GESCI Awards to 7 Startups!

GESCI awards grants to 7 Start-Ups that were trained and mentored at GESCI’s Digital Media Lab in Nairobi, Kenya. Each start up received KSH. 203, 570.

The money will help the members of the start-ups acquire equipment, set up a small working spaces and get to grow in the entrepreneurship sector.

This team comprised of participants from the 2016-2017 cohort.The African Knowledge Exchange (AKE)- Creative media Venture is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Finland.

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What: Organizations, innovation hubs, programs, and training projects are creating value beyond products  in multiple ways:

“(1) Through building a network for “collaborative knowledge exchange and research activities”, innovation hubs can help their stakeholders solve problems that they have defined, increasing the opportunities of co-creation innovation.

(2) In order to maximize the benefits for those involved, innovation hubs should play a role in accelerating the communication between academia and industries and encourage highly interactive “two way knowledge exchange”.

(3) By offering an environment to enhance the collaboration among people, innovation hubs would be able to support the economic, cultural and sustainable development for future generations.

(4) Innovation hubs can not only create communicating channels but also simplify the process of innovation by efficiently adopting existing knowledge, expertise and support from various stakeholders in order to make knowledge transfer spread widely.”

Source: The Modular Business Plan for the Creation of Design Innovation Hubs.

Needless to say, sustainability of training and innovation projects/programmes themselves is crucial in capacity-building for any field. For the GESCI-AKE model, we surveyed 14 innovation and training labs/hubs in Eastern and Southern Africa. In the majority of cases, international funders, either countries and/or businesses, are key to the sustainability of these actors. This is also the result of a research effort on Kenya. However, many of these hubs have developed co-funding and other sustainability mechanisms.

In general, it seems that the trend for sustainability for such hubs is that of social business, or the so called Fourth Sector; models that include multiple of sources and modalities of funding and sustainability. Here is a general overview of hybrids that may emerge in this Fourth Sector:

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How: Creating a business plan for innovation hubs, programs, and/or related  training projects is naturally a highly contextual effort. However, there are some concrete steps and issues that should most likely be included into modeling funding and sustainability.

  • Offerings – value propositions.  There are usually five main offerings that such a hub can offer:
    • Space
    • Event
    • Research – Training
    • Network
    • Making of products/services.
  • Besides donor funding and sponsorships, there are ten common streams of revenue for a hub / project:
    • Booking fee. The hubs charge money for space bookings.
    • Access fee. People have to pay to participate in an event or a network.
    • Membership fee.
    • Product/ material fee. Selling design products or relevant material in the hubs.
    • Tenant venue hire fees. Charge money for venue hire.
    • Brand license fees. Sell brand licenses to allow target people to use the brand logo in their own marketing activities.
    • Advertising fees. Provide a platform, such as an online website or presentation event for clients to advertise their products or services and charge for them.
    • Project fee. Charge to provide services for the whole project.
    • Intellectual property. Intellectual property as a resource to charge clients money.
    • Brokerage fees. Some hubs gain money through renting space from a landlord and subletting it as an office and network platform to target people.
  • A business plan for a hub or a related programme/project should most likely entail the following elements:

Key Activities  – and for each:

  • Value Propositions – what are the benefits for the activity for customers
  • Customer Segments – for whom the activity is targeted
  • Key Partners
  • Partner Relationships  – what are the benefits for the activity for partners other than customers
  • Key Resources – what is needed
  • Cost Structure
  • Revenue Streams

For detailed examples and further explanations, please see this useful report: The Modular Business Plan for the Creation of Design Innovation Hubs.

TIPS from the Living Lab Research #1: General organizational checklist

This checklist is based on the LL co-learning and co-creation processes of GESCI-AKE. Note that it lists core organizational issues that those projects have considered, and solved, but that may be very contextual, depending on the field and the kind of project at hand.



  1. What are the innovations – business models to be developed? What kind of businesses are being developed in the programme/project hub? Is the model focused on creating start-ups (a concept focused on high capital commercial venture products) or also “creative” ventures, collectives based on other alternative strategies like open access / open content and sharing?
  2. What are your desired outcomes? Are all kinds of outcomes desired (products, services, media content)? If so, they may need different kinds of training and development processes.
  3. How to select your participants? How do your formulate the basic requirements for candidates? Do you choose individuals, or teams and team members? Can they be working (challenges of commitment)? Who chooses the participants?
  4. How to organize timing of curriculum? A three-phase model seems to work but sometimes phases may overlap; the model may need to allow flexibility for parallel and overlapping phases.
  5. How to structure your tutors’/instructors’ commitment? Per topic/segment? A project-long commitment?
  6. How do you develop overall terminology and common language for your hub/project/process /model for effective collaboration with all parties?
  7. How do you develop a clear understanding of how individuals vis-a-vis groups and terms are supported and mentored?
  8. How do you develop a branding/marketing/outreach strategy as the projects grow and mature? How do you market your hub/project/process vis-a-vis your participants? Where is the synergy?
  9. How do you utilize alumni as a resource?
  10. How do you develop a clear understanding of Intellectual Property Rights and “ownership” of content, ideas within the programme, by individuals, in relation to possible industry partners, and so on?
  11. How do you plan for any possible “post-project” tracking, as well as support, for the individuals/projects?

