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Published on June 20, 2020
“Innovation sneaks on you, You never sneak on it”.
Humans are curious by nature and by design. Our environment primes our instincts as we associatively explore and construct our vision of the future. From a tender age, we navigate and hone our survival skills through associative learning. Somehow COVID19 has managed to re-awaken that basic instinct of innovation and thrown us headlong into the territory of new discoveries.
The fear and danger associated with COVID19 has awakened our primordial instincts, with nowhere to run, we are in fight mode. This puts our creativity on edge and our innovativeness is highly stimulated. Our collective agenda has forged minds to explore opportunities, and anything remotely promising is being positively reinforced. In this cornered environment, the acceleration of new ideas has become self propelling, our thoughts and ideas turning into products or services, and the genius of entrepreneurship taking that to the market.
Starting from the grassroots to government, the inherent weaknesses in the innovation ecosystem have suddenly been repaired. Building or repairing an innovation ecosystem takes more than just the understanding of the value it carries. The ecosystem should be open to shocks and destabilizers to test and troubleshoot the process for value creation. These shocks help validate the underlying assumptions which in turn unplug the systemic redundancies. The shocker from COVID19 has perfected the drivers of our ecosystem building.
COVID19 has pushed the envelope of co-creating, where value is discovered collectively, trust in a system grows, enhancing foresight, growth of value networks, robustness of assets, growth of skills and supportive services. The speed at which systems and protocols have been developed to manage and mitigate the spread of the virus attests to this. This collective creation is providing credence for financing and capital mobilisation. The is in turn feeding the belief and trust in the collective action for a greater good. This desire to see improved services in health systems has rallied people around startups and corporates though not in equal measure. This higher order social contract has fueled the innovation ecosystem teasing out creativity and allowing the harnessing of innovations.
Since our innovation ecosystem is becoming increasingly intimate, the intricate interconnectedness is working on the pillar of digital governance which is driving emerging worldview(s). There is an alignment in the shifting global realities which is bursting obsolete narratives, in turn unleashing the latency of creativity and innovation. This organic growth is permeating sectors previously underserved and mainstreaming them to the development radar. This is the beauty of innovation “it sneaks on you, you never sneak on it”.
Individuals, organisations, agencies including governments are actively building their competence and capacity to support the robustness of ecosystems. The momentum seeking to deliver solutions across sectors be it in health, food security, transport, job creation or dealing with old age is at an all time high, thanks to COVID19. There is no better opportunity to innovate and engage in disruptive ideas to serve this pent up hunger, demand and market.
COVID19 has provided rocket fuel to the ecosystem of thought and ideas: from individuals to communities, from companies to organisations. There is an alignment along the pillar of “innovation advocacy”. Laxity or the unequal energy (especially incentives) from the state, will inevitably create a paradox with governmental policies, plans and priorities, therefore Governments have only one option: to jump into the innovation ecosystem and find ways to incentivise it. Government must use the COVID19 microscope to discover the underlying disconnect between political talk and the demands from startups, MSMES, through to SMEs with the urgency it deserves. The disconnect between policy direction, resourcing and innovation culture must become a priority. The current challenges provide an immense opportunity to define new ways of working and supporting business models that will respond to the changing cultures, advances in technology, and climate change. This will define and propel the drivers of the new normal. There is goodwill and the world is primed and ready to embrace such transformation.
As we embrace innovations, we must remember that humans are trapped in a matrix of temperament, personal values, faith, culture, society, intellectual growth, perceptions, including their emotional or mental state. The social norms that have codified the essence to life, are almost in contradiction with today’s hyper connected world, where the speed of change and how that change is experienced will undoubtedly face a lot of resistance. In this matrix of change, COVID19 has accelerated the dearth of jobs, coupled with a disrupted global supply chain. The post COVID society will see a society full of desperate individuals, positively feeding the growing disconnect between the real world, the societal needs and the skills needed to nurture desperate global citizens. We need to find ways to enter into this matrix and stimulate transformative thinking that will drive sober dialogues and intelligent investment.
Not everyone will innovate and not everyone can become an entrepreneur, however, we need the right leadership that is able to read the compass of innovations and judiciously curate our innovators. Most importantly, we need to find ways to remain sane in the new normal.
Peter Kuria GITHINJI
Founder StartUP Industrial Park June 20.20.20
COVID19 genes are very selfish, they use your body as a refuge while seeking a better host, just like the human enterprise, which is a selfish enterprise.
Innovation has become the “word” in the development circles. Business incubation on the other hand has become the preferred delivery “pedagogical” framework for measurable results and impact. Incubation works on the premise that it is possible to develop (or curate) a desired environment. The environment facilitates ideas or concepts to be tested outside the real world, then turned into viable enterprises. The idea or concept could be a novel (innovative) way to serve a need or to address a specific problem (this is the simplified definition of innovation).
There is huge potential for curated environments. For this reason, combining incubation support with innovation management has become a preferred means to addressing developmental challenges. This is driven by the thirst and hunger to deliver impact solutions by harnessing innovations. However, there are those who feel that this is an oversimplification of how business grows and should be supported and for good reason.
COVID19 gives us the latitude to discuss and simplify some of the business incubation concepts. COVID19 mimics a complete business development cycle both as a disease and in the management of the virus itself. The process of how the virus moves from one host to another leading to the manifestation (or non manifestation) provides an interesting window of how concepts can grow from a thought to eventually being a service, product or both.
It is assumed that nearly everyone appreciates what COVID19 is, where it originated from, how it is transmitted, how it manifests itself and what needs to be done to manage the virus. People are aware of the terms previously unknown such as symptomatic, asymptomatic, incubation, and PPEs. The impact of COVID19 has also made people acutely aware about how their personal space is connected to others, including how business decisions and choices impact the economy. For those in business, the shock from COVID19 has exposed redundancies and assumptions and the need to validate these assumptions when undertaking a business. There has never been a better moment to reevaluate the assumed risks, the efficacy and value of the existing human capital, the channels of distribution of the value of the business, communications and importantly the hidden costs of running a sustainable enterprise.
Majority actors in the incubation space talk of a period within which a program should run, which is an awkward assumption that whoever joins a program requires the same “shock treatment” to be cured. This prescription of incubates to the same treatment and expecting a bouquet of results and viable entities in the marketplace is simply a naive and very assuming attitude. This determination of metrics based on an abstract timeline heavily borrows from the world of developmental projects. Development projects are heavily dependent on a the use of resources within a given timeframe, and based on a lot of unvalidated assumptions. To go deeper, maybe we can use COVID19 to break down how business incubation should work in real life! The COVID19 virus will manifest itself differently depending on the environment it encounters within a host. If the host provides the perfect environment, the virus will multiply rapidly and the results can be fatal within a short period. In another host, the virus will grow, but the host will show mild symptoms, and the results may or may not be not fatal. Yet for others, the virus will find its way into the host, but not manifest itself in any form (asymptomatic), however, the virus will still be actively seeking for an opportunity to get a better host. This character is not unique to COVID19, it is also found in the malaria parasite, which in some cases, the hypnozoites hides in the liver, waiting for the right moment to express themselves as a bout of malaria, at times hibernating for up to six months. The point: incubation just like the COVID19 (virus), is not a train on a railroad, where goods are loaded at Port A and offloaded at Port B, it is a process that is open and with many moving parts, where the internal workings of the ecosystem play a bigger role in moulding the outcome as opposed to a predetermined timeline.
Introducing pre-deterministic timeframes contradicts and undermines the incubation process whose operational principle “is adaptation to the ecosystem”. There should be a deliberate distinction between the outcomes from an incubation process and the deterministic metrics from traditional projects. These two are not the same and they should not be treated as such. If a traditional project framework is used to design “an incubation program”, the matrix of performance indicators within a given timeline will of course be on paper. However, just like the hypnozoites, the maturity of the incubated idea will only manifest itself within the right ecosystem and in due time, be it in terms of new enterprises, jobs creation or money generated. It is therefore imperative that incubators are given the latitude of being spaces where due developmental processes take place, but developmental thinking does not become a constraint. In this regard, the emphasis should shift to smart and intelligent investment, and not a focus on numbers that might in the end have very little value if any.
There is a common agreement by industry leaders that there is a need to create a suitable environment that supports the harnessing of innovation plus growth of enterprises. Thus, the building of the ecosystem and the design of support programs within the system plays a critical role in the enterprises or businesses. A well curated incubation program guarantees at a minimum that the ecosystem is adequately balanced between the financial, intellectual and infrastructural assets. Just like a virus entering the host, the ecosystem must be optimized to host the incubates. It should provide a medium for growth and development, and the dynamic parts must all play their part in the ensuing symphony. The moving parts within the ecosystem have an impact on the business developer, owner, founder or startup. The idea (thought) within the ecosystem has to keep breathing in and out, riding the different waves triggered by the signals, trends or mega-trends; they are the determinants of how the idea matures. This is timeless.
There are human fundamentals that often get ignored in the incubation space; one humans are selfish, two, they develop and conceptualise their ideas differently; three, it is not possible to accelerate a false-start innovation or turn people into entrepreneurs by simply putting them in a space, and lastly, it is not painful to lose other peoples money when you are not emotionally invested in it. With enterprise development, the selfish human psychology needs to rhyme with the micro-ecosystem. In this space, the incubator provides the umbilical cord that holds the risks. It also provides and the tentacles that allow the new venture to test out the live ecosystem validating assumptions and removing redundancies, as it gets ready to latch on the next opportunity. Enterprise development is very like COVID19 genes, they are very selfish, they use your body as a refuge while seeking a better host. The ability to turn thoughts into ideas, and the ideas into businesses or enterprises with impact does not follow a textbook process. When the story is told, in some cases, there is the case of organic growth, but there is the moment when the idea just squeezes through a very small window of opportunity.
Those who have turned their ideas into unicorns or delivered the best solution have been a cog that played their part among the many cogs to deliver value. Majority of them were not seated in the classroom seeping dark matter from a tutor on how best to capitalise on their innovation, nor were they guided by a singular idea from their classroom. But they all have one thing in common, they were able to tune out the noise, discover a need or problem, reside inside the problem, and see the problem in the eyes of the afflicted. They were able to perceive the market in the most basic way and deliver the value at a time when it was needed. They were not constrained by time or resource flow. They simply did the unwise business.
Peter Kuria GITHINJI 01 06 2020