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Simon Oshera Finding Impact Podcast

FIP 116: Hardware entrepreneurs II 2/3 – The inventor who’s creating Africa’s first CNC machines, with Simon Oshera of Proteq Automation

Simon Oshera is from Proteq Automation in Nairobi. We talk about Simon’s invention that is set to propel manufacturing in Kenya to compete with the likes of China and other industrialised nations. Proteq Automation builds CNC machines, which are computer numerical control machines. CNCs control machining tools (drills, boring tools, lathes) and 3D printers by means of a computer to alter a blank piece of material (metal, plastic, wood, ceramic, or composite) to meet precise specifications by following programmed instructions and without a manual operator. This is the second episode in our second 3-part series on invention-based entrepreneurs, supported by The Lemelson Foundation. The series aims to provide unique insights into some of the challenges and workarounds faced by entrepreneurs creating hardware products in emerging markets.
On this episode you’ll learn:
  • Simon was motivated to solve the problem of not being able to manufacture high–precision products in Kenya. 3.50.
  • He realised he needed to approach bigger contract manufacturers who had existing contracts, and could help them achieve better per unit costs with his machine. 6.04
  • Helping companies with their problem of long turnaround times of sending parts outside Kenya to be manufactured 8.59
  • Simon started with an engineering degree, moved into programming, and making his own electrical circuits.  11.11
  • He wanted to make enclosures for his circuit boards, so got into vacuum forming, which needed wooden moulds, and he needed a machine to make the high precision wooden moulds. He built one at home over the course of a year, whilst working a full time job 14.37
  • His first client was a university who used it for educational purposes. He did a lot of research online to figure out what parts he needed to make his machine, and which suppliers to order from. He chose US suppliers because they contained alot of content and how-to guides on their website 20.48
  • His first commercial client was a manufacturer with a contract from General Motors who had to improve their turn around time for custom parts  29.47
  • Simon’s proposal to the manufacturer included a design to improve turnaround time, which the manufacturer won the tender on. He received a 50% down payment to build his CNC machine for that client 33.04
  • Training staff is key to the business, as it’s a unique skill set, and he has a bespoke training scheme for new staff that takes a year. 35.12
  • Simon doesn’t have competition and he doesn’t see it coming, because of the processes and training required for a successful service business 38.48
Resources from this episode:
Connect with Simon:

 

FIP 115: Hardware entrepreneurs II 1/3 – Creating a smart gas meter for the BoP, with Mike Hahn from PayGo Energy

This week on the Finding Impact Podcast, we are continuing our second series on hardware entrepreneurs, this one with Mike Hahn of PayGo Energy about his hardware development journey. This is the first episode in our second 3-part series on invention-based entrepreneurs, supported by The Lemelson Foundation. The series aims to provide unique insights into some of the challenges and workarounds faced by entrepreneurs creating hardware products in emerging markets. As many will know, from episode 44 with Mike’s Co-Founder Fausto, PayGo Energy has created a smart meter that sits on an LPG gas cylinder, that lets customers pay on a PAYG basis.

On this podcast, you will learn:

  • How the idea of PayGo came about: started in 2015 with an observation that, on a daily basis, lots of people were lining up at petrol stations to buy kerosene or diesel fuel for cooking and they were bringing small vessels to carry this fuel home, despite there being a liquified petroleum gas (LPG) option 10 meters away. This spurred our question about why aren’t people cooking with LPG? It’s clean, fast, and convenient.
    • This idea came about while all of the co-founders were working for different organizations within the informal settlements of Nairobi, Kenya.
  • What their first basic prototype looked like: technical discovery “can we turn gas on and off with a text message?”
  • How their diverse group of co-founders with diverse skill sets helped: technology development, understanding the market/operations, etc. and this blend of personalities and experiences gave them an advantage early on.
  • For their first prototype they used BRCK components (see episode 111 with Erik Hersman, Co-founder of BRCK) in order to test how to get some level of accuracy of measuring gas vapor (actual flow) to the stove, and then send that data remotely to a server while including the ability to shut that gas flow off.
  • Why he uses SolidWorks for designs and recommends GrabCad for downloading files that other people have made based off of the real object. It makes it easy to plug into My Assembly so you can build something around it, and spatially you are in the right ballpark.
  • Why he decided to buy a 3D printer instead of using 3D printing services: it’s incredibly fast and convenient to do it by yourself, especially if you aren’t sure how many iterations will be needed, and you’re learning about the design as you’re making it.
  • How they raised their seed round: having a physical prototype and a real functioning unit in someone’s home along with comprehensive market research and a business modeling effort prepared them for that seed round. Also having a couple backers from very early before the seed round helped instill confidence.
  • When working with manufacturers it’s a good indicator when you get to meet directly with the CEO.
  • Advice for those in the hardware development process: get yourself into it, fake it until you make it. (But his design background at Rhode Island School of Design also helped.) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to people, work with in the past who are willing to pick up the phone. i.e. how to do contract with a contract manufacturer.