7+ Theses: Response from the Policy Forum

Based on the report by Mary Hooker of GESCI.

The seven theses on youth entrepreneurship that have emerged from GESCI-AKE Creative Media Venture have been featured in this blog in two posts: One describing the findings; another highlighting some expert reflections on the theses

The theses were also discussed at the AKE-GESCI 2017 Policy Forum on the 29th of March, 2017. The purpose was to converse about the critical link between skills development/ learning, innovation, entrepreneurship and enterprise development and how a supportive policy environment is a requirement for national digitally-driven skills development. The Forum included demos, expert discussions, as well as an intensive teamwork – workshop session on based on the seven theses. In addition, an eight thesis was added to the list, that of employment and active job creation.

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This post is a summary of the essential policy suggestions emerging from the workshop and reflecting the theses.  Those insights highlight that, in fact, two theses seem to be the core foundations that define other aspects essential to youth entrepreneurship. Those are flexibility and collaboration.

For instance, it was noted that training needs to transform from a “course format” to an ongoing support that is flexible and responds to the growth and needs of the young entrepreneurs. It was also noted that the Hub needs to be an agile space, transforming as a response to different needs of the student, members, industry, and technology changes.

As for collaboration, it is important to note that the multi-stakeholder Forum was found highly relevant to one’s industry and work by almost every participant. The attendees of the Forum highlighted several forms of support to young entrepreneurs  that they would find beneficial for their company or industry, ranging from internships and mentorships to providing case studies and sponsorships. This is perhaps one of the most clear indicators that the GESCI-AKE model is working: It is approaching training the way that resonates with the ultimate “end-user”: Potential employers and clients.

Theses 1 & 2: Flexible Education & Context

Contextual, flexible approach to learning was made concrete by several practical suggestions. Perhaps the most tangible one the concept of project-based, problem- or opportunity-focused targeted projects as learning environments. But what should the opportunities or challenges to be solved be? For this, collaboration between sectors and stakeholders is a must so that the opportunities and problems can truly reflect reality. But what is needed even more fundamentally is a mindset change and advocacy for alternative educational-biz oriented models. Peer-to-peer learning, problem-solving, internships and mentorships need both financial as well as ideological support.

Theses 3 & 4: Digital and Physical Space and Entrepreneurship

Curriculum geared towards, and informed by ,the needs of the market mean that education includes life skills, interdisciplinary education, as well as access to digital tools. But only consultation and learning from policy, industry, research and practitioner chains can inform investment in ICT and new models and spaces for capacity building and training: Is the space reflecting what is happening in the industry? It is hard to imagine that any hub or organization could independently be able to create such a space, so, again, education and Business regulatory frameworks oriented towards start-ups key.

Theses 5 & 6: Collaboration and Finding a Niche

Collaboration is a science and an art form. Very few teams work creatively and smoothly without specific frameworks. Hence, education for youth entrepreneurship needs to include models of collaboration, projects,  and processes (including innovation ideas, prototyping, marketing, mentoring, partnerships etc.). In order for this to be “mainstreamed”,  new policies supporting upscaling and disseminating working models of edu-biz capacity building models (like the AKE model and its niche focus on Cultural and Creative Media industry) must be set in place.

Theses 7 & 8: Continuous Support, Employment & Job Creation

The shift  from “once-off-training” to continuous support systems for youth training and retraining outreach via models and labs linked to industry sectors needs leaders, leadership, in order to happen. One option suggested is a “value chain” of training, envisioned in the policy form as follows:

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GESCI-AKE Policy Forum 29 March 2017: Live Blog Here!

Welcome to the 2017 GESCI-AKE Policy Forum!

“An Inclusive Policy Environment for Youth Skills and Enterprise Development”

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Opening Remarks, Jerome Morrissey, CEO, GESCI — on GESCI’s replicable model of #Youthskills and #EntrepriseDevelopment

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7 Startups Introduced!

