training and mentorship, commercial infrastructure, and facilitates youth to take up job opportunities abroad.

The Fund has, since inception, supported more than two million youth with loans worth Sh14.2 billion and assisted 800,000 youth with business development services.

“The beneficiaries have grown their enterprises, thus creating value and job opportunities for themselves and others. In addition, the Fund has enhanced their confidence to borrow, with many of them graduating to borrowing from commercial banks,” said Muthendi.

“Our experience working with the youth is that they are creative, tech-savvy, have a strong desire for knowledge, are well educated, and are highly ranked globally in innovation. Indeed, they have been at the forefront of developing solutions to our country's challenges. We can concur that they demonstrated their creativity when they came up with inventions to address challenges brought about by the Covid 19 pandemic,” he noted.

The Youth Fund developed its 3rd Strategic Plan covering 2020-2024. The blueprint emphasizes promoting youth-owned business innovations to stimulate a culture of innovation, address societal problems and alleviate poverty. The Fund will achieve this through collaborations and strategic partnerships with other key agencies and stakeholders.

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