UoN Banks on C4DLab to Link Student Innovators with Industry

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UoN Banks on New Unit to Link Student Innovators with Industry
Dr Tonny Omwansa, University of Nairobi’s Computing for Development Lab head during an interview. The institution plans to hold a week long innovation week starting August.

The University of Nairobi (UoN) has borrowed a leaf from leading global institutions and a created a department that will see it link the academia with private sector in an effort scale up innovation.

The UoN has started a fully-fledged department; the Computing for Development Lab (C4DLab)- to boost commercialisation of ventures by students and from the private sector. To create awareness among the public and private sector, the university has also slotted time in its calendar every August to host an event dubbed, ‘the Nairobi’s Innovation Week’.

The project’s lead Dr. Tonny Omwansa says that UoN’s new thinking was that research papers on various issues must be scrutinised further and a link created between the researchers and industry to try and address the problem discussed.

“No longer should research reports gather dust, any prototype must be looked into and the incubatee helped to commercialise the same. Kenya must discard the old notion that posterity starts with self but absorb the genuine fact that it is individual people who improve society by actualising their ideas into products and knowledge that can be used for common good,” he said.

Dr. Omwansa said several equity partners, innovation labs from various sectors from ICT, banks, research and development centres, agricultural companies as well as universities had confirmed participation in the week long forum.

“The Computing for Development Lab provides a centre for research fellows, students, industry and Kenyans in general to share knowledge on how social problems among other problems in numerous fields can be tackled. Ours is to create a forum that has for years lacked linking the academia to industry,” he said.

Big gap

Dr. Bitange Ndemo an Associate Professor at the UoN’s Business School said there is a big gap between policy makers, researchers at local universities and the industry that needs to be addressed.

“We have thousands of research papers lying at the universities. It is through programmes like the C4DLab that we can create the missing links,” Dr. Ndemo said.

“The young people outside there know how to code but don’t have the scope to understand the societal problems to enable them come up with solutions that can be scaled up and that is why it is necessary to have such labs housed within higher learning institutions,” he added.

This year’s event has attracted innovation labs proponents from Finland, Israel, Netherlands and India as well as lecturers and students from local universities.

Thomson Reuters, the Canadian-based multinational mass media and information firm has confirmed participation as well as Kenya’s industrialist Dr. Manu Chandaria.

Some of the innovations developed by UoN students, include; Chura, an airtime and money interoperability platform that enables users to buy any airtime card and use it on their phones as well as send money across networks.

Farmdrive, also started by students, is slowly establishing itself as a credit scores rating firm which enables farmers to access credit from financial institutions without using collateral.

The UoN is also helping another group of students to make a security gadget that monitors movement of vehicles and conversations and can rescue a motorist in distress when hijacked or alert the owner when the vehicle is diverted to another route.

“Once such startups gain ground we envision establishment of a royalty fund where they will voluntarily remit a certain percentage of their earnings to fund future innovations. Time is now for all businesses, government officials and academia to come together as equals in a forum where the discussion is how to create jobs via startups that solve our problems,” he said.

Innovative Products

Among activities slated for the event, now in its second year are panel discussions where speakers include established business people, chief executives, government agencies as well as foreign innovation lab leads.

“Kenya needs an innovators-industry link and that is all the innovation week is all about. C4DLabs harnesses ideas from incubates and they are equipped with knowledge that empowers them to design which will then see them come up with better innovative products,” said Dr. Omansa.

The forum also gives innovators a chance to meet government regulatory agencies where they will be assisted to register patent and have quality products tested before approval for up-scaling.

Future Problem Solvers

Kenyans, Dr. Omansa added, need help to commercialise ideas or risk the same being snapped by foreign startups for upscaling into multibillion-shilling businesses.

He said Kenya must also encourage establishment of research and development laboratories by private companies which could see strong partnerships formed with universities and colleges thereby helping nurture future problem solvers.

“Any institution worth mentioning must think of new ways to form the industry-academia link to help fight the stigma of half-baked graduates. What we churn out should be job creators not job seekers,” he said.

Source: Business Daily

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