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  • Artari Kreations
  • Verb House Productions
  • Boisch Enterprises
  • Ioniccode Software developers
  • Makossirri Entertainment
  • KIWO films
  • Tripple Touch Entertainment

Senior Youth Advisor , Directorate of Human Resources Science and Technology at African Union Commission, Nicholas Ouma:  

Innovation Ecosystem: What policies do we need to support cultural ecosystem?

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Functioning ecosystem: a nexus of policies, enterprises, and tools! Strategies can be shared and they can work all over the continent!

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Managing Partner at Chanzo Capital, an Angel Investor and developer of new businesses, Erick Osiakwan:

Talent is plentiful, opportunities not as much. The African context is special. Mobile leapfrogging is a major factor! It will affect every sector of the economy.

Young entrepreneurs play a central role in identifying problems and solving them! We need to create a net effect for Africa! We understand the challenges of our context.

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What is your specific niche? talent? specialty? Who is going to use your product? How to create value? What kind of investor do your want to engage with? Find someone who understands your field? Raising $: Don’t wait until the last minute! Also: Prepare well when you are meeting investors!

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Mary Hooker, GESCI: What happens when education, industry and policy design come together? Can GESCI Living Lab research of 3 years give some solutions?

[Presentation of the GESCI-AKE Living Lab].

How can we be sure that we INNOVATE with technology? Are we replicating — just adding new tech to do the very same? How do we ensure ongoing learning? –

Breakout sessions meet! Groups will discuss the relevance and impact of each of the GESCI-AKE thesis

Group 1: (moderator: Kamau Wanyoike)

  1. No One Solution, Or, Context Matters: SWOT of the Market Place
  2. Entrepreneurship Cannot Be Cloned: Education Must Be Flexible

Group 2 (moderator: Jane Muchiri -Ministry of ICT )

  1. Everything is Entrepreneurial: Teach Social Business and Communication
  2. Find a Niche: Cultural Competence Matters for GESCI

Group 3 (moderator: Ann Wanjuhi – Nelig group)

  1. Digital Matters, But So Does Physical Space
  2. No Success Without Collaboration: Policy, Industry, Individuals

Group 4 (moderator: Nicholas Ouma – African Union Commission)

  1. PS: Support Should Continue “Forever”
  2. Employment and Job Creation
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Snapshots from the Policy Forum

Inspiring stories from regional entrepreneurs:

Betty Kituyi from Fundi Bots (Uganda) an organization applying the concept of robotics training both in and out of African schools. Fundi Bots aims to create and inspire a new generation of Africans who are well equipped for technology oriented careers and who can be agents of change in their communities.

Wanjuhi Njoroge from Nelig Group (Kenya) a communications consulting company offering branding, online marketing and design to develop and manage organizations online and offline presence.

Silumesii Maboshe from BongoHive (Zambia) an innovation community and a co-working space offering aspiring enterpreneurs support for learn the basics of accounting, market research and running a business.

Young entrepreneurs need:

  • concrete support and scaffolds
  • diverse sources of inspiration (out of their comfort zones)
  • help in finding the right team
  • assurance that they are contributing (and evidence)
  • a safe space to fail… and learn
  • inclusive opportunities (=policies in place)

Thanks to everyone that participated and shared their insights!

To conclude and close the live blog of this policy forum, we share with you a bit of the last diagram we made for GESCI-AKE model.

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Minna & Andrea

Report from the field and the lab: Challenges and opportunities developing AKE ventures (Part II)

Things are wrapping up at the GESCI hub in Nairobi with the start-ups preparing for the last pitching event on the 28th and the Policy Forum on the 29th which will officially close the GESCI-AKE program.

The first pitching was used as a baseline survey of how well the Start-ups were prepared for fundraising. The judges of the pitching session where: Lydia Ndiho (Camscorp), Mitoko Dennis (14West film Production Company), Geoffrey Otieno (ADMI training institute), Duncan Onyango (AKE consulting Games tutor) , Tom Manda (AKE consulting Animation tutor), Victor Omondi (AKE’s Manger) and Jerome Morrisey (GESCI director)

Based on the emerging gaps identified on that event, the start-ups have been doing work around 3 themes:

  • Developing a viable business plan: Start-ups needed a more solid understanding of their market and emerging user needs.
  • Selling ideas in a clear way: Everybody was told to work and develop more effective presentation skills and to polish the resources they where using (e.g power points).
  • Pitching effectively: The Start ups elevator pitches were not yet up to standards and needed more work.

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While working on that we will share here some of the probes sent by the start ups this week. Thanks to all!

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Kiwo Films working at the GESCI-AKE hub

For Kevin and Ian from Kiwo Films the most challenging thing they are facing right now is “lack of equipment to get work done”  But they are confident they are “a team of reliable and dedicated individuals with a common interest“, which is a good and promising direction for the future.