Links to resources:

Connect with Mike:

The FIPx workshop space

Supporting social entrepreneurship in Kenya – a step towards FIPxKenya

What challenges are facing social entrepreneurs in Kenya?

That’s what we tried to find out in Nairobi a few weeks back. Whilst many social entrepreneurs were at the Sankalp Africa Summit 2019, Finding Impact was joined by Bethnal Green Ventures, with support from the British High Commission in Kenya, to deliver a workshop aimed at understanding the challenges facing social entrepreneurs in Kenya.

The event was specifically timed to speak to those local entrepreneurs who are not already tapped into the right networks and relationships that Sankalp offers. Not being tapped into the right networks and relationships is holding local founders back from accessing foreign impact capital, according to a recent interview with Andreas Zeller of Open Capital Advisors and a study from Global Accelerator Learning Initiative (GALI).

Despite a number of hubs and accelerators providing vital support and research for startups in the social entrepreneurship ecosystem, the space still seems largely fragmented. We wanted to bring a workshop to 30 Kenyan social entrepreneurs – all driven to build businesses that change their communities for the better – to connect with each other and provide the scope to explore some of the common challenges they are faced with.

We gathered a fantastic group of entrepreneurs and challenged them to challenge each other using a range of liberating structures and open space methods. Ahead of the event we gathered input from the participants as to what the three key challenges they experienced in getting their businesses off the ground.

Below is a rough overview of the key insights into the challenges:

Funding
  • Lack of funding for:
    • implementing changes from pilots
    • seed grants
    • scale up
    • equipment
    • building the team
  • Finding early stage capital in an already highly competitive market
Talent and skills
  • Finding and retaining talent, particularly developers
  • Financial management
  • High costs of hiring talent
  • Finding the right team – people bought into the mission
Business support & community
  • Lack of mentors and peer group
  • Lack of strategic networks
Procurement
  • Lack of government support in accessing funding, and sorting the relevant legal documentation
  • High taxes
Reaching your market
  • Marketing using the platforms that their target customer uses
  • Finding and onboarding strategic partners
  • Standing out in a crowded market
  • Large scale behavioural change
Technology
  • Tech not widely adopted
  • Infrastructure
Business model
  • Imbalance in funding various industries
  • Measuring impact of work
  • Revenue model to make it a profitable business for both the company and its users

The list is not exhaustive and only provides a rough snapshot of the challenges.

Following a brief overview, we continued with a scoping exercise, a simple canvas to draw on the experiences in the room and collectively brainstorm ideas to overcome some of the challenges. Whilst there are no hard-and-fast answers, the group came up with some interesting approaches and a wealth of resources that will help them take action when they get back to their businesses.

Feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive, with the interactive sessions giving the most value by far. The majority called for a longer, more frequent events, as opposed to a one off for just a few hours, maybe with guest speakers and investors to network with afterwards.

Considering online content from Finding Impact to help them on their social entrepreneurship journey, content was preferred via the following channels:

Where participants thought content should be shared

Note: the first 5 channels were given as suggestions, which skewed results.

One central takeaway for us is that creating a physical space for entrepreneurs to come together and collaborate is in huge demand and quite frankly incredible fun! But it has moved us closer to our goal of facilitating more connectivity between social entrepreneurs in Kenya. It might be only the first step in building a thriving ecosystem for social entrepreneurs but we’re excited to see what follows. Thanks to the British High Commission in Kenya for helping make this event happen, and Bethnal Green Ventures to lending their expertise in facilitating local social entrepreneur meetups.

For more information, reach out to Andy Narracott using the contact form

FIP 104: What I learnt from attending my first accelerator, with Nava Osembo of Enda

This week on the Finding Impact Podcast, we have part 2 of a new 3-part series about accelerators for early stage social enterprises. We are talking with Navalayo (Nava) Osembo-Ombati who is Co-founder and CEO of Enda Athletics, a Nairobi based running shoes manufacturer designing footwear to inspire customers to run like a Kenyan. Enda Athletics recently attended the SHONA accelerator program based in Kampala and just recently finished their second and final residential bootcamp. So we’re looking forward to digging into that with Nava.

On this podcast you will learn:

  • How Nava used her management consulting background in putting this business together even though her and the co-founder had no prior experience in making shoes.
  • Her initial impression of accelerators (she initially got a lot of feedback from entrepreneurs), and the guiding factor as to why she joined one, (primarily to get the skills).
  • Her selection process for selecting an accelerator: looking at the skill sets that they needed, which accelerator had the most positive feedback from entrepreneurs, and the cost (monetary and time).
    • Cost considerations: finders fees, and equity.
  • How she shortlisted accelerators: quality of mentors/expertise, and the cost (whether they were asking for equity and if so, how much).
  • Her experience participating in SHONA, which has a residential component: taking three weeks off / away from her company in order to participate was worth it and she came out having a birds eye view.
  • Nava’s top key things in order to get to an accelerator that is right for you: know yourself (as in what you want), really understand the costs, and read the contract! (especially if you can’t hire a lawyer).

Links to resources:

Connect with guest: