As ecosystem builders and players, we often work in silos, but how can we collaborate on growing the ecosystem in a way that displays the unique value proposition all of us have to offer?

To close the year, ASSEK participated in the first-ever national innovation forum known as the Kenya Innovation Week which took place from the 6th to the 10th of December 2021 at the Kenya School of Government. The forum which was convened by the Kenya National Innovation Agency (KENIA) had an overarching theme “The Innovativeness of Kenyans” and it drew a wide array of participants such as policymakers, academia, start-ups, entrepreneurs, investors, and stakeholders in the private sector.

Our session during the Kenya Innovation Week on the 7th of December was titled “Enhancing Collaboration between ecosystem builders”  and was sponsored by GIZ  . The conversation was subdivided into two thematic panel discussions namely:

  • Fostering partnerships and collaborations between/among startups innovation ecosystem builders through alignment of local priorities 
  • Driving the growth of the innovation ecosystem through collaborations, informed by data-driven needs.

During the first panel discussion on “Fostering partnerships and collaborations between/among startups innovation ecosystem builders through alignment of local priorities”, we had an amazing line-up of panellists such as ASSEK Chair Dr Robert Karanja, FCDO Representative Dr Emily Chirchir, World Bank Representative Sameer Goyal and ASSEK Assistant Secretary Ivy Syovata. The aim of these conversations was to delve into understanding collaboration hindrances and best practices within ecosystem players as well as understanding the benefits of  Ecosystem Value Chain Interdependence.

Here are some of the highlights during the first panel discussion:

  • It was agreed that associations such as ASSEK needed to play the leading role in the asymmetry of information through curation of data on a portal that was easily accessible to members and the ecosystem stakeholders at large.
  • Curation of data on the ecosystem would open dialogue between the government and key stakeholders in the entrepreneurship innovation space.
  • There was a need to build on each other’s unique strengths as innovation hubs through the research process. It was only through this type of collaboration that we would achieve the maximum impact of hub networks.
  • ASSEK was in the process of creating a portal that can serve all the stakeholders within the entrepreneurship ecosystem space. This portal would give a snapshot of how different players in the ecosystem work while also analyzing the needs and skill gaps that needed to be appraised.

For the second-panel discussion, we discussed, “ Driving the growth of the innovation ecosystem through collaborations, informed by data-driven needs.” These conversations were aimed at :

  • Understanding Collaboration hindrances and best practices within ecosystem players
  • Comprehension of  how can we adopt a collaborative data-driven approach that is inclusive of all the enablers 

It was an interesting knowledge exchange session and featured an amazing line-up of panellists such as MFarm Director Linda Kwamboka, KENIA Representative Enock Keari, Country Wide Innovation Hubs Chair Magdalene Chepkemoi, Growth Africa Representative Brian Singora and ASSEK Secretary Grace Wachori.

Drawing from  the session, these were some of the insights shared:

  1. There was a need for data-driven collaborations which could be made possible through the creation of linkages between different stakeholders. A case scenario of this kind was given by one of the panellists, Magdalene Chepkemoi, Incoming Chair Countrywide Innovation Hubs stated that this had been initiated in Eldoret where they provided linkages for students in educational institutions to be absorbed into healthcare facilities.
  2. The camaraderie on mapping efforts of the ecosystem would be necessary among entrepreneurship ecosystem stakeholders to avoid replication of surveys. This was reiterated by one of the panellists Linda Kwamboka, Director MFarm Limited, who stated that hubs needed to work together as opposed to working in silos that were not as impactful.
  3. In order to increase buy-in from members on research, associations such as ASSEK and Afrilabs needed to task their members on these activities. By involving members it would create an environment of trust, collaboration and accountability for studies being conducted. An example of this was referenced by one of the panellists who mentioned that Strathmore and Afrilabs had collaborated on building a capacity building program that involved mapping of early-stage and growth-stage entrepreneurs and start-ups. 
  4. There needs to be information asymmetry among entrepreneurship support organisations and researchers among others.  One of the panellists, Brian Singora from Growth Africa stated that the problem with research studies carried out in Kenya is that these surveys often lack a learning agenda, which is to say that we have so much research but few lessons that can be drawn. This is mainly fueled by the fact that hubs often compete against each other whereas working together would aid in compounding growth for the entrepreneurship innovation scene in Kenya.
  5. Data is one of the biggest assets an entrepreneurship ecosystem in Kenya and Africa can offer. This data has to go hand in hand with collaborations with players in the government, whereby leaders in the entrepreneurship ecosystem should seek representation in different government bodies to ensure the voice of innovation entrepreneurship is heard. 

To conclude the discussions, it was noted that we need to ask ourselves the question “To what degree is the data we are collecting and providing, convening change?”  It was also concluded that ESOs needed to leverage the power of associations so that there would be impactful change around the sector.