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 Screenshots of some of IocincCode current prototypes, and an image of the team debugging together in front of the screen.

Mista from IonicCode reports that they have been conducting a bit of  research for their projects  “with the help of  our tutor Duncan who bought some cool kids text books where we got inspiration for various concepts. At the moment we are working on tap math game, a painting game, a pattern game and picture maker all in both languages Kiswahili and English. Right now we have to take them for testing to primary schools. As soon as the schools reopen we will be able to get enough feedback from teachers and from the school kids on how to improve them further”. The games are still in development phase and the team is constantly improving on them.

The IonicCode team feels that their biggest challenges are now. 1) getting good illustrations artists to add the African feel to their educational games. 2) recording the sounds needed for the games, as finding the right people to do that had been time consuming. 3) Of course the issue of bugs in some of the games. Coding is always tricky, but they are confident: “we were able to achieve the logic of the game, they  can be played in our devices!”

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VerbHouse’s value proposition, team and details from their current portfolio


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Snapshots of Makossiri’s web presence






7 Theses, In Their Words

Last week, we wrote about the 7 Theses of GESCI-AKE Creative Media Venture for Youth Entrepreneurship: Context matters significantly; Entrepreneurial education needs to be flexible; Everything is entrepreneurial; Both digital and physical platforms matter; Your niche is important; No success without collaboration; and Support should be ongoing.

We asked internal and external experts in the field — of creative industries, media business management, youth start-up incubation, start-up PR, and corporate innovation — what they considered as key drivers of Youth Entrepreneurship. We were thrilled to find that our theses are also theirs.

Our warmest thanks to the contributors!

Now, let us know YOUR thoughts, and theses, as a comment!


1. No One Solution, Or, Context Matters


Gregory Ferrell Lowe, Professor (Media management), University of Tampere, President of the European Media Management Association:

In recent years we’ve seen growing interest in the development of entrepreneurial activities, especially in the creative industries. There are reasons. One hinges on economic growth and development that entrepreneurial activity has produced. A large proportion of new jobs that are also good jobs, and fast-growth firms, are the result of entrepreneurial enterprise. Another reason is the importance of innovation as a new product or service that create new markets. A third reason has to do with the speed, scope and stakes involved with globalised economic competition. Entrepreneurial activities capitalise on the resources and talents of a particular population that produces competitive advantage. Finally, all societies are struggling with a degree of change that is profound. As a result, heritage systems and legacy structures are unable to meet the full range of societal needs today. Entrepreneurial activities increasingly emphasise not only economic development, but also social enterprise and environmental  sustainability.  It is important to understand that all of this is not only important in the West, but equally in the Rest. Actually, it is arguably even more important in the Global South than elsewhere because their populations are growing at an astonishing pace and the infrastructure has been so lacking.

What would be most beneficial for robust development of entrepreneurial activities in the creative industries and beyond? There are specific needs for a particular population, but at least three general needs are crucial everywhere. First, the societal structure must be conducive. This simply means the system of laws, regulations and institutions that govern economic activity must encourage and support entrepreneurship in practice to reap the benefits that can only be realised by taking the risks that are necessary for starting an enterprise. That is not easy because it often means reorienting values and changing bureaucratic systems that have vested interests. But this is perhaps the most significant and an on-going pre-requisite. Second, education and training are essential to prepare people to be successful entrepreneurs. It is essential to understand how business works, what management requires, the consequences of decisions and actions, processes of creative development, laws and regulations, and so forth. Finally, investment capital is an obvious need. Many entrepreneurs have more ideas than money to pursue them. Moreover, entrepreneurial efforts are often stimulated by necessity. People without jobs who need to earn a living to care for themselves and their families pursue opportunities to provide that can good business. But this can’t happen if they lack the capital to get the business started. Of course, all ideas are not equally good and everyone who wants to start a business would not be a good business person. So there must be vetting processes that sift the grain from the chaff. But access to capital is an absolute requirement for entrepreneurial enterprise, and that need is not only at the start but also at latter points when there is opportunity for growth to a achieve a next level of success.


Victor Omondi, GESCI-AKE Manager:

We need to employ action research/Living Lab research or whatever form of research in the creative industry programs so us to generate more narrative about the subject. Africa has no documentation about its creative initiatives compared to its counterparts  as many artist work on informal basis. There are no statistics of how much the industry makes, what makes that kind of money, where and to what level. It makes it difficult to valuate the industry’s worth.


2. Entrepreneurship Cannot Be Cloned:

Education Must Be Flexible


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Tom Manda – GESCI-AKE Master Tutor:

My top three recommendations for boosting youth entrepreneurship are

  • Schools boosting and training students to be entrepreneurs;
  • Schools promoting and developing talents at an early age;
  • Youth taking time to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives and what they can offer.


Eleni Atsikbasis, film-maker, audiovisual entrepreneur, environmental start-up developer:

My top 3 recommendations for boosting Youth Entrepreneurship in organisations:

  • Being open to listen…
  • Being open to engage..
  • Being open to create opportunities for Youth Entrepreneurs to implement solutions and take ownership of challenges as they grasp their role is to take action on a local level.

On an individual level – it’s our duty to be the crank handles, the starter-uppers for sustainable impact that contributes to our collective identity…that has the potential to solve universal challenges!

Duncan Onyango – GESCI-AKE Master Tutor:

At the individual level developers or creators should start building innovative solutions that are applicable to real world problems. I think some of the problems we have can easily be solved by innovative solutions that do not require government intervention.


3. Everything is Entrepreneurial:

Teach [Social] Business and Communication



Liam Caffrey – GESCI-AKE Master Tutor, Music Producer & Technologist:

My top 3 recommendations for boosting youth entrepreneurship

Young entrepreneurs should be encouraged to…

1) Be original and creative by being themselves and having a ‘can do’ attitude

  • First-time entrepreneurs should focus on what they are passionate about and stick to what they know best. If your heart isn’t in it then the chances are you won’t be a success.

2) Be clear about what the focus of their business is.

  • Be able to explain the key idea of your business in less than 30 seconds to capitalise on a chance meeting with a potential investor or customer.

2) Strictly manage their financial situation

  • Act like a startup and manage your cashflow. Make your business idea achievable and affordable to start off with and grow from there while managing all costs closely. Find ways to improve your business idea while expanding.


Keoni DeFranco, Founder & CEO of the startup Lua: Secure Messaging for Healthcare:

Incentivize young entrepreneurs to build: Offer a hack-a-thon with a price or have the state propose a current problem they are facing that can be solved with innovative technology (ie infrastructure) and hold a contest for the local community to come together and pitch ideas to solve it. Award the top 3 ideas and give them resources ($, facilities, mentors) to pursue these ideas and present them at a present time. Make the “demo day” publicly accessible so you inspire more people to engage next time around. Pick a winner, fund them and eventually give them access to test their new product with real users in the field.



Victor Omondi, GESCI-AKE Manager:

There  is need for a mandatory pre-training and upskilling for all potential startups prior to issuance of startup funds. This should be a minimum requirement by venture capitalist and startup funders.


4. Digital Matters, But So Does Physical Space



Keoni DeFranco, Founder & CEO of the startup Lua: Secure Messaging for Healthcare:

Give access to facilities (workspaces) and mentors so these youth can gather somewhere to meet other like minded individuals to brainstorm on ideas and take them to the next level. Give them close mentorship so they can learn how to iterate their ideas on the fly.


Lee-Anne Ragan, President, Rock.Paper.Scissors Inc., Corporate Training

In my experience it’s critical to ‘walk our talk’ – that is weave ICTs into all of our learning materials, pedagogies, pre & post engagement strategies for learners, transfer of learning strategies, and so on. We often talk about ICTs as a discreet, siloed pieces of work – that is for use in marketing, for teaching etc, but we don’t have a holistic, integrated approach, which I recommend for using ICTs for:

  1. Listening & research; using ICTs to listen to our stakeholders and efficiently do our homework aka research;
  1. Learning & communication; using ICTs in a way that matches what we know about learning and engagement, rather than outdated pedagogies that are top down, expert driven and ineffective (for example, “watch this video and answer these 3 questions”);
  1. Ease & efficiency; the world is a constantly changing place where information overload is rampant.  Strategies for using ICTs to bring ease and efficiency is critical, in order to do more of #1 & #2.


Miroslav Polzer, IAAI-GloCha, Executive Director, Social Entrepreneur in technology and youth employment

  1. Provide an easily accessible networking and capacity building space (Innovation Hub, Living Lab…) where young people can meet peers and learn about the combination of social design, technology and business solutions for meeting individual needs or solving social challenges  
  2. Create a (ideally globally coordinated) local enabling ecosystem (in combination with 1.)  which provides access to internet, technology, funding and potential customers
  3. Mentor youth!


Victor Omondi, GESCI-AKE Manager:

I agree: Physical space is essential. It does not matter whether it is in a closed location/hub like the GESCI’s AKE or iHub, but it could also be created by provision of physical internet access infrastructure such as the wide area coverage as witnessed in Uganda’s digital drums for the off-grid communities and through Kenya’s rugged innovative BRCK technology. These technologies allows provision of enriched Entrepreneurial training and access of online support tools.


5. Find a Niche



Victor Omondi, GESCI-AKE Manager:

There is need of community outreach and awareness campaign amongst the community of web users about the availability of certain web based and mobile based products. This will spur the growth of demands for these products. The awareness campaigns would also connect the relevance of  an innovation to a community problem.


6. No Success Without Collaboration



Victor Omondi, GESCI-AKE Manager:

Establishment of a creative media alliance focusing on three key areas of Knowledge provision (as played by GESCI), Products and service provision as provided by our industry partners like Tsunami Studio and Environment as taken care of by policy partners like the government and INGO (International Nongovernmental Organizations).

Curriculum and training content to be modeled with the help of the existing industry partners who answer to a particular trade or market niche. 


7. Support Should Continue “Forever”



Keoni DeFranco, Founder & CEO of the startup Lua: Secure Messaging for Healthcare:

Give access for entrepreneurs to share their past and current experiences. Nothing exciting the youth more than hearing success stories and the struggles it took to become successful. Host panel discussions or fire side chats (even if these have to be remotely) but allow startup stories to be shared and allow the youth to engage and ask questions.


In the News: 13 March

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  • Research:
    Youths perceive lack of capital, lack of skill, lack of support, lack of market opportunities and risk as the main obstacles to entrepreneurial intention in South Africa
    Fatoki, O., & Chindoga, L. (2011). An investigation into the obstacles to youth entrepreneurship in South Africa. International Business Research, 4(2), 161.


Lessons from GESCI-AKE: 7 Theses about Youth Entrepreneurship


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GESCI-AKE participants: Word cloud on their thoughts on entrepreneurship and development.

GESCI is pioneering an innovative training and enterprise program model combining culture and digital media technology dubbed ‘African Knowledge Exchange (AKE) – Creative Media Venture’.


The program addresses the changing global jobs and employment environment driven by new technologies in the context of growing youth unemployment.

  • Jerome Morrissey, GESCI CEO

This post is based on the GESCI-AKE projects: The Sound of the City (2014-2015), and GESCI-AKE Creative Media Venture (2016-2017). Both have been rooted in the ongoing, urgent, and increasingly global, concern of sustainable future of work for the world’s youth.

GESCI-AKE’s training and enterprise model is in line with the trend that believes in local entrepreneurship as one of the most empowering, and cost-effective, solutions local systemic problems of youth employment. Compared to 14 major, established innovation and training labs/hubs in Eastern and Southern Africa, GESCI’s approach has been unique in three ways:

  1. It has captured participants who are motivated and already working on their art and creative digital media endeavors, but who need more concrete skills, elevated understanding of the field, as well as tools to become independent entrepreneurs in the field of creative industries;
  2. It has focused on local culture as a competitive edge (while bringing in international influence and tutors); and
  3. It has allowed for multi-field training and innovation.

GESCI-AKE programs have from the start combined two aspects: understanding the marketplace but listening to the individual, for bringing big concepts into the practical pedagogy and training.

The programs have sought to capture the processes of learning and innovation in the day-to-day, micro-level of the training and entrepreneurial incubation. This has been done through a method of Living Lab. Solution-oriented, participatory models such as Living Lab have become common in product innovations, but also in curriculum development, policy-making, communication campaigning, and international development.

The GESCI-AKE program has been using the method since 2014. The research, conducted by questionnaires, interviews, and formal and informal observations and participation by practitioners, instructors, and industry representatives, has studied both content and needs of both the participants and the industry, as well as documented the implementation and modeling of such training.  

You can find the concrete process and progress of the Living Lab in this blog.

The Living Lab research (2016-17) has also transferred the actual training-incubation process into a model that can be used for skills-entrepreneurship training in fields of creative products and services. Details of the model, and related best practices and tools, are documented in an extensive Final Model Report.

This post documents the key findings regarding youth entrepreneurship, as documented in detail in a separate Policy Brief. (Both documents will be available from GESCI at the end of March 2017.)


Jerome Morrissey congratulating AKE graduates.

Thesis #1: No One Solution, Or, Context Matters

While the 7 theses from GESCI-AKE are quite generalizable, the first lesson learned is that a successful training and start-up incubation needs to understand the specific marketplace first. There is no one solution, or model.

As noted, the GESCI-AKE approach to innovation in youth entrepreneurship is twofold – markets and individuals – and understanding one’s context is thus the foundation of success. This may seem self-evident, but in the rapidly-changing digital landscape and globalizing markets, coupled with local conditions, this means constant analysis of societal and market needs. A commonly used method is the strategic planning tool, SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses (existing situation), Opportunities, and Threats (future scenario). As an example, a recent SWOT on East African Creative Industries posits the following:


  • Rapid growth of especially mobile communications means rapidly growing market.
  • Cultural distinctiveness, very strong traditions, and real flair across creative sectors including music, crafts, fashion, visual arts, film, define the centrality for creative industries for the economy in the region.  rapid urbanisation re-creates cities as centers for talent and creativity.  
  • Digitalization resulting in proliferation of straight-to-digital business models across the region.
  • Digitalization fostering a culture of collaboration across different sectors, disciplines and technologies.
  • A sense of an emergent new world order and growing confidence in African creative industries marks the field.


  • Some cultural conservatism = an aversion to risk.
  • Weak creative education.
  • Low levels of entrepreneurialism, management and leadership (education needed).
  • Growing (digital) literacy across the wider population is needed to unleash the market potential.
  • Tendency of replication over innovation.
  • Lack of policy support in the field of education + inconsistent approaches to copyright.

Opportunities to take (Threats =if opportunities not taken):

  • Build capacity and confidence across the creative workforce.
  • Create  digitally-enabled platforms which showcase and trade creative goods and services.
  • Nurture domestic and international markets for creative products and services. Even small growth creates many jobs.
  • Establish a set of high profile networks of creative industries for information exchange.
  • Position the creative industries as value-adders across the economy in order to lift the quality and innovation potential of other sectors.
  • Improve the policy and regulatory landscape through capacity-building and guidance.

Such a macro-level analysis as the above has understandably direct consequences on the organizational foci for training. For instance, GESCI has recognized the need for education in the field, including demands for entrepreneurial skills and “confidence-building”; the need for networks; the role of creative industries as collaborating and supporting other industries, and so on.


Thesis #2: Entrepreneurship Cannot Be Cloned. Education Must Be Flexible

The second thesis pertains to flexibility required of innovation and training models of youth entrepreneurship. The demand for flexibility comes from both opportunities in the changing markets and technology, as well as from the individual participants. In other words, entrepreneurship cannot be cloned. This requirement influences curriculum as well as product/innovation development, ways of learning and working; as well as the entire outlook of what is being learned and developed beyond the obvious practical skills.

It is also good to remember that not everyone is entrepreneurial. The flexibility of any training or support mechanism should allow some participants, who may need more skills and experience, or who might discover that they are not entrepreneurial enough to launch their own startup, still get relevant training that will lead to meaningful job opportunities in the industry.

Another aspect of flexibility is that innovation may require a broad talent and skill-set — and staying relevant as an entrepreneur may mean encompassing several fields. This is obvious to GESCI-AKE participants: They  defined themselves often along a continuum that included several areas (“I am not only a musician, but musician- sound designer -producer”). In addition, entrepreneurship requires more than skills and innovation. Participants have been encouraged to think about their skills and learning more holistically, by not only developing practical skills but rather “an attitude to our work, and ourselves”.


Thesis #3: Everything is Entrepreneurial

The third thesis is closely connected to the second, but warrants its own discussion. While it may seem that micro and small-sized enterprises (the kinds of startups that young people are likely to have) can easily run and market themselves due to their size, knowing business skills to do so is not a given — quite the contrary. Beyond specific issues such as accounting and copyright, there are basic business practices and principles that need fostering.

UNIDO research on start-ups shows that the biggest challenge in continuity seems to come after the initial incubation and first projects, when first hardships are faced (financial or other challenges).  This requires strong leadership skills, confidence, and self-reliance — traits that can be practiced. At the same time, one of the main causes of failure is that there is no market for the product offered, and because their business model was not viable. This points to the urgent need for innovations and youth entrepreneurs to understand their market and be able to systematically plan their revenue sources.

GESCI-AKE model curriculum for developing entrepreneurial competences relies on a behavioral approach to entrepreneurship. This is a practical approach that help participants develop Personal Entrepreneurial Competencies (PEC) while doing, as opposed to attending lectures. The GESCI-AKE model works to develop the following attitudes: Opportunity-seeking behavior, Taking calculated risks, Persistence, Demand for efficiency and quality, Fulfilling commitments, Information seeking, Goal-setting and Self-confidence.

In addition, the rise of social entrepreneurship and social innovation as a business model may be a very attractive alternative for young entrepreneurs in creative medial. There is clearly a political trend to favor and support activities, big or small, that position themselves as innovators of social value.


Mary Hooker of GESCI facilitating a brainstorming workshop.

Thesis #4. Physical Space Matters for Innovation

In entrepreneurial training, online tools and platforms are widely used. Even the location-based GESCI-AKE utilized this blog, informal email lists, Dropbox folders, Google Drive folders, Youtube channel, Facebook page, Whatsapp groups, Trello boards, Slack channel, and two Twitter accounts. Many of these tools are attractive as they are open access, and also widely used in professional contexts. Getting familiar with them is important.

Still, a strong thesis of the GESCI-AKE programs is that a physical space is essential for fostering youth entrepreneurship, especially among young people with limited resources and experience.

To be sure, a hub is a tested framework: The rise of numerous entrepreneurial education projects, start-up incubators, innovation centers, and the like, is evident in the region. East and South Africa are prominent hosts of such hubs. (In general, the number of technology hubs has doubled in Africa in less than a year, from 2015 to mid 2016.)

Also, as organizations, innovation hubs, programs, and training projects are creating value beyond their start-ups and products in multiple ways:

  • Through building a network for “collaborative knowledge exchange and research activities”, innovation hubs can help their stakeholders solve problems that they have defined, increasing the opportunities of co-creation innovation.
  • In order to maximize the benefits for those involved, innovation hubs should play a role in accelerating the communication between academia and industries and encourage highly interactive “two way knowledge exchange”.
  • By offering an environment to enhance the collaboration among people, innovation hubs would be able to support the economic, cultural and sustainable development for future generations.
  • Innovation hubs can not only create communicating channels but also simplify the process of innovation by efficiently adopting existing knowledge, expertise and support from various stakeholders in order to make knowledge transfer spread widely.

Thesis #5: Find a Niche

The fifth thesis on fostering innovation in youth entrepreneurship is: Find a niche. As illustrated in Thesis 4., ICT innovation hubs are multiplying and related activities seem to be considered as priority. But innovation that can utilize digital tools is happening in every field. Supporting an under-supported field, or group may be most effective and important than replicating an existing innovation model. For GESCI-AKE, this niche has been local culture and cultural competence:

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 4.01.24 AM

Thesis #6: No Success Without Collaboration

The sixth thesis seems self-evident in theory but is a challenge in practice: How to create mechanisms of collaboration and knowledge exchange so that youth entrepreneurship innovation is reflecting, and contributing to, the needs of the relevant stakeholders? Vice versa: how can stakeholders help in guaranteeing the success of young entrepreneurs?

The GESCI-AKE programs, and the emerging model, rely on supporting a collaborative continuum approach that includes simple and complex forms of partnership. These relationships are created with-in, with the hosting organization (e.g. GESCI) and with external partners (community, industry, educational representatives, etc) via mentoring and networking partnerships and through follow up actions. As the figure below illustrates (with the case of GESCI), the network of stakeholder can be a surprisingly complex one, and every stakeholder needs to feel a certain ownership/connection to the project and benefit from it in order to commit.

Screen Shot 2017-03-11 at 6.37.06 PM

Some concrete ways to enhance collaboration include:

  • Policy forums and networking events for knowledge exchange and innovation
  • Lectures, issue roundtables
  • Site visits
  • Industry mentors
  • Internships
  • Commissioned projects as a part of the curriculum
  • Pitching / project evaluation / showcases
  • Community outreach and events
  • Stakeholders involved in participant selection
  • Job fairs

Pitching to an industry partner.

Thesis #7: Support Should Continue “Forever”

Entrepreneurship is a life-long journey and learning experience. Especially young entrepreneurs need support, not only training.

As noted by UNIDO, based on its start-up programmes in the Global South: Ideas are plentiful but the absence of actual technical and business development support often stops innovative projects and startups after their initial seed funding ends. Research shows that not only is the lack of education or seed funding a challenge, but societal attitudes, and support services were found to be barriers for youth entrepreneurship in Africa.

This raises a question as to what role should an innovation-training model-hub play. Is training and short incubation enough of a competitive edge?  Or, is such a hub a meeting place for alumni, a pitching and networking, center, a facility for continuing education, even employment agency or match-maker, a community center, and so on?

These are questions that GESCI-AKE is only now experimenting with, given that is its currently finalizing the training of the first incubation-start-up cohort. Activities and strategies are placed to follow up on the trajectories of all those involved in any GESCI-AKE cohort. This facilitates transitions of roles: For instance, previous participants to become mentors or tutors, mentors that might become investors, attendants to an event to become partners (by commissioning work), and so on.

The strong consensus among GESCI-AKE staff and participants is that continuing support has several benefits:

  • Networking for jobs, contacts, and skills.
  • Alumni can utilize the technology  if in need.
  • GESCI-AKE as a brand that provides peer-to-peer marketing for its participants and alumni, and vice versa.

Continuous support by Victor Omondi, GESCI-AKE manager.